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What Messy Desks Say About Your Business
 

Does your office inspire creativity... or convention? The tidiness of your employees' desks may hold the answer.

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Jeff Bezos. Tony HsiehSteve Jobs. All the owners of famously messy desks. Bill Gates and Elon Musk on the other hand? The kings of office clean.

Before you choose which set of entrepreneurs to emulate, you may want to consider this.

The cleanliness of your office space may actually influence the way you--and your employees--work, researchers say. According to a recent study led by Kathleen D. Vohs of the University of Michigan earlier this year, workplace order and disorder each have distinct psychological consequences for office workers.

In the study, researchers designed three experiments to guage the impact of messy and tidy work spaces on office culture. In the first experiment, a group of participants were shown to either a messy or clean desk and asked to fill out a meaningless questionaire. Once they had completed the work, participants were asked to choose between either a healthy snack--like an apple or orange--and a piece of junk food, or to donate a small amount of money to charity.

Researchers found that participants at the clean desks were more likely to opt for a healthy snack or to donate to charity than their messy desk counterparts.

"Being in a clean room seemed to encourage people to do what was expected of them. Compared with participants in the messy room, they donated more of their own money to charity and were more likely to choose the apple over the candy bar," the authors noted.

In the second experiment, researchers asked participants in both messy and clean spaces to come up with as many uses for a ping-pong ball as they could imagine. The result: Participants seated as messy desks were able to come up with more creative uses for the toy than their uber-clean compatriots. So if compliance and healthy behavior is something that your company values, perhaps a minimalist space is the way to go. If creativity is the ultimate goal, however, you probably shouldn't discount a messy space just yet.

"Being creative is aided by breaking away from tradition, order and convention, and a disorderly environment seems to help people do just that," the authors concluded.

IMAGE: Corbis
Last updated: Aug 7, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.
@FrancescaFenzi




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