Category Archives: John William Gardner

Creative Minds Are Rarely Tidy

Carl Gustav Jung? John William Gardner? A Wise Man? My Friend’s Pillow? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I run a daily email quote list, and I try to do a quick Google search to see if I’ve got the correct attribution.  I came across your site and thank you for the help. Here is a stumper for you:

Creative minds are rarely tidy.

This maxim is credited to Carl Gustav Jung and several other individuals. Sometimes the attribution is Anonymous. Any ideas?

Quote Investigator: There is another common version of this saying that has been put into circulation more recently:

Creative minds are seldom tidy.

QI believes that the most likely creator of the initial maxim was John William Gardner who was once the President of the Carnegie Corporation and was the founder of the prominent advocacy organization Common Cause. He also helmed the Health, Education, and Welfare department during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

In 1964 Gardner published “Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society,” and he used the adage without crediting anyone else (boldface added) [CTJG]:

It has been said that there is a stage in the life of a society (or organization or movement) in which the innovators and creative minds flower and a stage in which the connoisseurs and critics flower. Is it true that the heights of connoisseurship are achieved on the road to decadence? It is a highly debatable point, but not to be dismissed out of hand. Creative minds are rarely tidy.

Gardner also included in his book a version of the maxim that applied to larger groupings such as organizations instead of individuals [CTJG]. Both of these variants have been cited by later authors (boldface added):

Extremes of pluralism can lead to utter confusion. But creative organizations or societies are rarely tidy. Some tolerance for inconsistencies, for profusion of purposes and strategies, and for conflict is the price of freedom and vitality.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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