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Chaos - Is it a Negative or a Door for Creativity?

Are you someone who works best surrounded by stacks of books, music blaring and a deadline looming? Or do you need perfect calm, a set routine and a minimalist space to get the creative juices flowing?

Chaos - a state of flux and unpredictability - has long been linked to creativity. In fact, many great thinkers have found their ‘ah hah’ moments in the midst of disorder. So, as we work on business and personal projects alike, should we all be taking a leaf out of their books to embrace chaos to maximise creativity?

The Case for Chaos

It’s certainly true that, without a little chaos, our lives would be doomed to predictability. With a set routine and rigid daily habits, it’s easy to get stuck thinking - and working - in the same way every day.

That’s where chaos comes in to shake us out of our habitual thinking patterns. Amidst the disorder of an unexpected event or an ever-changing routine, there’s often more space for fresh ideas to surface. Unforeseen events or sudden shifts can also force us to make connections that we wouldn’t have even considered otherwise.

A chaotic working environment can also, apparently, encourage creativity. Minimalism might be all the rage these days, yet a study has found that working in a messy room helps people try new things and generate creative ideas. A whole host of geniuses, from Einstein to Mark Twain to Steve Jobs, were notorious for having chaotic desk setups. So, next time someone tells you to clean up? You can tell them you’re just fostering creativity!

An example of chaos on a global scale? The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ever-changing regulations, restrictions and workplace expectations that came with the pandemic created a true sense of unpredictability that rippled across the world. For some, this state of flux caused feelings of anxiety and stagnation that seriously shackled creative thought. But for others? They thrived.

Having a break from order and routine shook up how a lot of people think about how and why they work. New business models were born as enterprises adapted to find fresh ways to operate and technological innovation surged. Interestingly, when 35,000 creatives were asked, nearly half (45.3%) said that they experienced more creative ideas during the pandemic than before.

So, sometimes it’s good to invite chance, welcome randomness, and embrace a little chaos to get creative!

The Case for Order

On the other side of the coin, there are many people who thrive with order, routine and predictability. Creativity flourishes when their mind is well rested, their environment is well-organised, and they have a moment of calm to focus on their inner voice.

As anyone who’s had to work through a house move, or carry on as normal in the aftermath of sudden life change, staying productive during moments of chaos can be tough. Whilst some people thrive on disorder, many go into survival mode.

Then there’s the issue of sustaining creativity - and turning it into something tangible - in the midst of chaos. It may be easy to feel a sudden spark of inspiration in a messy room or a disordered routine; but is it possible to keep the momentum going and channel it into a business, innovation, or finished work of art?

Having a clearly laid out plan can help maintain a sense of direction and focus, allowing for deeper and more concentrated creative work. Equally, having an ordered environment and predictable routine can free up precious mental energy for out-of-the box thinking and innovative problem solving.

So, whether it’s carving out a morning routine or committing to set, uninterrupted working hours, there are ways to give a little structure to our chaos - whilst still leaving space for those ‘ah hah’ moments.

Finding Your Most Creative State

As is so often the case, there’s no set rule for the relationship between chaos, order and creativity; it truly does vary for each and every one of us. But, as a general rule, creativity often flourishes in a state of balance, or an ebb and flow, somewhere between the two extremes.

Learning what your brain’s acceptable level of ‘chaos’ is will help you figure out how you thrive. So, why not experiment with different ways of working to find that sweet spot that enhances - but also maintains - your creative flow?

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