Einstein had a messy desk. Behind the messy desk were messy bookshelves with piles of reports, journals, and loose papers. A study published in the September 2013 issue of Psychological Sciences suggests, strongly, that a clean and tidy desk, or office space, leaves one doing socially acceptable things, having normative ideas, and, for want of a better set of terms, doing the right things, thinking the right things, and behaving. Those who worked in, or, in this case, filled out a form in, a messy room, with a messy desk, had less normative ideas, made more creative connections and reported being willing to try things much much further afield. They didn’t see the need to do the right things, think the right things or behave as expected.
I may never clean my desk. It does not make me smart. It doesn’t make me a creative genius. I may clean my desk. It does not make me dumb. It doesn’t make me dull. But the messier side of life is about being indicative of webs of connections. Not graphs. Not charts. Webs of ideas, concepts, facts, which may seem unrelated but later are pulled together to solve a mystery, a problem, a puzzle no straight lines or charts could solve and shine light upon an answer no single beam could illuminate.
It is why one needs to learn things that are of no immediate use. Of no seeming use at all. Because the more of those things we know, the more errata we have, the more connections can be made, the greater our potential for creativity. Connecting things no one had thought to connect in ways no one had before seen. That is how the unsolvable becomes solved. That is how the unanswerable becomes answered. That is the creative process.
That is the gift of a broad liberal education – one of curiosity and not direction. It is why America was a creative powerhouse. Losing that is why we no longer are. It now costs too much to be curious. It doesn’t result in a job. And we all lose.