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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 Paperback – January 8, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 327 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316013994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316013994
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #497,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Over the last several years, I've worked very hard to become more and more organized with my stuff. I used to have a very difficult time finding things that I needed when I needed them and I also had some degree of difficulty effectively managing my time. Thankfully, over the last few years, I've really managed to conquer both of these. I feel incredibly productive on an average day now and I rarely have trouble finding the things that I need.

Yet with all this organization, I find that there are simply some things where organization gets in the way. The best example I can think of is brainstorming. When I go to the library, I find lots of books and articles worth reading. I often photocopy interesting passages there. At home, I often jot down notes from things that I observe as well as tearing articles out of magazines as I read them.

This ends up being something of a pile of ideas. And what I've found is that this pile of ideas is much more effective if it's chaotic. If I try to order it, I get fewer ideas out of that pile. On the other hand, if I just let it be, tossing new stuff on there in a haphazard fashion, it starts to click. Then I just set aside some time each week for brainstorming, where I grab articles from that pile at random, read what I've highlighted, flip through personal finance books, and so on. This chaos generates ideas - things that would not have normally associated themselves together sometimes become linked because of this mess.

Frankly, sometimes it's better to have disorder. And that's the idea behind A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman.
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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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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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