Messed Up

Here are three small paragraphs that I read today.  I found them in a book called A Perfect Mess, which is about the benefits of messiness.

What if the costs of being neat and well organized often outweigh the benefits?  What if being somewhat messy, in a broad sense, is a better deal?

It sounds almost ridiculous to suggest that the world had been ignoring the fairly obvious concept that there’s a cost to being neat and organized.  You’d think that the first question people and organizations would ask themselves before embarking on an effort to straighten up and muster more order would be: will this be worth what it costs me in time and other resources?  After all, the idea that organizing doesn’t always pay off would have to come as stunning news to offices that have everything filed away neatly, schools with rigidly detailed curricula and standards, professionals who keep their days tightly scheduled, companies that obsessively spell out management and operational procedures, parents who are constantly fighting clutter, militaries that maintain rigid groupings, and city governments that generate volumes of codes.

In fact, neatness and organization can exact a high price, and it’s widely unaccounted for.  Or to put it another way, there are often significant cost savings to be had by tolerating a certain level of messiness and disorder.  But this book is going to show that the disconnect is even more striking.  It’s not just that the advantages of being neat and organized are typically outweighed by the costs.  As it turns out, the very advantages themselves are often illusory. Though it flies in the face of almost universally accepted wisdom, moderately disorganized people, institutions, and systems frequently turn out to be more efficient, more resilient, more creative, and in general more effective than highly organized ones.

Are you kidding me?  This is the best news since they put the first three seasons of the Mary Tyler Moore Show on Hulu.

The book was written by a b-school professor from Columbia.  I read the first three chapters today.  I fear that the rest of the book may lead to qualifications and disclaimers (the kind that would deem us more than moderately disorganized), so I may not finish it. But I go to sleep tonight with a great big sense of Phew! Maybe our cluttered house, disorganized homeschool, and chaotic schedule are not all bad.

Don’t you feel better too just knowing that you might not be totally messed up simply because you’re a little messy?

About Tara Edelschick

Right now, Tara is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. She is sleeping more, and exercising and flossing every day for the first time in her life. She is enjoying her husband, her boys, and Nafisa (the daughter she never had) more than she ever has. And she is learning to rest in the arms of the one who doesn't rank you based on how many things you can cross off your list at the end of the day. Follow her on Twitter@TaraWonders.

  • Vince

    Thanks for the book tip!

    I also want to thank you for a previous book you recommended. "Spark" was awesome. I started implementing interval training after reading it, and the effects have been amazing. I need to find a good heart rate monitor before outdoor running kicks in, though.

  • Andy

    Good enough.

  • quinlin

    That's interesting.


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