Cluttered Desk, Cluttered Mind? Maybe Not.

The holidays are long done, and the greyness of midwinter is all around us.  Whether you are back in your office now or working from home, sitting back down to start a new year at your work desk can be daunting, especially if the same piles of files, notebooks, junk mail, and post-it notes from 2021 are still there to greet you.  A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind, right?  Behavioral Science shows that for some of us, that’s absolutely true. But, if you happen to like your personal domain just the messy way it is, don’t let the organizers of the world desk-shame you.  According to scientific studies, and the example of several famous scientists, a perfectly organized and clean desk isn’t the only way to work in a productive and creative manner.  As Albert Einstein, captain of a famously messy desk himself, said: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Albert Einstein, member of the Messy Desk Club

An organized desk is a wonderful thing, but it’s theorized that messy desks may actually allow for more creativity.  Einstein was just one of numerous scientists who had shockingly messy workspaces. If your desk is a mess then you are in the company of Steve Jobs, Alan Turing, Thomas Edison, and —  owner of a monumentally messy desk – Isaac Newton.  Psychologist Bill Crawford says that there is room in the world for both the organized and the cluttered.  According to him, the best desk is a desk that allows you to be productive and creative, no matter how it looks.   But for some people, it seems that being in the center of what looks like clutter actually allows them to see the full range of their work, remind them of projects, and, most importantly, see interconnections between everything they are working on.

Isaac Newton, member of the Messy Desk Club

People who work better from a clean desk should keep it clean and organized, because that is what’s good for them.  But there’s no need to side-eye that messy colleague.  Eric Abrahamson, author of  A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, says that: “While it might appear otherwise, a messy desk isn’t devoid of order.  What seems like a mess can actually be a highly effective prioritizing and accessing system. On a messy desk, the most time sensitive projects tend to be found at the top of the pile, while the work that gets ignored tends to get relegated to the bottom.  Not having a strict system can lend itself to more innovative ideas when you least expect it.”  Some of the messiest of desks, after all,  were the birthplace of some of the greatest ideas, such as the theory of gravity and the modern computer!

Alan Turing, member of the Messy Desk Club

The clean desk vs. messy desk debate has been going on so long that there have actually been some serious scientific studies on it.  Social Psychologist and Applied Behavioral Scientist Dr. Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota explored how a clean desk versus a messy desk might affect behavior.  Does clutter really clutter the mind?  In her study, researchers had participants fill out questionnaires in both orderly and cluttered spaces.  After this activity they were asked if they wanted to donate to charity, and offered a snack of an apple or some dark chocolate.  Those who were in the clean room were more likely to opt for philanthropy and a healthy snack.  Those in the messy room took the chocolate and fewer opted to donate.  Participants in each room were also asked to come up with new ideas for the use of ping pong balls.  Participants in both spaces came up with the same number of ideas, but the messy room’s ideas were rated as more creative by judges.  

Thomas Edison, Member of the Messy Desk Club, at his Messy Desk

Vohs concluded that “disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can encourage fresh insights.”  In contrast, orderly environments appear to encourage convention and playing it safe.  No matter what your desk looks like, the science says that there is room for all preferences at the…um…desk, because all no matter if you are an organizer or a clutterer, your way of working has its advantages.  Happy National Clean Your Desk (or not) Day!

References and Further Reading:

Talk by Eric Abrahamson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy4xm3n2iXE

Dr. Bill Crawford: What Does Your Desk Say About You? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1TtsP4Wvdk

Successful People with Messy Desks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLSEIDITJns

The Work of Dr. Kathleen Vohs (link to article on study at bottom of page): https://thedecisionlab.com/thinkers/psychology/kathleen-vohs/

Thanks, Science! The Best Discoveries of 2021

Happy 2022!  2021 was certainly…a year.  Although things have not been easy, 2021 was a benchmark year for science.  The biggest science story of 2021 is undoubtedly the effort to develop and distribute vaccines across the entire world, all while responding our ever-evolving and wily foe, COVID.  The scientific community across the world has seen some of its darkest and its finest hours in this worldwide fight, and we at High Touch High Tech salute every single scientific professional involved in this profound historical moment. 

In times like these, it’s easy for other scientific discoveries to slip through the cracks.  As 2022 dawns, let’s take a moment to ponder some of the other discoveries that made 2021 such an important year for science.

1.  THE MARS ROVER

People all over the world cheered when both the United States, and later China, landed autonomous rovers on Mars.  For the Perseverance Mars Rover Team, it first involved a hair-raising parachute landing on Mars.  Since the Perseverance Rover landed, it has been able to launch a mini-helicopter that was the first controlled human flight on another planet.  It has also converted Carbon Dioxide into Oxygen to prove it could be done for future colonization on Mars, and begun to do what it was specially designed for: gathering samples of Mars that will be sent back to earth in hopes of detecting signs of alien life.  The Perseverance Rover could revolutionize our understanding of our place in the universe by answering one of the biggest questions in all of science!

https://mars.nasa.gov/news/9036/nasas-perseverance-rover-collects-puzzle-pieces-of-mars-history/

Photo:
Joyradost
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

2.  FIRST HUMANS IN THE AMERICAS

23,000 years ago, a rather flat-footed teenager walked along the shores of an ancient lake that is now located in New Mexico’s White Sands National Park.  In 2021, this now-fossilized stroll revolutionized our understanding of how long humans have been in the Americas, and opened fascinating new questions of how humans arrived here.  It was once believed that Indigenous Americans had only been in America for about 13,000 years, descended from a small band that migrated across a land bridge in Asia.  These footprints, described by archaeologist Ciprian Ardelean as “very close to finding the Holy Grail,” cast the old theory, known as “Clovis First” into serious doubt.  The footprints were made at a time when it is believed that glaciers had walled off passage to the Americas, raising intriguing new questions about Indigenous American arrival.  Could it have been by sea?  We hope the coming years will bring us more answers to this fascinating mystery.

https://www.discovery.com/science/new-23-000-year-old-human-footprints-discovered-in-america

3.  PIG ORGAN TRANSPLANTED INTO A HUMAN

This milestone medical breakthrough was understandably overshadowed by other issues in global public health, but it represents a moment that both medical researchers and their patients have been waiting for for years.  In October 2020, doctors in New York City’s Langone Medical Center transplanted a kidney from a genetically-altered pig into a human.  They were able to monitor the transplant extensively and confirmed that it was working normally, although the long-term prospect of rejection is still unknown.  The field of “Xenotransplantation,” or transplanting tissues from non-humans into humans, is still new but could soon develop a sustainable source of organs for people in need across the world.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/20/health/human-pig-kidney-transplant-scli-intl-scn/index.html

Photo:
Adyah Ningtyas
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Common
s

4.  WORLD’S OLDEST ANIMAL ART

The discovery of a very big Warty Pig painted in a cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia, pushed the earliest known instance of an animal image back by several thousand years.   Sketched in red ochre, the Warty Pig (pictured above – it’s a real species still living in Indonesia today), was dated by the mineral formations on its surface.  It’s not the oldest known painting in the world – hand stencils in a cave in Spain or possibly even a drawn-on rock from South Africa may be older.  But, the previous record-holder for oldest animal image comes from France’s Chauvet Cave, with a date of 33,000 years ago.  The Warty Pig painting doesn’t just tell us more about the birth of human symbolic and abstract thinking, it also provides the earliest evidence of human settlement in the region, giving more credence to the theory that early humans migrated from Africa to Australia 65,000 years ago.

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/01/14/archaeologists-have-discovered-worlds-oldest-animal-cave-painting

Photo:
Pablo Carlos Budassi
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

5.  FIRST PLANET OUTSIDE OF THE MILKY WAY GALAXY

In the wonderfully-named Whirlpool Galaxy (pictured above), only 28 million light years away, astronomers have pinpointed a large and as-yet-mysterious planet, the first ever identified outside of our own Milky Way Galaxy.  The planet seems to be orbiting a star that itself is orbiting with an extremely dense object, possibly a neutron star or black hole. The dense object causes the X-rays from the star’s gas to glow, and the possible exoplanet was spotted when it passed in front of the glow.  Believed to be about the size of Saturn, the exoplanet may not return to visibility for 70 years, but it does reinforce the potential of X-ray wavelengths as a strategy to locate distant planets.

https://www.npr.org/2021/10/26/1049282754/nasa-new-planet-discovered-outside-milky-way-galaxy

Photo:
Mike Pennington / Stegosaurus skeleton, National Museums of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

In case you want more scientific breakthroughs (and who doesn’t?) here are a few more amazing discoveries from 2021:

THE MALARIA VACCINE:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7227679/

THE LOST GOLDEN CITY OF LUXOR, EGYPT:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-56686448

TINY ANIMALS REVIVED AFTER 24,000 YEARS IN PERMAFROST:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2279992-tiny-animal-revived-after-24000-years-entombed-in-siberian-permafrost/

HUMAN GENOME 100% SEQUENCED:

https://phys.org/news/2021-06-sequenced-entire-human-genome.html

SUPER COOL ARMORED STEGOSAURUS:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-12-02/dinosaur-has-resemblance-to-aztec-weapon/100667992

Sources and Further Reading:

National Geographic:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/graphics/the-21-most-fascinating-scientific-discoveries-of-2021?loggedin=true

Inverse:

https://www.inverse.com/wtf-science-discoveries-2021

The Natural History Museum of Utah:

https://nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2021/top-science-stories-2021