Why People Who Are Scatterbrained Are Actually More Intelligent

Although you might not be ready to call yourself a full-on mess — at least not yet — you've always been a bit, well, disorganized. And your seemingly messy life is a result of your completely scatterbrained state of being.

Your desk is flooded with loose pieces of paper. You have a hard time keeping track of certain belongings, specifically tubes of chapstick and credit cards. You clean your room, but it usually only manages to stay that way for a day — maybe two — at the most.

And all your life, you've been urged to work on this area of your life. Sloppiness leads to error, they say, insisting instead that cleanliness is a requirement for success.

But this has never really bothered you. Despite your less-than-tidy, less-than-focused ways, you've always been able to function perfectly fine.

Sure, your room might be messy, and you might be all over the place — mentally and physically — but you seem to know where everything is, as difficult as that may seem to an outsider.

You may misplace things from time to time, but it's never detrimental to your overall life. You're not oblivious to the fact that your mind is everywhere, but it just sort of works for you.

Well, according to Eric Barker for Time Magazine, these scatterbrained tendencies of yours may actually determine how smart you are.

Citing Steven Johnson's book “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation,” Barker presents a theory that says messiness is an indicator of intelligence.

The basis of the theory hinges on the idea that a more congested, idea-cluttered brain will lead to more potential breakthroughs.

To demonstrate this, Barker compares the creativity levels of big cities versus small towns. He says, “A city that was 10 times larger than its neighbor… was 17 times more innovative. A metropolis 50 times bigger than a town was 130 times more innovative.”

According to Barker, this is because higher volumes of “ideas bouncing about” in those more crowded cities and metropolises lead to a general increase in innovation.

So, just like a crowded city or metropolis is more innovative than a more sparsely populated village, so too will a crowded, scatterbrained mind be more prone to those kinds of innovative thoughts.

Additionally, Johnson says that engaging in multiple hobbies, like many scatterbrained people do, keeps your brain working at peak efficiency.

He explains how working on a variety of different projects at once can provoke new, more abstract styles of thought and reasoning.

Instead of zoning into one specific way of thinking, serial tasking (or multitasking) forces you to shuffle between thought processes and encourages your brain to “approach intellectual roadblocks from new angles or to borrow tools from one discipline to solve problems in another.”

For example, if your hobbies include painting and playing the piano, you can put some music on as you paint, and the song can inspire your style of art. Conversely, what you decide to paint that day can inspire you to write a new song on the piano.

At the end of the day, you want your thoughts to jumble around with each other. It may sound counterintuitive, but you want your ideas to “fight,” as Barker puts it.

On his own personal blog, Barker references the work of Jonah Lehrer, who argues in his book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” that this so-called debating of ideas is what leads to productivity.

He writes “debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.” This could be a provocative finding in regard to people who are disorganized.

Although it’s easy to argue that the clutter of items on someone's desk or the floor of his or her room may prevent that person from thinking clearly, Lehrer seems to think such clutter could stimulate a person creatively.

It's as if disorganized, scatterbrained people are trained to thrive in chaos.

Ultimately, your own disorganization will train you to approach situations differently, perhaps in a way that prepares you to handle the disorderly nature of life.

The most successful people are the ones who can react when obstacles arise, but who can also remain focused on their objectives.

Granted, the obstacles that most messy people might face come in the form of physical obstacles — say, when they accidentally knock over a pile of books stacked on their desk, for instance — but the ability to succeed in the midst of disarray is always valuable.

And you might not be able to keep your room clean for more than a few hours at a time, but that habit might actually be the key to your success.

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Dan Scotti