Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives

Posted by jack_miller | Published a year ago

With 141 ratings

By: Tim Harford

Purchased At: $28.00

“Utterly fascinating. Tim Harford shows that if you want to be creative and resilient, you need a little more disorder in your world.” —Adam Grant, New York Times-bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take

“Engrossing.” —New York Times

From the award-winning columnist and author of the national bestseller The Undercover Economist comes a provocative big idea book about the genuine benefits of being messy: at home, at work, in the classroom, and beyond.


Look out for Tim's next book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives
celebrates the benefits that messiness has in our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it instead. Using research from neuroscience, psychology, social science, as well as captivating examples of real people doing extraordinary things, Tim Harford explains that the human qualities we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – are integral to the disorder, confusion, and disarray that produce them.

From the music studio of Brian Eno to the Lincoln Memorial with Martin Luther King, Jr., from the board room to the classroom, messiness lies at the core of how we innovate, how we achieve, how we reach each other – in short, how we succeed.

In Messy, you’ll learn about the unexpected connections between creativity and mess; understand why unexpected changes of plans, unfamiliar people, and unforeseen events can help generate new ideas and opportunities as they make you anxious and angry; and come to appreciate that the human inclination for tidiness – in our personal and professional lives, online, even in children’s play – can mask deep and debilitating fragility that keep us from innovation.

Stimulating and readable as it points exciting ways forward, Messy is an insightful exploration of the real advantages of mess in our lives.
While we are beset by distractions regularly (Twitter, Facebook...) some of them may be good for us. Some of them may spark greater creativity. At least that's what Messy argues, that the distractions and mess we try so hard to tidy up is actually helping us.

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.

- ellie_baker

A timely book that presents the counter argument against the current fads for cleanliness and decluttering. Anyone who is frustrated with open plan, clear desk policies in their office or is frustrated with failures to set up an effective filing system should read and take heart from this book.
It is well presented and an enjoyable read - with plenty of research based references to back up the points.

- dayton_adams

I can’t resist a new Tim Harford book. I’ve learned a lot from each of his other books, and I’ve enjoyed reading every one of them. I like his writing style, and because his voice is so familiar (he has a show on BBC4) I often hear him speaking when I read his words. It’s pretty nifty. So it was with great anticipation that I pre-ordered Messy and started reading it.

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.

- luca_robinson

You must read this book! Tim Harford's writing style is exceptional. He gets the density of ideas per page just right: a higher density would be overwhelming and a lower density would be long-winded. Few authors are so good at striking such a compromise, consistently, in every book they write.

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.

- kristopher_kim

I am a huge fan of Harford's work, particularly his first two books (the Logic of Life is a tour de force). This reads more like a set of his podcasts - good, but more like nuggets of ideas than the deeper understanding I got from his early works.

The theme and point are well taken. I would have liked more rigor in finding the academic work that backs up what he's saying.

In the end, worth reading if you've liked his other work - but don't set your expectations as high as those works.

- ramona_castillo

This book will change the way you look at order and whatever mess you tolerate. You'll learn that not everything needs to be sorted or catalogued to contribute to your growth -- in fact, it's better when it's not in perfect order. Creativity is tied to idea generation and connection, and those are birthed when disparate things are juxtaposed next to one another. We need a certain amount of mess to get us thinking. And thinking is always the point of departure for real production. READ. THIS. BOOK.

- dalton_peterson

Very good book about why people who have the same job for 30 years are those who are just not creative. Lots of good, counter intuitive advice here.

- olivia_johnson

Supporting analysis make this more than an opinion book. Research backs up Tim's conclusions.

Finally, as a Messy, either forced or chosen, there is proof of the value in being just that. So explains the success I have experienced. Flexibility, adaptability and acceptability to challenge are messy and profitable traits.

- rylan_gray

I won't lie. I was feeling quite frustrated and overwhelmed by the avalanche of 'life changing magic of tidying up' that I felt was coming at me from everyone around me. I am naturally messy. I always felt instinctively that being messy actually added to my creative efforts. Now as I struggle to add some order to my life, I wasn't entirely sure that order would actually bring me the success people want me to believe it would. So I just tried to find literature on the matter. I am so happy I came across this book. It added so much to my perspective. I wish everybody would read this book. Together, we would be able to creatively change the world by accepting the beautiful mess that we all are. An excellent read, even if there's some bits that I found unsettling.

- eva_reed

Being a near compulsive collector of CDs/ DVDs and books some might consider my 'space' cluttered, which it is not of course. This book allowed me to rethink what I was doing with my 'space'. Interestingly there is a section referring to left handed people, of which I am. I was raised along side an ex navy grandfather that taught me to be prepared i.e. clothes, shoes etc well in advance. That lesson has stuck with me all my life. This book will help others to define their path going forward.

- jayce_hill

This book was recommended to me when I was on a training course – I looked it up on the Amazon Shopping app on my android phone and bought the kindle version straight away (much to the astonishment of the other delegates on the course).

It’s not often that I read a business book from cover to cover – I generally dip in and out – but this book is an exception. I took it on holiday with me the week after I bought it, and simply devoured it from start to finish.

Every chapter had a wealth of interesting, memorable, and often quotable stories that held my attention and which have provided me with useful material for my work – particularly the chapter about Incentives and the harm that can be done by setting and monitoring the wrong targets.

I recommend it to everyone who will listen to me!

- josue_flores

I like Tim Harford, but he kinda says the same thing a lot of times in a slightly different ways in the first two thirds of this book. Maybe the last thrid livens up, but I'm not sure I'm going to get to the goodness off it.
I think people whose day job is writing books produce better journalism than journalists do books. I imagine they are equally disappointed with the end product; although maybe the former puts in a bit more effort.

- felicity_campbell

A fascinating collection of stories and studies about the benefits of being messy and fighting the urge for tidiness and order. As a creative person, I especially enjoyed reading about how messiness contributes to creativity and how tidiness can, up to a point, benefit too, but at a certain stage results in stale thinking.

- abel_rivera

I always read the author's columns in the Financial Times. Some of his past thoughts are included here.
I'm quite sure that I impose too much order on some things - such as my retained e-mails.
And, if I ever try to tidy my model railway bits and pieces, the current projects never, ever get finished ...

- rey_morgan

Just a pleasure to read-my kind of international travel book. I read it on the way from London to NY. It really helped the trip go by. Hartford is just a clever and interesting author.

- grayson_king

This book is not only an entertaining read, but contains so many useful and inspiring ideas, you'll probably want to read it over again and again. Like a train rushing past many wonderful landscapes, you think "i'll have to go back and examine the ideas in that chapter more closely" but at the same time you know your ticket takes you right through!

- stella_adams

I normally love Tim Harford’s work because he explains things so clearly, but this book is different. It’s a passionate repudiation of tidiness, order and obsessive organisation. It’s also a joy to read.

- kian_evans

Chaos is more useful than I previously thought. Tim's book has demonstrated that being perfect often has the opposite effect. Messy can be a very good thing indeed in generating ideas and creating a better work environment.

- tony_adams

It's a great book...good read .Good an prompt delivery .Well described book.

- kaia_young

Summed up my mind and living/working space perfectly.

- allie_robinson

The book is well written in an entertaining, easy to read style with loads of fascinating stories and examples that will make you think about your life, work and relationships.

- alfonso_martinez

well researched and well written

- evelyn_rodriguez

Very interesting - a possible life-changer....

- luciano_hernandez

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