Skip to content

The Rules of Genius #22: Embrace messiness

It’s almost impossible to reconcile creativity with cleanliness. The sculptor gets metal dust all over his studio. The writer must wade through a clutter of notes, books, and crumpled drafts to get to her desk. The rock musician must weave through a tangle of cables, black boxes, guitar stands, and song notes to sit down and create. The business strategist must navigate a thicket of scribbles, arrows, and boxes on his whiteboard while avoiding the distractions of multi-colored sticky notes on stacks of must-read articles.

You may find that you can’t be creative until you clean up your desk or tidy your workspace. This makes perfect psychological sense. Each new project needs a clean slate. And with each new project you’ll need a little extra time to switch mental gears. But once the gears start turning and the project gets moving, the mess is part of the work. Don’t worry about it. Don’t try to clean it up until you need more space or you’re ready to start a new project. Let the mess be a mess.

Organizations that depend on innovation must embrace this reality. They should provide open, flowing spaces that accommodate clutter for extended periods time while their people do battle in the creative dragon pit. Clutter at this stage is not a vice, but a virtue: Messiness is next to godliness. Cleanliness can wait.

Next week: Test your ideas in realistic situations.
New ideas don’t need proof, just uncertainty reduction

The Rules of Genius is now a book with a bonus section called “How can I matter?” that includes 10 essential rules.  Buy here.

We use cookies. By using our site you agree to our Cookies Policy.