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Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives Hardcover – October 4, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of October 2016: For those who think that a spick-and-span desk is an indication of high productivity, Harford's fascinating investigation of how disorder can spark innovation will open your eyes to all kinds of situations when tidiness is not a virtue. From Brian Eno's fury-provoking Oblique Strategy cards that wrung a new sound from already talented musicians to how mixing differently talented teams can help them find solutions and keep their eye on the goal, Messy bolsters the theory that disorder creates heightened alertness. That alertness, in turn, fuels creativity, problem solving, better driving, resilience, innovation, and much more. But if the only thing you get out of Messy is peace with the level of disorder at your coworkers', staff's, or spouse's workspace, then that alone is priceless. --Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review
“Harford’s argument goes beyond aesthetics, resurfacing over and over in his engrossing narrative.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Utterly fascinating. Tim Harford shows that if you want to be creative and resilient, you need a little more disorder in your world. It's a masterful case for the life-changing magic of cluttering up.” —Adam Grant, New York Times-bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take
“[Messy] goes beyond the well-worn discussion over messy desks as a sign of creativity. . . Rather, he tackles the notion more conceptually, examining why rigid targets can wreak havoc, how unpredictable leaders get ahead, and when flexibility and improvisation matter more.” —The Washington Post
“Masterful.” —The Economist
“Messy is neither a broadside at Marie Kondo and her cult of minimalism nor a case for the hidden virtues of hoarding. Harford, an acclaimed economics journalist, isn’t so much extolling squalor as questioning the notion that order is inherently preferable for creative endeavors.” —Time
“[Messy] plays to Harford's prodigious strengths: the ability to tell engrossing human stories, and the ability to use those stories to convey complex, statistical ideas that make your life better.” —Boing Boing
“It's a very, very good book, full of wise counter-intuitions and clever insights.” —Brian Eno
“A book that presents itself as an impossibly simple account of the virtues of a messy workspace, then builds to something extraordinary.” —The Age
“This absorbing book offers a different approach from instructional decluttering manuals by celebrating the successes derived from the unplanned, unscripted, and unknown.” —Library Journal
“Weaving together lessons from history, art, technology, and social and scientific research, Harford’s theories have many potential benefits for individuals and businesses seeking to remain on the creative cutting edge, as well as profound implications for society.” —Publishers Weekly
“Harford presents the strategies of disorganization as unique and enlightening and convincingly offers reinforced encouragement to those who may find themselves 'tempted by tidiness' to instead 'embrace some mess instead.'” —Kirkus
“Ranging expertly across business, politics and the arts, Tim Harford makes a compelling case for the creative benefits of disorganization, improvisation and confusion. His liberating message: you’ll be more successful if you stop struggling so hard to plan or control your success. Messy is a deeply researched, endlessly eye-opening adventure.” —Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking
“Tim’s best and deepest book.” —Tyler Cowen, New York Times-bestselling author of Average Is Over
Praise for Tim Harford
“Every Tim Harford book is a cause for celebration.” —Malcolm Gladwell
“One of the best writers who also happens to be an economist.” —Stephen Dubner
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Top Customer Reviews
Then Harford played a trick on me - he made me uncomfortable. I like for things to be organized. So there’s a certain amount of clutter I always seem to need to clear away to get down to the work I want to do. Time and again in Messy, I was told that I would be more creative and successful if I let go of the need to organize and basically did the thing I most wanted to do while having a few other projects in the background. Harford showed me how I was doing unnecessary things as a way to avoid doing what was really important. That is not what I wanted to hear from The Undercover Economist. He’s usually much more supportive of my behavior. “Let it go” is not what I expected to hear from him. Honestly, I was thinking about writing a letter of protest.
But by "Chapter 4: Improvisation” I was a convert. There’s a section in Chapter 4 about not stifling the creatives. Apparently, I don’t need a cube farm dictator to stifle me. I’ve been stifling myself. In short, I had a come to Jesus moment with myself, and after reading Chapter 4, I started tearing up lists I’d been making about how I was going to structure my life and my time after I quit my full-time job to work to make a life for myself that is more creative and rewarding. Somehow, after just 4 chapters that included such disparate information as Brian Eno’s randomization card deck, examples of team harmony versus goal harmony, completely ridiculous workplaces set-ups, and a section about how to talk with dementia patients, I was a convert to messiness.
I hope this all works out or at least that The Undercover Economist can, at some point, help me put my life back together if that becomes necessary.
Messy's main thread is how unexpected (often bad) situations can produce great outcomes. It argues that we should try to provoke such situations to improve our lot, and gives countless vivid examples of this. The one that hits closest to home in my case is changing tasks every few years (or even changing fields of work entirely) keeps employees engaged, on their toes and productive. We don't do enough of this.
It is well presented and an enjoyable read - with plenty of research based references to back up the points.
The biggest fault of the book is that it assumes that we are already masters in our field as we encounter mess and thus can adapt to the randomness based on our experience. If you're not, then you don't even have the experience to deal with the mess (problem).
Here is where I'd turn to Mastery by Robert Greene or Deep Work by Cal Newport as great counter-points. Remember that inside the mess you need to focus so you can get real work done and become the master you want to be.