People with messy minds are the most creative.

Did Mozart’s Creative Genius Come From a “Messy Mind?”

As I sat in the audience at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York this past summer entranced by the beauty of this master’s music, I wondered: why are some people are more creative than others?

Mozart astoundingly composed over 600 operas, concertos and other works in his brief life. He wrote his first piece at age 5 and died at 35. Where did his creativity come from?

Free to Imagine

I was inspired to write about this by an article in the festival program by Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist and Director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. He writes that scientists have confirmed that the personality trait “openness to experience” is a potent contributor to creative thinking and achievement.

Those who are high in this attribute, he writes, tend to be imaginative, curious, perceptive…and driven to explore their inner worlds of ideas

Creative people don’t follow a linear path. They have “messy minds” with the ability to mix and match ideas. In the video below, he says creatives know when to be mindful and observant of their surroundings, while also knowing when to follow their otherworldly dreams.

They look beyond what is and dream of what could be. They have a vision of reality that doesn’t exist. That’s called imagination.

Willing to Make Mistakes

Another essential trait of creative people is their willingness to make mistakes and experience a lot of trial and error. Take a look at the video before reading further.

I believe that while those of us in business would like to be more creative, we fear making mistakes. How many companies give their employees license to fail?

Too often the focus is on the bottom line. It won’t take long for a new employee to learn the culture of a company and its tolerance for risk, which means not always coming up with the right solution the first time around.

If you’re an entrepreneur, didn’t you go into business so that you could do things “my way?” Yet, it isn’t easy to dream big and make the big mistakes that eventually can lead to a breakthrough for your business. Time is money and maybe you don’t have enough of either to let your messy mind run free.

Getting back to Mozart, most of us will never match his genius. There are very few special people like him in music or any other endeavor. For all his creativity, though, Mozart managed his money badly and died with a load of debt.

Even a creative genius like Mozart had to worry about paying the bills, like other mere mortals.

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  1. Great blog post and so amazing that Mozart could accomplish so much. Reading this reminds me of the saying we hear all the time: “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person.” I find that when I’m busy I am more likely to accomplish everything on my to-do list than when I have too much time on my hands. Everyone I talk to seems to feel the same way. So I think it would be a good idea for all of us to emulate Mozart — at least a little bit.

    • Mark, it’s so true. When you don’t have enough to do, you find ways to fill the time, usually with unimportant things, like visiting the refrigerator multiple times. At least that’s what I do and it shows!

  2. Hi Jeannette. I love this post. I spent 18 years working in the business community, but my creative personality often got me in trouble, as I was always thinking outside the lines. I’ve never been a linear person. Once I left the corporate world and followed my creative path, my creativity flourished, no longer suffering from the constraints of corporate red tape and restrictive thinking and practices. I felt free at last!

    • Doreen — My, how you have flourished, and become the Queen of Chocolate! How creative that is and so much fun, too. I love the photos of you in your chocolate baths!

  3. I agree that creative people think outside of the box. They approach tasks and project in their own unique way.

    The reason why some business owners take little risk is probably due to having too much to lose. They focus on the “what if this were to happen” and “what if that were to happen”. I understand as someone who is very black and white and steers towards being cautious.

    • Phoenicia — I think the reason why many creative people don’t succeed in business is because they don’t have it in them to follow traditional paths. They are great at creating something new but don’t often have the business sense to go with their creativity. That’s a generalization, I know, but I’ve seen it happen.

  4. Hello Jeannette, while certainly not a genius :), I definitely feel like I have a messy mind. So many of the traits and qualities mentioned seem to fit me well as far as creativity. I prefer thinking outside the box feeling free to imagine what could be.

    • Susan — You are very creative as I’ve seen over the years. I loved your story-telling posts and your creativity in all your recipes.

  5. When I started my lifestyle blog, I forced myself to let go and be more creative. I make sure to stay creative and also be practical. It’s a balancing act, but as a small biz owner we need to wear all hats.

    • Sabrina — Small business owners are probably among the most creative people because we have to find creative ways to get things done with limited resources.

  6. Very interesting topic and I enjoyed the video. From a business perspective, one of the traditional strategies intended to spur (force) creativity and innovation that has always puzzled me is brainstorming. I mean, there you are, sitting in a room with a group of your peers and your boss(s) – marker in hand as they’re standing at a board waiting for you to come up with something brilliant. No pressure at all! Anyway, I agree with your point about fear being an issue, in fact, most people would find they are far more creative than they give themselves credit for if they would invest the time exploring that side of their nature.

    • Marquita — I agree that most of us have hidden wells of creativity. I, myself, have been intimidated by all the creative people I know in my social and business life. But my ideas are valuable, too. I just suggested a new idea for a nonprofit organization I belong to and if it happens it will bring in a big chunk of money. Yay me!

  7. Fear of failure definitely plays its role in hindering creatively. I know a few painters and they are definitely of the messy mind variety and they seem to thrive on it. I’m extremely organized, but even organized people can be creative, though I often have to trick myself into finding ways to tap into my creativity because dang it, as you point out, creativity is messy. The mess is worth it though because the process and the end product each bear worthwhile fruit.

    • Jeri — I agree that just because you’re organized doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. I think a messy mind equates to tossing around a lot of ideas in your head and coming up with the best option. This applies to writing or any activity in business.

  8. I am going to say, I too have a messy mind. This trait has been shared with others, the ones who are successful are those who know how to concentrate until the end of their current project.
    Thomas Jefferson, in some way, lacked this concentration at times. He would jump into an invention, or trying to create something, then move on to another without finishing the first one.
    Of course my favorite quote about a messy mind comes from Einstein. People often complained about his desk being cluttered, his response was: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

    • William — I love the Einstein quote which I had never heard of before. I no longer will apologize for my messy desk!

  9. Great post, makes me rethink and cautious. I don’t think all creative minds are such if it so happens they being busy with their creativity fail to manage in this world of outsourcing work the creative mind can focus on his task of works and rest can be managed by others.

  10. I always kind of thought genius and messy minds went hand to hand. But who is to say what constitutes a messy mind. Surely that’s the perception of the super-organized, hyper conventional. I spent most of my career working with mid-sized public companies. Not a whole lot of room for messy minds in those outfits. Too bad.

    • Ken — Agree, big companies don’t give you much opportunity to “mess up” too many projects before you’re out on your ear!

  11. Interesting look at Mozart’s genius and the messy mind. I consider myself a creative person but I am in many ways a linear thinker. I think I can mix and match ideas too and am definitely “open to experience.”

  12. Some creative people have a messy mind, some don’t. We have no way of knowing for sure what Mozart was like. Have always had the impression he had a messy mind. But maybe he didn’t.