Messy. It’s not something many people aspire to be known as. The word brings with it images of disorder, untidiness and well, mess. Not a trait that is usually mentioned in the same sentence as leaders, business owners and career high climbers. Messy AND a Winner? I can’t imagine that I would find that within the job description of any of the clients I used to recruit for!
The concept of simplification and order has been building momentum for a while. In the world of interiors, the Konmari method has become very fashionable where devotees share their clean room and smooth lines. You may be limited by the assumption that order, processes, planning and systems are the back bone for any type of success. Tim Harford’s Messy: How to be creative and resilient in a tidy-minded world”* turns this on its head. By the end of the book, you’ll even celebrate your full, messy-headed self! You may even have some more “lightbulb moments”.
Tim Harford is an award-winning Economist, Financial Commentator TED Speaker, and he uses this insight to work his way through nine areas that he feels demonstrates how messy-thinking has benefits. Using humour, facts and a range of theories, he has left me feeling proud of my often-messy headed ways; in fact, he demonstrated many times, how much progress can be made if we just stop trying to straighten everything out!
He advocates all the way through the key thing that messy thinking gives us; creativity. Chapter after chapter, across a range of sectors from music, to politics, to business, even war, he shows the power of not sticking to blueprint or life script.
You do need to pay attention to the book; there was one chapter that I zoned out a little on. But the rest had me gripped. The pad full of notes that accompanied me whenever I was reading is a testament to that! But, like all Balance Collective Book Clubs, here at the key point you need to know about:
Why we need to avoid boredom
For many, if not all of us, there are elements of our life that bore us. They become predictable and even monotonous; we work in the same place, eat in the same place, speak to the same people.
This reduces our creative abilities as we don’t pay attention enough, instead simply go through the motions. The musician, Brian Eno is quoted in the book “The enemy of creative work is boredom”. We are shown throughout how the most creative thinkers purposely put themselves in a state of alertness (the opposite of boredom), by creating new situations. From moving themselves to work in a new place, to developing strategies to make sure you are forced to look at things differently.
How can you do the same?
You can spread yourself a little thinner
You don’t have to be an expert in just one thing; something having your fingers in lots of different business, career or hobbies “pies” can help you become more creative. Having the ability to dip in and out of different projects can help you when the boredom sets in but can also help you cross-fertilise your imagination. The researchers Gruber & Davis call this a “network of enterprises”; these enterprises are consistently ticking away in the background and help you view things differently.
Where can you broaden your horizons?
Get very uncomfortable
It is easy to hand around with the same people, who think the same and don’t challenge YOUR thought processes, as you all agree. Cohesion is a big tick in the tidy-minded world. However, Harford uncovers you are more likely to end making poor or limited decisions! Those people that make us feel uncomfortable, by thinking differently to us, actually make us better version of ourselves, as “…people think harder when they fear their views may be challenged by outsiders” (pg. 53).
Help yourself understand a topic better, by engaging with a group of people that think differently to you.
Let yourself lose control
Who is a jazz fan here? Or maybe an amateur dramatics actor, with a fondness for improv? Staying in control, second-guessing what you are doing and how others will respond, is a slippery slope to keeping any of your creativity at bay. Harford describes the science behind the power of shutting off our internal inhibition switch, tapping into the seat of our consciousness and to stop censoring ourselves.
Draw on your life experience, and listen more, to be comfortable taking risks!
Mess means getting ahead
Out of all the case studies shared in “Messy”, the story of the retail giant, Amazon, is likely to surprise you the most. It did me! There may be an assumption that a watertight business plan, financial projections and a strong supplier chain got Amazon to where they are now. In fact, they launched with a range of promises and a lot of hope. They had a vision, and a belief system, but wanted to be first to market. This messy approach has created some up and downs in their trading history, but the” launch first, fix later” strategy had led them to become the e-retailer that “blows all the other away”. I ask you this. Where do you usually order your books from?
What can you just start?
The six points above are the headlines in this book; trust me when I say I could carry on writing for another few pages! But this is my messy brain working; these are the five points that when applied TODAY, will make a difference to how you view strategy.
This is the book that shows how targets don’t make sense, automation weakens our skills, the key to a good job is a messy network and even the most productive people think they need to become neater! So, if you have any interest in personal development, then get your hands on this book. Maybe even pass it to your manager the next time you are told you need to be more tidy-minded!
*This link is an amazon affiliate link. Each purchase via this link results in a small sum of money going to The Balance Collective. It won’t affect the cost of the product to you.