Book Reviews

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

October 31, 2017

If someone tells you that your desk – or your life – is a mess, it’s not usually meant as a compliment.But  after reading this wonderful book by  Tim Harford you will realize that there’s nothing wrong with messiness. You’ll find out how life’s little imperfections and ambiguities can boost your creativity – and why a tidy desk or a neatly organized schedule aren’t nearly as helpful as you may think. and how it is helpful in life ,if you are easily distracted. 

We try to impose and quantify order on the world but this has it pitfalls. Nowadays, everyone is talking about big data. Many hope that the proliferation of information will help us better predict future events like the rise of the Dow and the next torrential hurricane.But the reality is, more data doesn’t always mean more accurate predictions. In fact, whenever you quantify something, you’re bound to pick up some random noise, such as errors in measurements. This poses problems for the big data approach since a model that takes into account all available information will suck up that noise, resulting in worse predictions.Another human tendency is to prefer order over disorder. We like to see the world arranged into clear, predictable patterns. But actually, imposing order is not always beneficial.This book explains these things in very detailed order with very apt examples from the past studies.

After discussing the pitfalls of order,Tim discusses and explain how disruptions and distractions prompt us to explore new avenues and also help us to get creative. To impose and prove this point,Tim gives an example that In 1975, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett played a concert that would go down in history. For this performance in Cologne, he used an old, virtually unplayable Bösendorfer piano – the only one available at the venue.Jarrett couldn’t play the ancient piano like he would a new one. It was out of tune, too quiet, the pedals were sticky and the high notes had a tinny ring to them. So instead, he improvised.To cope with the poor resonance, he played rumbling bass riffs. To boost the volume, he played while standing, pushing the keys harder and thereby giving the piece a new intensity. It was by playing in this unorthodox manner that he created a unique work of art.

This is not unusual: disruptions force us to find new, creative approaches. After all, as long as our habits and routines are functional, there’s no need to alter them. Novel, potentially far-superior practices are usually discovered in periods of disruption.Or he appeal you to consider a recent study by Shelley Carson that discovered a connection between distractibility and creativity. The study tested a group of students who had each accomplished some creative feat like publishing a novel or releasing an album. In the tests, 22 out of the 25 super-creative participants were found to be easily distracted by seemingly irrelevant details.Clearly then, distractions and creativity are linked somehow.

After  proving all these points author appeals us be daring  enough to improvise at the crucial moments rather than planning things out.To support this point,authore gives a historical reference to Martin Luther King Jr. and how he used to work on his famous speeches meticulously. But in 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white passenger, King rushed to her aid with little time to prepare. He quickly organized a protest and improvised a speech, which was a huge success.In fact, improvisation often promotes creativity. So how can you do it?First, to make your ideas flow, you’ve got to stop censoring yourself. This is a risky step, but it’s a risk you’ve got to take if you want to tap into the power of improvisation.Just consider the march on Washington in 1963 where King tossed out his decent, yet uninspiring speech, opting for an improvised, unpredictable dialogue with the audience instead. You might have heard of this one; it’s called the “I have a dream” speech.And We all know how that speech went down.

People love any kind of automation, but one consequence is that we humans are becoming less skilled. There are many situations that we no longer need to handle ourselves, which is why we can’t manage them when we actually need to.This is why we need to practice dealing with messy situations and break out of our over reliance on automation. But avoiding catastrophe isn’t the only incentive to do so.Embracing messiness and abandoning our obsession with order can also help us excel at work.For one, meticulously organizing our files and emails tends to be a waste of time. In 2001, two researchers at AT&T Labs found that office workers who neatly file away all their documents only ended up with useless, bloated archives where they couldn’t find anything.Similarly, organizing your email is essentially pointless. It’s quicker to use the search bar than to parse through a whole system of folders.And don’t fall into the trap of planning your days out too carefully in advance. This only makes you inflexible when something unexpected happens. A far better strategy is to devise a plan that’s broad enough to leave room for maneuvering. For example, as governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger maintained a virtually empty calendar, helping him stay flexible and productive.

Life is messy, and that’s nothing to fear. Embrace the inevitable disorder of the world in the way you act, talk and think. You will be more creative and successful. Read this book to read more about this in detail 🙂

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