In a TED talk on creativity, Tim Harford talks about how adding a touch of mess increases your ability to solve problems. In one of his examples, the psychologist Katherine Philips gave some problems to students in groups of 4. Some groups were 4 friends who knew each other well, other groups were 3 friends and a stranger. The groups with the stranger did a better job at solving the problems. Not just by a little, but by a lot. However, although the 4-friends groups said they’d had a good time, the 3 friends plus stranger groups said they’d not had such a good time, felt somewhat awkward and didn’t think they’d done a good job (even though they had).
Adding a touch of mess (strangers, disruptions, random changes …) can help us become more creative, but we tend to believe that it’s annoying and doesn’t help us at all … and so we often resist it.
Which makes it challenging.
I ran a naming ideation recently with some external “strangers” in the room together with the client team. The initial awkwardness was soon gone as the ideas started flying and we came up with a wonderful array of compelling names. Could we have got to the same place running the naming ideation with just an internal client team? I’m not so sure. The added randomness sparked many ideas that might not have arisen before.
Mess is messy, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid it.