It is rare that my clients come to me for advice on how to take care of a messy office. My executive clients do often ask me how to foster innovation and creativity on their teams, however, so I’m constantly on the lookout for new approaches. 

Imagine my surprise when I found an article in The Wall Street Journal on “The Art of Clutter” detailing a current interior design controversy about whether your home and/or office should be pristine or filled to the brim with workday paraphernalia. 

Should it look something like this:

or more full of your treasures, like this:

I’m no interior designer, but I am a moderately untidy person. So I was very interested to find, tucked inside the article, a reference to a study about the impact of clutter on creativity by Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the Carlson School of Management at The University of Minnesota. 

Magpies, rejoice! Vohs found that research participants in a messy room were more creative than those in an orderly room. This was measured by their scores on a test that asked them to come up with alternative uses for a common object. Before us messy folks get too cocky, Vohs also found that participants in the more orderly room made healthier choices and were more generous. When it comes to fostering creativity, however, letting people work in an untidy environment seems to be the way to go. 

Actually, it’s not all that surprising. Take a look at Einstein’s office:

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