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

Mindfulness. Sharper Focus. Single-minded attention to task. Brain-training. Tidying-up! You can find a book about all of these things by just glancing through the bargain section at your local bookstore. But what about chaos and craziness and the unplanned events that make life interesting? That was what Tim Harford spend five years researching and writing for his book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

I was, admittedly, reluctant to read this book. I had gone deep into the issue of tidiness when rmessyeviewing some cleaning books so, “messy” in the title had me assuming this book was in the same category. The book flap let me know that Tim Harford is an economist. I didn’t know how these things would fit together at all. I did know that economic studies are vitally important to understanding culture and historic events. And also, mind numbingly boring.

Still, I gave it the prescribed three chapters. This took me through some truly fascinating ideas.  First, Harford addresses why creativity is important and how famous people have used distractions to help solve problems.  This chapter introduced me to Brian Eno and his revolutionary way of inspiring music artists to produce their best work. Chapter two focused on collaboration. I despise teamwork and the idea that different teams, especially messy teams, get more done made me so happy. By chapter three I was hungrily reading about how distractions at work can make us more creative and productive. I was hooked.

If you are still unsure whether this book would interest you Tim Harford did a podcast on and the video is a great debate on the ideas from his book.  He is obviously loves this topic and his presentation and writing reflect that enthusiasm.

This book is one of those nonfiction books that not only reads well, it is gripping in its facts and fascinating in its details. I was probably very annoying to my friends and family because I all but read whole sections of the book to them. This is not a non-fiction book for the note card system – this is a veritable reference on how too much of a good thing (tidiness, pre-planning, orderly robotic conversations) can keep us from really experiencing life to the fullest with all the messy nuances.


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