Einstein Was Wrong

On one hand, it takes a lot to make a statement openly contradictory to common sense. On the other, it is remarkably easy to turn it into publicity stunt, hoping to surf the waves of public outrage. The latter one only works if you can actually prove your point. Otherwise, your new astrological sign is that of an idiot, saying something shocking just for social media likes. Which could also mean you’re one of modern day celebrities, famous for nothing but the fame itself. In the good old days, that some misadjusted to reality crave for, things were a bit different. Amongst starlets, playboys, and criminals, scientists often hit the frontpages. Albert Einstein is probably the best known example, with his impeccable reasoning and creativity reshaping our understanding of literally everything.

Apparently, he had some worse days too, and on one of them, he made a statement that is just wrong.

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

It is the ultimate excuse of all the hoarders, all the unorganized, all those favouring chaos over order. If it was more widely known, it should have its special category in art and science of rhetoric. I’m more than happy to name it reductio ad Einsteinum. You just can’t argue with the someone whose name is essentially synonymous to genius.

Thing is, he wasn’t right this one time.

Interestingly, he wasn’t wrong either. Lookup his own desk. It was constantly filled with tons of paper. Mark Twain’s office looked alike. Ironically, Steve Jobs’ command centre was the same.

And while you’ll be sharing this post on the Facebook, know that Mark Zuckerberg’s desk is far from clean and organised too.

Clearly, it’s possible to draw a conclusion that cluttered working space results in a greater creativity.

There are just a few caveats about it. Just enough to make it somewhat less legitimate.

First, there’s the almost formal problem. There’s just not enough data to make it a valid conclusion. Sadly, as mankind is in a notorious state of geniuses deprivation, it doesn’t seem like it will ever change.

(And if you’re bored with that, you’re right! I added this argument only to meet the ancient rule of art.)

Second, there’s a somewhat unknown connection between clutter and willpower. The first depletes reserves of the other. Your conscience will never notice that your brain constantly scans everything within your sight. And every item you see requires a single decision – do something about it or not. Every decision, no matter how minute and regardless of your actual participation in the process, comes at a price of willpower. Want to copy Einstein, Twain, and Zuckerberg? Great. Just be aware you’ll be more likely to procrastinate, eat more, and, generally, indulge into every single habit giving you instant gratification.

(Just a note: Yes, you want to avoid most of these habits.)

And third, following Einstein’s idea is a logical error. Some highly successful, creative, and intelligent people lived and worked with their workspaces cluttered. That’s a fact. So, what can we, humans, do with this knowledge? Of course, assume that vice versa statement is also correct. Within moments we’re reaching the conclusion that by allowing chaos to flood us, we’ll be more successful, creative, and intelligent. Given there’s no effort required, we’re all in. That’s a quick win. Given that vast majority of mankind’s history was defined by shortages of food, shelter, and energy, there’s hardly anything we love more than quick wins.

Don’t go there. Just don’t. Being surrounded by piles of stuff might not work for you.

Embarrassingly, I was there too. For decades, I was able to find something else than getting organized. Every single task, however dull and pointless, seemed more productive. Hearing the quote of Einstein made things much worse, as it gave me a very comfortable excuse. After all, it wasn’t that I was unorganized. I was creative!

Somehow, the results didn’t follow my belief. Moments of heroic inspiration were sparse. It just didn’t work.

It turned out that another quote is more valid. Ironically, made not by a scientist, but by an actual creative artist – Pablo Picasso.

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.

Well, with clutter all around you, the actual working part is less likely to happen.

You’re likely to be at your desk right as you read it. Declutter it. Organize it. Make it right.


Opinions are my own and not the views of my employers, customers, or clients.

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