Let them be messy

Einstein at his desk Einstein at his desk

What if the workspace theories were wrong?

This is the first in a small series of posts challenging some of the most common workspace ideas I have seen.

Obviously, a tidy desk is the sign of a tidy mind and therefore we should make sure that everyone has a nice tidy desk, which can be cleaned every day, without papers and pens and things lying around in uneven stacks.

This approach may be productive in a robotic, repetitive, factory work, but is that what you really want? Are you interested in standardization based on what you are already doing, or might you be interested in creativity, evolution, change, progress...? If you are working with people in an intellectual, creative environment do you want to automate them into mindless work?

Creativity comes from linking together ideas, events, facts and others which appear unrelated to most people. It is not surprising therefore that the most creative people frequently have messy work spaces. They need to see things juxtaposed by accident in order to trigger the idea which might change everything. Allowing people to have their mess at their work place will foster the juxtaposition of ideas, data and concepts which will allow fresh approaches and real creativity to emerge.

In recent years, we have seen the creation of a number of "Campus" style offices, which aim to trigger creativity by bringing engineers together in a semi-disorganized manner, in a colourful and slightly chaotic space. The idea is to encourage exchange of ideas and the "Eureka" moment which comes when someone understands how a number person's idea fits into her own research or concepts. By opposition, older organizations frequently have a structure of clear "vertical and horizontal markets", creating what are commonly called "silos" or "stove-pipes" in which people who are "supposed" to be working together are kept out of reach of the rest of the organization. Typically these organizations rapidly find that the creativity has gone and the productivity they were expecting starts to suffer.

If it is true in team work that the clash of ideas leads to new ideas and higher creativity, and that the creativity leads to better productivity, imagine what it could do for a single person.

Let the creative people have messy desks! Their creativity is more important to your business than the office manager's theories.

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