Einstein is often quoted as saying, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” While this was obviously meant to be a cute little quip – probably to justify Einstein’s own lack of organisation in the desk department – rather than some kind of a serious, overarching observation into the human psyche, there’s truth to the idea that how we organise or workspace can say a lot about us as individuals.
Past research has found that people with messy desks are linked to higher salaries, and a 2013 study by scientists at the University of Minnesota found that those with messy desks were more prone to creative thinking and risk-taking, while those who kept cleaner and more organised desks were more likely to follow rules and schedules, and were less likely take risks. “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” the researchers concluded.
The case for a disorderly workspace was made by another 2013 study, in which college students were set up in a messy or a neat office and asked to ‘invent’ as many new uses for Ping-Pong balls as they could. As Gretchen Reynolds reports for The New York Times, the students in messy workspaces ended up proposing significantly more creative ideas than those in the neat offices, according to two independent judges.
Of course, these are generalisations that require more research to understand, and a messy desk does not a genius make. But in case you’re looking for inspiration for how to organise (or not organise, as the case may be) your workspace, we’ve compiled a list of some of the environments that some of the world’s most brilliant scientific minds chose to surround themselves in.
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