What is Creative Chaos?

Michael Pollick

Many people who work in creative fields often prefer a chaotic or disorderly environment around them while they work on new ideas or projects. The painter Pablo Picasso once said, "An act of art begins as an act of destruction," which describes the phenomenon known as "creative chaos" quite well. This occurs when established patterns are destroyed, with the hope of something new arising from the positive chaos by the destruction. Creative people would consider this moment a breakthrough, as a new and unexpected result rises from the rubble of a former creative stumbling block.

Creative chaos might be used to describe clutter.
Creative chaos might be used to describe clutter.

According to an old saying, one cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs. In the case of creative chaos, one cannot make an exciting new egg dish without burning up several pans and breaking dozens of eggs. People who thrive on such an environment are often most comfortable at the moment of discovery and beyond, not the weeks or months of experimentation that led up to it. This is why it is so common to find a creative person's office filled to the ceiling with clutter and effluvia. Concerns over order and sanitation are secondary to the excitement surrounding a new discovery.

Some creative people work better in a chaotic environment.
Some creative people work better in a chaotic environment.

The practice of creative chaos in the workplace has long been a source of controversy. Some employees whose jobs require significant creativity often find themselves at odds with supervisors who don't understand their need for disorder. An artist working alone in a studio or a writer working in an office may be able to work in chaos, but corporate employees working in advertising or graphic arts may not have that luxury. Maintaining a balance between order and disorder can be challenging for companies that need employees with creative backgrounds.

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The term has also been applied to geopolitical situations, such as the war in Iraq. There is a political theory that suggests that a new and effective government system will arise only after the old regimes have been destroyed or neutralized. This application is often used as a justification for war, since the only proven way to obliterate an entire corrupt government is through military superiority. While the successfulness of this theory may still be unproven, it does point out both the positive and negative aspects of seeking new growth following destruction and chaos.

Creative chaos can cause people to have an overactive mind and have trouble sleeping.
Creative chaos can cause people to have an overactive mind and have trouble sleeping.

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Discussion Comments


One of the best models of the truth behind the theory of chaos is that of the atom. Atoms are always spinning about in a frenetic manner. I guess at this level it would be called quantum chaos.

If you lived in its universe, you would see nothing but chaos. However, when you step out, you see that atoms make up molecules, and molecules make matter, and matter makes things that we see as “ordered” structure. I think this is one example that chaos theory works, at least in physics.

I can certainly see how the analogy could extend to creativity and the conscious mind, which is like the atom, also spinning about, except with ideas.


@anon31688 - You might want to suggest subtle ways to organize his work environment without insisting on a total makeover. If he were to come into his office one day and everything were totally in order, he might go ballistic.

If, however, you focused on organizing just one thing—whatever that might be—you could help him see the benefits of increased efficiency and reduced clutter.

Then you’d have an opening for helping him in other areas, if—and only if—he wants the help. Of course, you have to meet him half way; you need to let things “go” a little without losing your cool too.


I am creative and organized. I work for a creative, chaotic boss. How do I achieve my job and not impede his performance?

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