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A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder - How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First edition (January 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316114758
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316114752
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The premise of this pop business book should generate reader goodwill—who won't appreciate being told that her messy desk is "perfect"? But despite their convincing defense of sloppy workstations, Columbia management professor Abrahamson (Change Without Pain) and author Freedman (Corps Business, etc.) squander their reader's indulgence by the end. Their thesis is solid enough: that organizational efforts tend to close off systems to random, unplanned influences that might lead to breakthroughs. But too many of the book's vaguely counterintuitive examples—to cite just one, that Ultimate Fighting is actually less injurious than boxing—stray from the central theme, giving their argument a shapeless, meandering feel. The authors prefer sprawling Los Angeles to fastidiously designed Paris and natural landscaping to lawns, decry clutter consultants, tight scheduling and "the bias towards neatness programmed into most of us." Noting that "organizations can be messy in highly useful ways," they urge companies to scrap long-term strategic planning, make contracts flexible and relinquish control over some processes. The advice is good and the arguments intriguing, and the book will probably be widely cited by those who have always resented neatniks. Too bad it's, well, such a mess. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Flying utterly in the face of conventional wisdom, the authors turn the world of organization on its head to examine how messy systems can be more effective than highly organized ones. Neatness for its own sake, they say, not only has hidden costs in terms of man-hours that could be spent doing other work but it turns out that the highly touted advantages may not even exist. More loosely defined, moderately disorganized people and businesses seem to be more efficient, more robust, and more creative than the obsessively neat. As examples, the authors cite a hardware store crammed to the gills with every sort of product in seemingly disorganized fashion that does twice the business of the "neat" one down the block; a grade school where the students are allowed random access to learning materials with no structured lessons, and no discipline problems; and the seemingly chaotic life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who refuses to make appointments and sees everyone on the fly. The chronically messy will revel in the anecdotes but may need to skip the terminology. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Hmmm.... I think you'll really like this little book.
Tom Carpenter
Half the bibliography is side-bar-style magazine articles, and the other half of the citations are to previous books the two authors have written.
Connor Sites-Bowen
On the plus side, we readers get an amusing book that's thought-provoking, well-written and fun to read.
Dr. Cathy Goodwin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on January 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In their book A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder authors Eric Abrahamson (a professor of management at Columbia Business School) and David H. Freedman (a contributing editor at Inc. magazine) question the widespread assumption that organization and neatness are inherently better than disorder and clutter. They argue that in fact some degree of messiness is very often to be preferred to strict order--because the cost of maintaining order can be higher than the benefits accrued from it, for example, because disorder can be the mother of invention, because messy systems can be more efficient and robust than perfectly neat ones. In making their case Abrahamson and Freedman do not confine themselves to domestic mess--the topic that leapt to my mind when I first saw the book's title. Clutter is just one of twelves types into which they categorize messiness. Others include "time sprawl," as when tasks are left unprioritized, and "convolution," which occurs when organizational schemes are illogical. Accordingly, the authors discuss not only messy homes and offices but messy leadership and messy organizations, pathological messiness and artistic messiness.

The topics covered in A Perfect Mess are far reaching--from the suspect claims of professional organizers (for example, that the average person wastes an hour a day looking for things) to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "improvisational lifestyle" (incredibly enough, he doesn't keep a schedule, or didn't, at least, when he was first running for governor), from the Noguchi filing system to natural landscaping to cell phone noise and compulsive hoarding. Throughout, the authors profile people and businesses and systems that have profited from the introduction of some degree of some type of messiness.

"...
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77 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Tom Carpenter VINE VOICE on January 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I'm not kidding. It is not even intended to be such a book, but the research that proves that over-organizing is a costly endeavour and of very little profit is priceless. If you believe that being very organized is always best, you will be shocked when you read this book. You'll discover that there is little to no research proving that you save time by plannig your day, but that there is extensive research showing that you can lose a lot of time by over-planning your day.

That's not all, but I'm actually getting ready to read through the book again with a highlighter. I read it on the plane last time. Or maybe I'll read something else instead so I can get the great benefit of creativity that comes partially from disorganization. I just can't decide! Hmmm....

I think you'll really like this little book. It's an eye opener.

Tom Carpenter, Senior Consultant - SYSEDCO

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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Empark on January 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I had read the mixed reviews (the Wall Street Journal wrote one also) so I didn't know what to expect. I was first attracted because, yes, I have a messy home and office. But I was pleasantly surprised to not only read many ways that messiness may help (on a personal level and an organizational level) but also a lot about organizational consultants and "psychological mess" (it turns out that my mess is only Level II on a scale of I to V). I also may have found an organizational scheme that works for me: a Japanese guy recently developed a system where he puts things that come to his desk in a large envelope, writes a label on the end and then stands the envelopes on their sides on a bookshelf. You put new and used items on the left so that new/important items end up on the left and older on the right. The book authors argue that this is very-similar to a pile on your desk where the less-used items gravitate to the bottom, but maybe this will work for me. There are a lot of anecdotes (most reviews are annoyed by this), but I found many to apply to my work (transportation, web searches, need for system engineering (not explicitly labeled as such) in software projects). I also learned a lot about nuclear energy and radioactivity among other surprising topics. One of the Amazon reviews mentions Freakonomics and I wonder if this may be similarly quoted--I'm glad to have read this.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have a feeling reviewers of this book will be self-selected. You're drawn to A Perfect Mess if you're living in clutter now and are tired of being told to "Just get organized." Judging by this book's amazon rank, that's a lot of us.

I can remember having the messiest desk in my grade school class and then the messiest office in my building when I was a college professor. My home office is cluttered. But when I try to get organized, I just end up losing things.

Besides, I love reading books that question our basic, taken-for-granted assumptions.

The best parts of the book are those that call attention to the cultural aspects of messiness. Countries have different definitions of order. The Japanese (possibly because they live in small spaces) tend to take a high level of neatness for granted. Parking garages won't accept motorcycles because they don't fit the definition of cars, according to the authors.

Secondly, the authors spell out the astronomically high value Americans place on organization. Professional organizers flourish. We spend millions on closet organization. Many people (and even more organizations) associate messiness with incompetence.

The authors carried out their own informal interviews, but they could have cited research. About 20 years ago a professor at Arizona State University, Mary Jo Bitner, conducted experiments where she showed airline passengers photos of a travel agent's desk. One group got the "messy" version and others got the "neat" version. Passengers were prepared to blame the "messy" agent for all sorts of errors, even those beyond the agent's control.

Around the same time, I recall reading a newspaper article addressing the reactions of freshmen at UC Berkeley to their "unkempt" professors.
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