You see my desk? It’s a little more cluttered than usual today because Peter Wein is about to do his radio show from it, hence the microphone you see me cavorting with.
Still on any typical day I’m proud to say there’s clutter enough to maybe qualify me for Mensa, for isn’t a messy desk a sign of genius?
Didn’t Albert Einstein famously point out that “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” And didn’t another Thomas whose last name was Edison also keep a famously messy desk. And wasn’t Steve Jobs’s desk an appellate mess too.
So can any moron make himself look smart and productive with some well-placed clutter? .No, it depends on the clutter
Amid mine, for example, besides assorted knickknacks, mementoes, awards and candy is a framed note President George Bush senior wrote to me after we bumped into each other one night at a hotel outside Philadelphia where I had the presidential suite and he the suite opposite.
It was kind of embarrassing. So I wrote him a note and slipped it under his door offering to swap suites. He wrote back a charming little note saying I should just vote for his son Jeb for Florida governor and his son George for President, which I dutifully did.
Today’s efficiency experts insist that people are more productive when their desk is uncluttered. Like there’s “a place for everything and everything in its place?” Isn’t that the thinking behind in- and outboxes?
However, the notion that a clean desk makes you more productive is in itself messy. Researchers at the University of Minnesota recently studied how well students came up with new ideas when working in orderly versus disorderly work areas. The study showed:
“Participants in the messy room generated the same number of ideas for new uses as their clean-room counterparts. But their ideas were rated as more interesting and creative when evaluated by impartial judges.”
This connection between a messy desk and productivity is often missed because so many of us have been programmed early in our lives to be neat.
“Pick up your toys Tommy boy,” my mom would tell me. “Eat all your food. There are people in this world who are starving,” she’d lecture me at dinner. How cleaning my plate would prevent hunger in drought-stricken countries never made sense to me.
Few people consider the cost of neatness, according to Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, authors of “A Perfect Mess,” who contend:
“That messiness and disorder can be so useful wouldn’t seem such a counterintuitive notion if it weren’t for the bias towards neatness programmed into most of us.”
According to Geoffrey James, Contributing editor, Inc.com, “Geniuses have something better to do than futzing around with filing systems, electronic or otherwise.”
The notion that a clean desk means a productive worker is an artifact of the mid-20th century when geniuses were always pictured with a cluttered desk. And rightly so.
So if your work area, like mine, is usually a mess, be proud of your clutter. Stop apologizing to the neat-freaks and start feeling good about yourself for you just might be a genius.
If you like clutter, you’ll enjoy by latest book “Is there enough Brady in Trump to win the inSUPERable BOWL?” available on that cluttered shopping place called Amazon.