Bless the Mess: Finding Creativity in Chaos

In my interactions with other creative people I have discovered that many of them have compulsive natures (I hesitate to call it Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because true OCD is so much worse). Creatives tend to make lists, have stacks of paper on the desk that align with the edges, have photos hanging straight on the wall, etc. However, in an ironic twist of fate, they also tend to be disorganized and sometimes messy in other areas. It is through this chaos that the true genius of their creativity often arises.

Have you ever walked by someone’s desk and wondered how they find anything? Or consider the stereotype of the absent-minded professor: his hair and clothes are in disarray and his life appears to be disorganized, yet he has the most inspired solutions to scientific problems.

In the book Messy: the Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, by Tim Harford, he explains that creativity is often unearthed from what appears to be total chaos. Following are key takeaways from Harford’s book:

  • Often creative people organize and reorganize (an OCD-ish tendency) trying to find the “right” order. They get stuck in the planning and preparing phase. This is time that could be spent creating. Regardless of the mess, chances are this person could immediately find that TPS report in the piles of papers, sticky notes, and desktop folders. So embrace the mess.
  • While it is true that multitasking can be counterproductive, having more than one major project can make people more creative. The brain needs an occasional distraction from a topic to let the mind consider other possible solutions. Also, there is the possibility of finding an interconnection between the two projects, which expands and enhances both.
  • It is easy to get stuck in the planning instead of diving into the work. Also, there is a frustration that happens when items on the list do not get crossed off, and stress when additional things are added to the list. Creativity can be choked when the To-Do list continues to grow as a deadline gets closer and closer.

Keep the organizing to the soup cans in the pantry and the list-creating for the spring cleaning. To tap into your creativity, throw the planner on the floor and spread out your coffee stained doodles. Inspiration is waiting to rise out of the chaos.