We all know at least one person with an insanely clean desk. Their stationery is colour-coded and their paperwork filed with neat, military-like precision. Their plants are alive and flourishing and they never have to battle for leg space against an unruly mountain of shoes.
It's easy to envy this woman - but pause your resentment because a study has found that employees with untidy and disorganised desks could, in fact, be unsung geniuses.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota discovered there are "really valuable outcomes from being in a messy setting". In the study published in Psychological Science, two sets of participants were asked to complete a series of tasks. They were either based in a clean and orderly office, or one that was unkempt and cluttered, with papers strewn everywhere.
In one experiment, they were asked to come up with new uses for ping pong balls.
The volunteers situated in the messy environment came up with the same amount of ideas as their clean-based counterparts - but their ideas were rated as more innovative and interesting when assessed by a panel of independent judges.
“Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries, and societies want more of: creativity,” explains psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs, who lead the study.
In another experiment, participants were given a choice between new or established products. Those in the messy setting plumped for the novel product, while people surrounded by tidiness opted for the tried-and-tested product. This suggests a disorderly surrounding can stimulate a release from convention, triggering a more open-minded approach.
“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” Kathleen says. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”
The problem is, most of us are so conditioned to think of neatness as a default good thing that it's difficult to see beyond that and appreciate the value of mess.
As Einstein himself quipped, "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"
So, the next time you recoil in horror at your crumb-encrusted keyboard or slump in defeat at a mass of leftover cereal bowls and long-forgotten reports - take comfort. It's merely a symbol of your mighty creative prowess. You can't help it if you're a genius, can you?
The article originally appeared on Grazia UK