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Audiobook Downloadable / ISBN-13: 9781405536066

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The urge to tidiness 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 a book 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, the laboratory or in preparing for an important presentation; and messy in our approach 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.


Ranging expertly across business, politics and the arts, Tim Harford makes a compelling case for the creative benefits of disorganization, improvisation and confusion. His liberating message: you'll be more successful if you stop struggling so hard to plan or control your success. Messy is a deeply researched, endlessly eye-opening adventure in the life-changing magic of not tidying up
Oliver Burkeman
[Harford's] best and deepest book
Tyler Cowen
Messy masterfully weaves together anecdote and academic work
The Economist
Harford urges us to recapture our autonomy . . . fascinating . . . Harford's argument goes beyond aesthetics, resurfacing over and over in his engrossing narrative
Maria Konnikova, author of The Confidence Game, New York Times
A profoundly stimulating canter through why we should all allow a little mess - but not chaos - in our lives, on our desks, and in our minds. A powerful expansion of Harford's previous excellent work, from a fascinating and contrasting viewpoint
David Halpern
It's a very very good book, full of wise counterintuitions and clever insights
Brian Eno
A charismatic book . . . Few writers are better qualified to champion disorder and particularity . . . Harford is an elegant and dizzyingly catholic thinker . . . entertaining and insightful
The Times
Tim Harford's brilliant new book
Viv Groskop, The Pool
Messy is a book filled with instructive stories in the manner of Malcolm Gladwell
New Statesman
Messy is an intelligent self-help book designed to cultivate greater tolerance for spontaneity, uncertainty, dissonance and diversity. Harford's evidence-based account transcends the cliches endemic to the genre - or refashions them anew
Times Literary Supplement