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Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World Hardcover – 27 Oct 2016
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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 in the life-changing magic of not tidying up (Oliver Burkeman)
[Harford's] best and deepest book (Tyler Cowen)
Messy masterfully weaves together anecdote and academic work (The Economist)
Harford urges us to recapture our autonomy . . . fascinating . . . Harford's argument goes beyond aesthetics, resurfacing over and over in his engrossing narrative (Maria Konnikova, author of The Confidence Game New York Times)
A profoundly stimulating canter through why we should all allow a little mess - but not chaos - in our lives, on our desks, and in our minds. A powerful expansion of Harford's previous excellent work, from a fascinating and contrasting viewpoint (David Halpern)
It's a very very good book, full of wise counterintuitions and clever insights (Brian Eno)
A charismatic book . . . Few writers are better qualified to champion disorder and particularity . . . Harford is an elegant and dizzyingly catholic thinker . . . entertaining and insightful (The Times)
Tim Harford's brilliant new book (Viv Groskop The Pool)
Messy is a book filled with instructive stories in the manner of Malcolm Gladwell (New Statesman)
Messy is an intelligent self-help book designed to cultivate greater tolerance for spontaneity, uncertainty, dissonance and diversity. Harford's evidence-based account transcends the cliches endemic to the genre - or refashions them anew (Times Literary Supplement)
The new book from the author of The Undercover Economist shows us how we can lead messier lives - and why we should.See all Product description
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It is written in an accessible way so you don't need to be an economist to enjoy it.
And lurking behind the book is the nagging subject of tidiness which the author doesn’t properly deal with. Mostly Harford is over anxious to prove his point by selective anecdotes, making only occasional grudging acceptance of the value of tidiness. He skilfully avoids the “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” by Marie Kondo - perhaps intimidated by its huge sales figures - until a section at the end. Even there he misses the point that by using the simple heuristic of asking the question “Does it spark joy?” the effort of tidying and filing produces a result that is not overwhelming; rather it is a spur to further action. It is a major weakness of Harford’s book not to place tidiness and messiness together. They are both key strategies in life. The most shocking image I’ve seen on the internet in recent years is the picture of Mark Zuckerberg’s wardrobe: only grey t-shirts nicely arranged on hangers. This very tidy solution to simplify getting dressed in the morning is presumably important for someone who is very busy. Tidy strategies are effective even for someone who has followed a disruptive business strategy. In contrast, I liked (in the lower case sense of the word) Harford’s analysis of the Facebook Like button. It closes down dialogues and makes the data more useful to advertisers.
The best chapter by far in the book is Winning in which Harford juxtaposes Donald Trump, Jeff Bezos and Erwin Rommel and illuminates their winning strategies, which often involve unconventional messy means. It does indeed seem that in the high stakes activities of business, war and politics creating a bit of mess can be advantageous. But when he wrote the book did Harford know how effective Trump’s strategy would be?
So finally, does it spark joy? Parts of the book are very enjoyable and well researched. Most of the book is well written. It focuses on examples of people who are, or were, very successful, rich or famous so the book will appeal to the ambitious. The book doesn’t properly acknowledge the effectiveness of tidy. The author appears to have fallen into a trap described in the book and surrounded himself with fellow creatives so that he fails to realise that it’s not only operating theatre nurses who need to be tidy. Will I be throwing out the book in a Kondo inspired clear out? Probably not, but then Jeff Bezos’ s Kindle store might have something to do with that…
The problem is not that our minds are messy, but that we don't accept that messy thinking can often be a good thing. So we try to impose order on our working environment and in doing so risk stifling the creativity that can come from serendipitous connections. In Messy, Tim Harford shows how disorder takes many forms and can be stimulating and productive, whether in life, the workplace, the battlefield, or the mind. Every book of Mr Harford's is filled with insight, humour, erudition, intellectual delight, and refreshingly laser-focus logic, and this is no exception.
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Most recent customer reviews
Highly recommend this if you enjoy his other work.
Tidy minds are often stuffed with tired schemas.