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Publisher's 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 members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

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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    2 out of 5 stars
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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.

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  • john
  • 09-20-17

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Rob Tuley
  • 03-06-17

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Gav Barnett
  • 12-07-16

Down with the clean desk policy!

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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Richard Smith
  • 11-29-16

A mind opening listen

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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Henry
  • 11-07-16

Messy

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

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Tomasz Walczak
  • 06-30-18

great book bad narrator

loved the book, it as a lot of great ideas, hated the narrator's fake accents

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-28-18

Ruined by narration <br />

In many ways an enjoyable and interesting book, even inspirational at times but ruined for me by the narrator's habit of affecting silly faux American accents everytime he read a quotation. Unnecessary

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jacob Magnussen
  • 03-08-18

Insightful and helpful

Loved it. So many fun and enlightening facts. Can really be implemented in your personal or work life.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • mr p garrett
  • 11-16-17

Messy always worked for me and now I know why

I am untidy anyway so a book about how messiness can be applied and actually even suit certain people and situations. This book retains the eclectic engaging and funny bunch of stories and research about both the issues which occur when people try to control, measure and micromanage complex situations and the unintended consequences that result.

Brilliant read

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-26-17

Fascinating

Fantastic book (especially if you have spent your life being 'accused' of being messy!). The concepts and ideas are well discussed in an intelligible and erudite way.
The only shortcomings with the audiobook is that the narrator puts on accents for the various people quoted and there is some odd grammar which I found grated a little but this is a personal thing.
Overall I would highly recommend this (audio)book

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Farai
  • 10-02-18

Fair

The book starts off good but the middle to end sections become too monotonous and lose the readers interest

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  • Daniel
  • 08-07-18

A tidy messy book of great lessons

A beautiful depiction of a collated mass of real well researched stories I found so helpful to understand some personal messy strengths previously viewed as weakness. I emerge from the content affirmed by this and emboldened to not suppress but strengthen that talent even further.

I found the reader's rise and fall and related connection to the text brought it to life and magnified its lessons.

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  • Mr S G Monaghan
  • 01-22-18

The Voices

the voices were excruciating. content is
good but every voice made it less and less easy to return to