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Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,877 ratings  ·  370 reviews
'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 ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Riverhead Books
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Paul Fulcher
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2016
But often we are so seduced by the blandishments of tidiness that we fail to appreciate the virtues of the messy - the untidy, unquantified, uncoordinated, improvised, imperfect, incoherent, crude, cluttered, random, ambiguous, vague, difficult,m diverse or even dirty. The scripted speech misreads the energy of the room; the careful commander is disorientated by a more impetuous opponent; the writer is serendipitously inspired by a random distraction; the quantified targets create perverse incen ...more
Christine Zibas
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-books

"We've seen again and again that real creativity, excitement, and humanity lie in the messy parts of life, not the tidy ones."

If you've ever wondered where people with empty desks keep all their work, you're not alone. Having worked for years and years in the publishing business, with attendant reams of manuscript paper everywhere, I was always stupified by people with not a paper in sight on their clean desks. Did they do any work? Did they spend all their time filing?

Maybe the fault lay with m
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it

I read this book in traditional - paper - format and had to take numerous iPhone pictures of its pages to store in my Evernote notebook for references. Chapters on automation and especially on antibiotics/bacteria were very informative/interesting to me. Treating brain cancer with poop? Certainly a messy concept... I am sure the project for this book was fun for the author. The book offered me numerous opportunities for surprise and reflection. It was liberating. I liked it.

A Quote. "If you
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommend
The title gives a false impression that messiness by itself can spark creativity, original thinking, and innovative solutions. Many of the examples in the book are of people who are already intelligent, hardworking, and successful. But by disregarding tidy, rigid systems or exploring other areas (than the problem at hand), these people are able to achieve incredible breakthroughs. Each chapter focuses on a lesson (constraints of a tidy system or benefits of unstructured thinking) and provides se ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Very dumb. The author uses the word 'messy' to describe pretty much anything he wants (diversity, improvising speeches, new wall decor, etc.). It is a grab bag of somewhat interesting anecdotal stories which we can learn a little bit from but ultimately doesn't move me to act or behave one way or the other.

I could imagine a sequel called 'Laziness: The Hidden Dangers of Exercising' where the author would include stories of someone with asthma who almost died training for a marathon with phrases
Trung Nguyen Dang
What a "messy" book or idea! The author conveniently lumps everything under the sun to his "messy" idea including freedom, autonomy. The author keeps telling stories (not proper research) to illustrate/prove his idea. His ideas are also big exaggerations. Basically the author has a "messy" lense, and starts looking everywhere to see how the lense apply. It's the big "the man with a hammer syndrome" everything starts looking like a nail.
It's written by a FT journalist/writer with no original res
Jaclyn Day
Nov 07, 2016 rated it liked it
I appreciate and even agree with the message of this book but it suffers from the over-bloated blog post syndrome so typical of similar books. Unlike similar books, though, I found the examples and anecdotes clever. They added to the text rather than distracted.
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: politicians, nanny state, helicopter parents
Must read for the simple but mind-boggling counter-intuitive stories.

Fav part was paradox of automation.
Liesl Shurtliff
This is basically the antithesis of Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and made me feel much better about my messy ways! ...more
David Sasaki
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Upon first read, Messy seems to be the counter-argument to Atul Gawande's *Checklist Manifesto* . Whereas Gawande argues that we can’t trust our judgement during times of stress and would benefit from checklists to help us remember, Harford argues that we are our own worst enemies when we simply follow neatly planned checklists and would benefit from inserting ourselves into situations of stress and unpredictability. I think both writers are correct and the books are ultimately complementary.

Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My five star rating is based on how much enjoyment I got from reading this book and how thought provoking it was. The author's point is an ambitiously broad one: sometimes messiness is more helpful than tidiness in promoting productivity, creativity, and human satisfaction; in some situations messiness is more stable than tidiness and even more efficient; sometimes tidiness is counterproductive. OK, how do you make such a case in the abstract? With many, many examples from a wide selection of hu ...more
Funny how the style of this book is not that much different from one I just finished (The Runaway Species) and yet I not only enjoyed reading this one more, but also I though more about what I was reading. Yes, still lots of pop-culture and current event anecdotes, as is the thing now for non-fiction -- gotta make readers feel smart and savvy to sell books -- but the anecdotes in this book were more directly tied to the main points of the book.

We in the age of "there's an app for that" have mad
Delia Turner
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"we are always reaching for tidy answers, only to find that they're of little use when the questions get messy." (258)

It's funny; I've read so many of these books that I have become familiar with the stories it uses: Jane Jacobs, Flight 447, Amazon, Rommel, and so on. Unlike some of the others (The Checklist Manifesto, for instance), the argument is not for making things more orderly, but for accepting messiness and its virtues. The book is highly readable and entertaining, and it makes some goo
Mar 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I was hoping this book would help explain my daughter--creative and messy! Instead, it explains how messy environments can help creativity to flourish. (I guess I will have to learn how to tolerate her messes.) While Harford's many anecdotes are interesting, I often felt like there was a lack of cohesiveness among them...I wasn't quite sure how they all related to the topic. ...more
Alex Wilkins
Apr 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Harford lucidly puts down his arguments for living in a messier world, contrary to the age-old desires for 'order'. Plucking examples both from the creative and corporate worlds, from Brian Eno and Miles Davis' obscure and chaotic compositional methods to Jeff Bezos' hectic rise to e-hegemony, he stridently lays forth the case for letting a little disorder into your life.

While an entertaining read, full of fascinating tidbits from history, the book at points does feel like its straining to draw
Nick Davies
Mar 17, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Frankly, this really irritated me in the end.

I quite enjoyed 'The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World' by the same author, which had a number of quirky examples that illustrated the application of economic theory to everyday life. This book, however, took a much weaker and less well-defined premise and attempted to do similar. In truth I think the author had the idea for the book well in advance of writing it, and may have been forced to churning out this pile of biased
Julie Robinson
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
p 1 - unplayable piano - turns into best concert recording
Distractability as leading to creativity
Collaboration and group think
p. 68 "One perfectly competent employee is being harassed by another perfectly competent employee to satisfy the pointless demands of a company rule book"
p. 98 Miles Davis - one take; Improvisation; Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream Speech"
p. 105 "the habit of yes" - Always add to what has been said so far. Never say no; always say, "yes, and..."
p. 128 Rommel and Blitzk
Dec 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2019
My desk is a mess. I have a laptop, a second screen, keyboard, a task light and a lava lamp, a stationary rack and pencil holder, scrap paper and a pad to write on, as well as 18 books and various other items of detritus. To be honest, it could do with a bit of a tidy up. One day I will…

Most people want a tidy place to work in. Some businesses are really strict on this, enforcing numerous draconian rules as to what you can or can’t have on your desk, the number of personal photos allowed and so
Pablo Astorga
Mar 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-it
I generally find Tim Harford very interesting and have therefore developed a probably high expectation around his work (that's his fault, not mine...).

I started reading this book with a lot of enthusiasm, but have to admit that the first 50 pages did not get me as engaged as I had expected. I found some of the theories and examples a little bit artificial and maybe not easy for me to relate to.

However, as I progressed through the book I became more and more interested and definitely more in agre
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a "messy" person to whom tidiness does not come naturally, I was pleased to find a book that explained why messiness can lead to productivity and creative thinking. The book was consistently interesting, and discussed a wide range of topics, from the importance of control of your own work-space to how messiness can inspire creativity. ...more
Bernie Gourley
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who want to learn how tidiness can be a vice and messiness a virtue.
The book’s premise is simple: being neat and tidy isn’t the great virtue you’ve been led to believe, and being messy isn’t inherently a vice. Over nine chapters, Harford explores the various dimensions in which our impulse to toward tidiness can get in our way, and for which a little messiness might be the cure. Each chapter uses a central story or two as exemplars, with other stories and anecdotes providing support.

The book’s introduction sets up the idea by describing a famous concert in Köln
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Messy, Tim Harford explores the many ways in which embracing messiness can lead to better results, in everything from science, to business, banking, conversation, creative pursuits, and raising capable kids. Harford shares a variety of case studies in which letting go of our human tendency toward "tidy-mindedness" has opened the way for impressive breakthroughs. These include pianist Keith Jarrett's legendary 1975 Köln concert, during which he worked within the limitations of a very out-of-tu ...more
Peter Geyer
Sometimes culture intervenes in a book's title or description. One of C.G. Jung's books in the 1850s, was called The Undiscovered Self, a title he disagreed with and which he said had been made up by his American publisher.

My copy of Tim Harford's "Messy" has the subtext: "How to be creative and resilient in a tidy-minded world" in contrast to another edition, which has: "The power of disorder to transform our lives." Now, if you read the book, both statements are exaggerations and don't really
Howard Pavane
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I must admit that I’m a messy person, when it comes to my recording & art studio. Mr. Harford’s book has vindicated my seemingly disorganized creative lifestyle :) In fact, according to the author, in just about any situation being messy beats being well-organized. It may seem counterintuitive but Mr Harford makes his case based on many different situations, observations, and logical conclusions.

Messy is one of my favorite books - it’s at the top of the pile on my cluttered desk. Listen to the
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am a disorganized person who has been trying desperately to get my life together and to get neat and tidy and ordered in my home, life, and work. It's kind of stressful yet I see benefits to my productivity and mental space.

This book, however, posits that in our obsession to create order in our lives, we should not discount the importance of mess. Life is not simple and ordered, but is, in fact, unpredictable and fairly chaotic. Sometimes our efforts to create order stop us from living effecti
Jordan Bethea
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book, as well as very convincing. There are lot of real life examples, as well as scientific information on why it's true. The only parts I don't like are the ones where he lumps basically all computer algorithms in the 'tidy' column, and then doesn't really present an opposite side. It feels more like he's saying that some things haven't worked, therefore they won't work. Some things like that feel like a stretch for his messy/tidy metaphor, but for the most part it's very good ...more
Bohdana Muzyka
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you ever forced yourself to conform with the 'minimalistic' and 'well-organized' lifestyle but always failed because the chaos runs through your veins, then this book is for you.
The author has done an incredible research in order to bring together hundreds of examples of how moving from the beaten track, improvising, jumping from one idea to another helped to achieve unexpectedly great results in different areas of life.
Never thought I'd say it about a non-fiction piece, but I didn't want t
Vikram Chalana
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Pretty good book in defense of messiness and diversity in life -- how it improves creativity and problem-solving, personally or in organizations.
Feb 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant book - very inspiring and helpful, even if I didn't agree with every point raised. Highly recommended to people both messy and tidy. ...more
Feb 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was entertaining, and it included plenty of examples, statistics, and counterpoints, but it got a little repetitive.
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Tim Harford is a member of the Financial Times editorial board. His column, “The Undercover Economist”, which reveals the economic ideas behind everyday experiences, is published in the Financial Times and syndicated around the world. He is also the only economist in the world to run a problem page, “Dear Economist”, in which FT readers’ personal problems are answered tongue-in-cheek with the late ...more

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“This sudden sharpening of our attention doesn’t just apply to pioneering artworks. It can be seen in an ordinary high school classroom. In a recent study, psychologists Connor Diemand-Yauman, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, and Erikka Vaughan teamed up with teachers, getting them to reformat the teaching handouts they used. Half their classes, chosen at random, got the original materials. The other half got the same documents, reformatted into one of three challenging fonts: the dense , the florid , or the zesty . These are, on the face of it, absurd and distracting fonts. But the fonts didn’t derail the students. They prompted them to pay attention, to slow down, and to think about what they were reading. Students who had been taught using the ugly fonts ended up scoring higher on their end-of-semester exams.21 Most of us don’t have” 2 likes
“Managers could be tidy-minded simply because tidiness seemed like the right and proper way to be.” 1 likes
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