One piece of research that changed my views on many things while I was writing the book was done by two psychologists, Craig Knight and S Alexander Haslam, where they examined the effects of ‘clean desk’ policies. They got people to sit in various office spaces that they’d designed and do tasks like sort some emails, do some paperwork or other regular office tasks. What Knight and Haslam found was, first of all, that people didn’t seem to like a super minimalist office. If it was bare and there were no distractions, people weren’t super comfortable. A much more powerful finding was that whether the office was full of soft furnishing and potted plants, or whether it was minimalist or not, wasn’t the issue. The issue was: did people have control over their spaces.
If you’re a neat person, could you make it neat? If you were a messy person, could you make it messy? Or would somebody else come along and change everything for you? They found that when people had control over their spaces, they got loads done. They were happy. Comfortable. Productive.
But when the experimenters came in and rearranged the space and said, “Oh, I’m afraid, you can’t have the potted plant there. You can’t put your poster there,” people got very resentful and it was multidimensional resentment. They hated the task. They hated the space. They hated the company. It was just because their autonomy had been threatened.
From “Good News for Messy People: How Disorder can Contribute to Success”