Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford

An interesting look at the advantages of resisting the urge to put things in order, to spend time on organizing instead of doing. It has 9 chapters loosely compartmentalizing broad categories of experiences that sometimes get better when they’re disorganized.

Creativity is largely focussed on the professional, among experts. If you’re good enough to react well to a random push (like experienced Jazz performers and other musicians), a random push or novel constraints can force you to pay attention to the world, or break unexamined habits, or just get you to strive in a new direction.

Collaboration is largely again about experts; Paul Erdos features strongly. He’s a brilliant mathematician who hops into novel mathematical subfields, learns enough to understand their current problem, and draws on his extensive experience with other subfields to see if they offer an approach or solution. It’s almost like Mandelian hybrid vigor.

Workplaces is about the folly of taking away resources–like desks, walls and chairs–and trying on ideal order. It’s also about (and parallel to) the life of buildings–an adaptable building, particularly one that doesn’t need permission to alter–gets altered to solve what needs solving. Perfectionists, particularly of the clean desk or no personal possession sort, often destroy morale and deprive their members of the tools they need to reach their tasks–or just to feel control of their space.

Improvisation, much like Creativity and Corroboration begin with highly skilled members who have honed their craft in controlled circumstances and meticulous effort, then throws them into situations without the time to prep. Their expertise is revealed, honed by the practice… with the bonus that they’re more responsive, since they’re reading the room, not reciting honed notes.

Winning is about taking advantage of your comfort with disorder to undo those who require order and sense. Rommel and Amazon both get laudatory treatment–taking advantage of the moment can be huge, if you’ve judged the moment correctly.

Incentives bring bureaucracy and human behavior into conflict. If you use simple measures, it’s easy to beat the measure but not improve the system. Great examples.

Automation is a warning; when we turn the routine over to machines and let machines smooth our experiences, we’re terribly out of practice when the machine fails. Amusing when it’s GPS and time to break out a paper map, deadly when airline pilots lose autopilot and fly-by-wire and the plane suddenly doesn’t respond as expected.

Resilience is about how much we want to believe that orderliness is good–broken windows and hoaxes along similar lines are believed because they mirror common sense.

Life is a hodge-podge, but mirrors roadway design and unmarked roundabouts. Even children respond well to cues–a dangerous playground is treated more cautiously than a foam mat. And creativity–like plywood forts–can blossom if they’re left unsupervised. Plus other interesting tangents about Franklin’s inability to conquer messiness, avoiding overcommitment, etc.

All in all a quick, if breezy book.