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Summary

The urge to be tidy seems to be rooted deep in the human psyche. Many of us feel threatened by anything that is vague, unplanned, scattered around or hard to describe. We find comfort in having a script to rely on, a system to follow, in being able to categorise and file away. We all benefit from tidy organisation - up to a point.

A large library needs a reference system. Global trade needs the shipping container. Scientific collaboration needs measurement units. But the forces of tidiness have marched too far.

Corporate middle managers and government bureaucrats have long tended to insist that everything must have a label, a number and a logical place in a logical system. Now that they are armed with computers and serial numbers, there is little to hold this tidy-mindedness in check. It's even spilling into our personal lives, as we corral our children into sanitised play areas or entrust our quest for love to the soulless algorithms of dating websites.

Order is imposed when chaos would be more productive. Or if not chaos, then...messiness. The trouble with tidiness is that in excess, it becomes rigid, fragile and sterile.

In Messy, Tim Harford reveals how qualities we value more than ever - responsiveness, resilience and creativity - simply cannot be disentangled from the messy soil that produces them. This, then, is an audiobook about the benefits of being messy: messy in our private lives; messy in the office, with piles of paper on the desk and unread spreadsheets; messy in the recording studio, in the laboratory or in preparing for an important presentation; and messy in our approaches to business, politics and economics, leaving things vague, diverse and uncomfortably made up on the spot.

It's time to rediscover the benefits of a little mess.

©2016 Tim Harford (P)2016 Little Brown

What listeners say about Messy

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Great book.....lose the terrible accents

What made the experience of listening to Messy the most enjoyable?

Excellent leftfield ideas and content as ever from Tim Harford. A book to throw on your bosses desk when he tells you to tidy yours !

Any additional comments?

Narration ruined by the terrible accents used to highlight quoted sections. For non-fiction works it really isn't needed and detracts from the content and the message.

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Fascinating Insight

As to be expected from Tim Harford this is a well researched book full of great insights into the value of a bit of healthy chaos. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on unintended targets and the value of ambiguity and small "Swat team" regulatory assessment.

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Down with the clean desk policy!

excellent book with a wide range of topics from desk, offices, buildings, education and playgrounds. Well read too.

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A mind opening listen

By its very nature somewhat contrarian, well argued and compelling. Certainly well worth engaging with .

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Messy

The American accents were a bit annoying. It was an interesting book though. Tim Harford is great.

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Messy review

Loved the book, and although I liked most of the narration, not sure about the accents for particular characters, didn't feel that it added anything.

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Interesting stories

Listen to this for the interesting stories and studies.

But the tying into messiness feels a bit contrived for some of them.

Would have preferred Tim Harford to read.

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Everyone should read this book

A really interesting and well researched book that made me feel a lot better about my filing system! But also great information about huge parts of your life from how to run your business to how to find a partner and why diversity is so important and the impact it has. Thank you Tim!!!

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Engaging/entertaining listen, well narrated

A helpful book that was enlightening on approaches to problem solving/organisational skills. Enjoyed the well researched examples and balanced viewpoint. Glad I discovered Tim Harford.

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A messy look at life

I bought this as it was in a sale and I immediately regretted it as I like all things tidy. I've just finished it and it was a fun and thought provoking examination of many aspects of life from politics, art and society. Full of lots of cool anecdotes, records of experiments and historical stories. I now realise that I'm more messy than I thought. Highly recommended!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 31-05-21

Provocative

So now I am a lot less wary of mess, which is saying a lot for someone whose profession lies in risk and compliance and internal control 😂😂. Am looking forward to the next few years of my work life, curious how my approach to my profession is going to adapt.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 22-10-20

On the danger of tidiness

More than encouraging messy situations, Tim Harford alerts us for the danger of tidy ones. I love all his books and this one was no exception. Highly recommended.

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  • Allan
  • 22-01-19

Yes! Common sense and evidence about the real world

Great read - as always from Tim. If you find the desire of others for everything everywhere to be just in the right place, off putting- this the book for you

Book shows that there is a place for plans and organisation- but equally over planning and too much structure can sap the creative spirit and the ability to react to an untidy real world

Hope you enjoy the listen - I did.

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  • Werner
  • 19-03-18

Not a single original thought

Convoluted with tenuous connections at best. Did not enjoy this book at all. Narrator tried his best to make it interesting

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  • A. J. Russell
  • 14-01-17

Tim Harford is turning into Malcolm Gladwell :(

The basic idea of Messay can be expressed in a couple of sentences (the publisher's synopsis pretty much nails it). I'd love to say that the rest of the book offers an analysis of the various nuances of that basic idea, and a survey of the available evidence about how and when "messiness" helps or hinders different kinds of human activity or project. That would be both interesting and informative.

Instead, the bulk of the book is a series of rich and colourful cherry-picked illustrations that tick the "interesting" box, for sure, but just aren't informative. There's very little discussion of actual research; and for every example Harford gives where embracing messiness has paid dividends, it's easy to think of examples where it's been a really bad idea.

To give just one example, there's a lengthy discussion of how Rommel's embrace of messiness allowed him to win engagements in the first and second World Wars, but no discussion at all of whether military researchers or historians consider overall that a "messy" strategy is more likely to succeed than a "tidy" one. I mean, from the little I've read, I'd say Churchill was at the "tidy" end of the spectrum and he did okay. So what should we take from the Rommel example, other than the pointless observation that sometimes messiness helps and sometimes it doesn't?

Harford puts a lot of (admittedly very well-written and entertaining) words into tearing apart the flimsy straw man that a tidy, linear, planned process is always the best way forward, especially if you're trying to achieve something creative. That shouldn't take a whole book. For me, Messy crosses the line from "entertaining and educational" to "merely entertaining". It's very much in the Malcolm Gladwell mould, which is very disappointing after the rigour of The Undercover Economist. Adapt was already a bit Gladwellian road but I hoped it was a blip. Seems not!

There is an interesting discussion upfront of how algorithms do a better job of optimising if they include random explorations in their early stages. I enjoyed that explanation a lot. But, for me, it was pretty much all downhill from there.

The narrator, though, is just wonderful. Lively and accurate. If he'd been less enjoyable to listen to, I don't think I've have finished the book.