Grab Some Running Shoes & Mess Up Your Desk! Science Weighs in on What Encourages Creativity

IdeasFinding which tools will bolster your creativity is not only important for your work, but to also keep things interesting. Maybe you've had friends, colleagues, even industry professionals share their secrets for maintaining a creative spirit to ensure the influx of ideas, but what about science? What do scientists consider to be major conductors of creativity? Fast Company shares 6 tools that, according to science, may help you live and work more creatively.

A Notebook

A common belief is that creativity is evident when you're coming up with new ideas, however some neuroscientists studying the effects creativity has on the human brain have stated that creativity can be described as making new connections between old ideas. Author James Webb Young touches on this in his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas, when he describes two principles of producing ideas:

  • An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.
  • The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

Having a notebook around allows you to document and catalogue ideas as they flood your brain. However, make sure you're actively collecting the raw material from which to formulate your ideas. You can do this by not just writing down good ideas, but bad ones, too. Write down moments you see. Write down phrases you hear. The more raw material you have, the more opportunities there will be to make the connections needed to create ideas.

A Messy Desk

Oh -- good! I'm sure most of us don't have to change a thing, then. Having a messy desk isn't just an excuse to be a lazy slob (do we really need one, though?), it can actually help create an environment in which creativity can flourish.

A 2013 study published in the Psychological Science journal found that a messy environment increases creative thinking. The study’s “messy room” also made participants more drawn to new things. The same study found that an orderly environment led participants to be drawn to “classic” items and to choose healthier snacks than those in the messy environment.

So, the next time your spouse, roommate, or parent gets all huffy about the clutter around your workspace, just remind them that your stacks of books, open binders, strewn knickknacks, and old fast food wrappers create a place for your creativity to grow (and mold -- you should probably throw away those wrappers).

A Pair of Running Shoes

I mean -- I'm not thrilled to say this, but it's true -- exercise boosts creativity, because it promotes divergent thinking.

Studies have shown that exercise can improve our ability to think creatively. Divergent thinking, in particular--that is, thinking of more possibilities for a certain set of circumstances--was improved by exercise in a study where half the participants exercised before completing a creative-thinking task.

This doesn't mean that you have to go out and run a 10K or join Crossfit to come up with something creative. If you don't like running, ride a bike. If you don't like riding a bike, do some stretches in your living room. If you don't like that -- there's -- walking and general body movement. I've come up with some great ideas walking back home from bars and having 1-person dance parties in my office.

Be sure to check out Fast Company's article to read the full list!

What gets you in a creative state of mind? Do you have any suggestions on how to maintain creativity? Let us know in the comments below!

[Lightbulb image by Flickr user Daniel Tabas]

Link: The 6 Best Tools for Creative Work, According to Science -- Fast Company

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Your Comment


People have always been getting in my back when it comes to the order of my room, (and I mean everybody).

Now, according to Joe, I'm a freaking Genius...

April 22, 2014 at 8:20AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


joe didn't write this article, renee did. although I totally agree about the messy desk part. next time my wife wants to stifle my creativity, I mean clean up my mess (sorry honey), i'll point her to this article

April 22, 2014 at 9:47AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


We've kind of been through this before - it's possible to be neat and creative. There was a line on Seinfeld's arguably greatest episode ever (The Implant, 1993), about Jerry the Character, who was pretty close to Jerry the Real Actor/Writer/Comedian. Spoken by Terry Hatcher as "Sidra".
"He's one of those guys who is obsessed with neatness and order. Everything has gotta be just so. He would have made a great Nazi."

April 22, 2014 at 9:32AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


There are always exceptions. (I'm a neat person who doesn't like clutter.) But, did just realize that the only things in my house that ARE messy and cluttered are my bookshelf and my desk. So…that's funny.

April 22, 2014 at 10:56AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

V Renée
Content Manager at Coverfly

Keith Jarret is one if not the most improvisational jazz pianist of all time. And he is very structured in life off stage. Almost a complete tight-ass. But he plays as creative and free as nobody does. Truly one of a kind.
No messy desk ... but still a grand creative mind... ( well I haven't really seen his desk.....but he is known to be very punctual.)

April 23, 2014 at 7:08AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I can't stand clutter! It messes with my ability to think creatively.

April 22, 2014 at 11:13AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Yeah I'm with you on that. A lot of the time I completely fail at being tidy as I'm inherently disorganized but at the same time mess totally screws up my ability to concentrate. Also having a horrible attention deficit comes into play in a lot of these traits (while at the same time almost everyone I know who has ADD is mad creative).

April 22, 2014 at 3:29PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Check out John Cleese on creativity. He is the man!!
The messy part really works for me in a way.
I have a way to let my desk get really messy (I think this is getting lots of raw material ) When it gets to bad I need to clean it all up, and I do that by starting over from scratch. That works really well. Just throw everything overboard clean up and redecorate your way of structuring the desk and even your mindset. In this process I use a numerous set of rules. Less is more, think the opposite , do I really need this?? ... And as always .. what does my gut say about that? And sometimes when it is necessary I ask my self : "what would be above my capabilities?? " " amaze me ??". Come up with something so " out of reach" and then try to work towards that goal. And if you just get 20% of the initial idea... your doing pretty well I think. We'll it depends on how far the initial idea went in the first place. Anyway there is a lot more to it off course. I haven't even scratched the surface of what kind of process and trick I use. But what I portrait here I've used multiple times and in many different fields... I mean not only creative in film, design or this kind of uses. Also in financial structuring a jazz club and coming up with a way to build my kitchen or bathroom .. I'm just saying... the process is exactly the same.

The overall structure is mostly the same I think. With every idea ever thought up that was worth while. The same elements come into play. Even check how Darwin combined a lot of raw data and even stole some info before coming up with the evolution theory . Classic case I think.

And to be honest .. the first part is really hard and messy, but when you get over the tipping point of no return, stuff just falls into place. And the last part is mostly the doing part. Executing the plan. This can sometimes almost be boring because you mostly done this in your head before, numerous times..

Well, I can only say : check out John Cleese and John Maeda. Good stuff.

April 23, 2014 at 7:00AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


what I'm trying to say is.... Messy Works! But it sometimes needs to progress in to concrete action and reality. This can be the hard part. Because the messy improv part is so much fun.
So creative thinking is all fine and well. But won't mean much without the lather part of the process.
Act stuff out from time to time... even if it feels unachievable or just plane stupid.

April 23, 2014 at 8:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


judging from my apartment more often than not, i've reached critical mass creativity if it's connected to clutter lol. but seriously, i've always preferred to physically write things down instead of tap them into my phone were i'll forget all about them, i'm also big into fitness and go to the gym pretty much daily. for me, at least, this article is pretty spot on.

April 25, 2014 at 9:45AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Organised chaos and creativity seem to go hand in hand, but I will 'de-frag' my desk and office from time to pushing a reset button.

April 25, 2014 at 8:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Notebooks are vital. When I was cartooning (now doing film) which often need a punchline or some note to capture it, I found I couldn't trust myself to remember it later- not the spark, I mean. So, always a notebook. For me, mess, sometimes, no mess, noise, music, sometimes no music. Travel helps, too. I live in Tanzania, since 2007, and life is rather "cluttery" here, so perhaps that helps too. But seeing new places, new ways of living, it feeds your mental bank.

Mental cross training- changing routines, learning a new thing, for film folks that might mean some software program, just hit your mind in the flabby parts.

For contrast, Flaubert said something like, "live like a you can {be a creative beast}"

Stendhal used to read law codes before writing (charthouse of parma, the red and the black).

Many writers say they get great ideas or solutions during walks.

great post thanks

April 26, 2014 at 10:51PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


The more ideas I write down the more ideas I realize. Exercise reawakens a perceptions thats not usually at the forefront of my mind.

March 6, 2017 at 6:32PM