Messy Book Summary - Messy Book explained in key points
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Messy summary

Tim Harford

How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World

4.3 (132 ratings)
12 mins

Brief summary

Messy by Tim Harford argues that we need to embrace disorder and messiness in our lives to foster creativity and innovation. It offers examples of successful individuals and organizations that thrive in chaotic environments and provides tips for managing complexity.

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    We try to quantify and impose order on the world, but this has its pitfalls.

    Nowadays, everyone is talking about big data. Many hope that the proliferation of information will help us better predict future events like the rise of the Dow and the next torrential hurricane.

    But the reality is, more data doesn’t always mean more accurate predictions. In fact, whenever you quantify something, you’re bound to pick up some random noise, such as errors in measurements. This poses problems for the big data approach since a model that takes into account all available information will suck up that noise, resulting in worse predictions.

    Imagine you’re comparing the past lows and highs of the stock prices for two oil companies. Your predictions regarding the future prices of both stocks will probably be better if you cut out data from rare or unpredictable events, like a massive oil spill that sent one company’s stock plummeting.

    Beyond that, the very act of measuring can distort the thing you’re attempting to measure. Take heart surgeons, for example. If they’re ranked by the number of successful surgeries they perform, some of them will naturally begin embellishing their numbers by hand-picking patients with the best prognoses.

    Another human tendency is to prefer order over disorder. We like to see the world arranged into clear, predictable patterns. But actually, imposing order is not always beneficial.

    Consider a 1990 Harvard study, where AnnaLee Saxenian compared two hubs of high-tech development, Route 128 in Massachusetts and California’s Silicon Valley.

    Silicon Valley came out on top, and the reason was its disorganized nature. Companies there let employees jump around from job to job and even allowed ideas and knowledge to be exchanged between firms. The result was a climate of cooperation that fostered innovation and made it easier to recruit experts, helping the entire area to prosper.

    Meanwhile, the companies of Route 128 kept their businesses in neat little silos, walled off by legally binding non-compete contracts, which made it difficult for companies to react to new developments or to handle crises. As a result, the whole area suffered.

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    What is Messy about?

    Messy (2016) is all about order and tidiness, or rather, why they’re overrated. These blinks explain how a preoccupation with neatness can stand between us and success, how messiness can boost creativity and why everyone should embrace a little disorder.

    Messy Review

    Messy (2016) by Tim Harford is an engaging exploration of the unexpected benefits of embracing messiness in our personal and professional lives. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It challenges the popular notion of order and reveals how embracing chaos and uncertainty can lead to creativity, innovation, and better decision-making.
    • Using examples from a vast range of fields, from music to politics, Harford demonstrates how mistakes and failures can be valuable stepping stones to success.
    • The book dives into the science behind messiness, explaining the psychology and neurology that make messy environments conducive to learning, collaboration, and growth.

    Best quote from Messy

    Trump made sure both the media and his opponents reacted on his terms.

    —Tim Harford
    example alt text

    Who should read Messy?

    • Anyone who’s afraid of messiness
    • Entrepreneurs looking for a creative spark
    • Professionals who are wary of improvisation

    About the Author

    Tim Harford is an economist and award-winning journalist who writes for the Financial Times. He has written multiple bestselling books on economics and life, including The Undercover Economist.

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    Messy FAQs 

    What is the main message of Messy?

    The main message of Messy is that embracing chaos and disorder can lead to creativity and innovation.

    How long does it take to read Messy?

    The reading time for Messy varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Messy a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Messy is a thought-provoking book that challenges conventional thinking. It offers valuable insights into the benefits of embracing messiness.

    Who is the author of Messy?

    The author of Messy is Tim Harford.

    What to read after Messy?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Messy, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
    • Indistractable by Nir Eyal
    • The Data Detective by Tim Harford
    • Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson
    • Level Up by Rob Dial
    • Humor, Seriously by Jennifer Aaker & Naomi Bagdonas
    • Dopamine Detox by Thibaut Meurisse
    • The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen