A messy desk is not the only sign of a creative mind. A creative person also has a messy mind. It seems the processes involved in creativity just don’t lend themselves to a conventional sense of order.
Whether you’re a mathematician working to solve a centuries-old problem, a financial analyst struggling to present information in a new way, or a writer groping for the perfect opening, there is no linear progression from Point A to Point B – at least not according to a paper cited by Scott Barry Kaufman in his SI Blog piece on the messy minds of creative people.
The paper, authored by psychologists Furst, Ghisletta and Lubart, brings together several research threads that form three “super-factors” of personality. These factors — Plasticity, Divergence, and Convergence — predict creativity. Those who are creative are more likely to be high-energy people who are non-conformists who are open to new experiences. They are precise, persistent, and highly conscientious once they hit on their topic.
These “super-factors” of personality led to a new model of the creative process. Rather than visualize the stages of the creative process as the conventionally accepted Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification, they envision a process made up of Generation and Selection. In the Generation stage, all possibilities are considered without worrying about the plausibility of any of them. During the Selection stage, the ideas are winnowed out to come upon the ideals that are “not only novel, but also valuable to society.” Once this is done, the creative person can move forward.
I like to think of the creative process as a mix of the two theories. First is the Generation and Selection stage. Then come Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification. The task of settling on a topic and the thesis within that topic is complicated and daunting: What factors should be considered in the solution to the math problem? What information is most important to the audience? What tone is the piece going to have? Generation and Selection can help with that. Then it’s necessary to research and mull it over until the Eureka! moment arrives and work gets underway.
So enjoy your messy desk. Don’t fear your messy mind. Turns out they’re signs of your creativity!