Magazine Contact #19 - Magazine - About us - Concept Wiesner-Hager

Show me your office ...and I’ll tell you how you work

Magazine Contact #19

“Only the mean spirited are orderly, genius rules in chaos,” is the philosophy of life many chaotic colleagues propagate. Their contemporaries who walk the straight and narrow point out that order is a good half of life. But what is the effect our working environment has in reality? Three experiments provide a pointer.

Studies have shown that people who do clean work are themselves proverbially “clean”, they collect their wastes, avoid crime, behave with generosity – they are thus morally correct. Disorder by contrast motivates people to think social rules and standards are unimportant and to behave in an immoral and aggressive manner. To Kathleen Vohs, Professor at the University of Minnesota, this approach seemed too one dimensional. She developed three experiments, in which some 300 volunteers were tested for the truth of the theory in a disorderly and in a tidy office.

Clean makes you healthy, morally correct and generous!
She had the test people fill out a questionnaire in the first experiment. After this they could pick an apple or a sweet as a reward snack. In addition Vohs asked them if they would be prepared to donate a sum of money to charity. It is hardly credible: but the environment had a significant effect on behaviour. People who had worked in an orderly environment turned down an unhealthy snack more frequently and donated more money. So it’s one point up for the orderly working environment.

Long live creative chaos!
This result says nothing about creativity.

That’s why the test people were called on to think up new uses for ping-pong balls in a further study. And see what happened: both groups had the same number of ideas, but the suggestions handed out of chaos were evaluated by an independent jury as being five times as creative as those from a clean environment. So an untidy environment helps to generate unusual solutions.

The shying away of orderly people from the new!
Chaos animates the brain to think “out of the box” pattern and to develop a wealth of inventive ideas. What’s more it encourages people to try out the new, as Vohs showed with her last experiment. The test people were called on to choose between well-known and unknown products. The disorderly environment promoted interest in new products, and thus inspired the departure from tradition and the development of fresh impulses. The orderly working environment tended to result in conservative decisions.

Our recommendation: No strict office regulations when creative solutions are called for. An orderly working environment is in demand, however, when everything needs to be run to plan.

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