make a mess

Ways We Innovate: Make A Mess

Let’s Make A Mess To Innovate

Recently, I read an article in the latest Wired magazine about tidying up – there is a Japanese author named Marie Kondo who wrote the bestselling “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” which, I hear, is still on bestselling books lists everywhere, it also seems to be in every airport bookstore I’ve been in lately. This and her other books discuss how your life will change if you would only just tidy up. I’m assuming that with this, and more and more shows like Hoarders, we are seeing a backlash against clutter. She is really against clutter, in fact, discusses in which order you should get rid of stuff (books first, then clothes, then papers, then sentimental objects) and you should only hold onto whatever “brings you joy”. Her method is to take everything in the house of that one type, say books, then pile them up in one place, then physically pick up each book and hold it in your hand. If it brings you joy in some way, when you see the book or hold the book, you should keep it, if not, get rid of it.

Now, as someone who, in probably anyone’s parlance, hoards books, this is pretty tough advice. Simply looking over at my bookshelf while I’m the middle of thinking through a problem, inventing new things, or simply letting my mind wander, might let me cast my glance across a book title, think about that book, maybe grab it, flip through it again, and glean some new (or refresh some old) insight, which would help me solve the problem, trigger a new invention (maybe by throwing it into the idea blender) or who knows what else. My books are thought triggers, conceptual post-it’s in a way, which can be combined with new problems in order to come up with new solutions. When I’m surrounded by my books, I feel that I can be more creative.

Apparently, there are studies to corroborate this: it’s no wonder why artists, writers, and creatives seem to flourish in cluttered or messy spaces, it turns out that it if you want to be more creative, you go into a messy space. Cluttered spaces are good for creativity because they help you to trigger new thinking and new combinations, but they sap energy. The opposite is also true – neat spaces are great for productivity, they might not help you come up with creative solutions, but they will help your team to work faster and longer and more diligently. If you want your team to come up with creative solutions or innovative new products, put them in a cluttered, messy space.

Ideally, you want to have both types of spaces in your offices – a messy, cluttered space with toys and things to play with together (why not have fun and stock with books (science fiction, fiction and non-fiction), toys, LEGO blocks (not the sets but just the blocks) drawing materials, and stuff, like the Stanford design thinking materials where you can get your hands dirty and just build stuff) where you and your team goes in order to do some creative problem solving, and your orderly, neat space, where you take the ideas that you generated in the creative space, and get them built. You need both the messy space and the orderly space, the best of both worlds, to get the benefit of both.

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William Moeller
William Moeller
7 years ago

Not much that’s better than creating order from chaos. But first, chaos!