Tom Harford argues that occasionally leaving our scripted lives and “changing things up” can trigger creativity, innovation, and increased productivity. And Harford provides plenty of examples to prove his point. I never knew that Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was improvised. And who knew that Rommel won many of his battles in World War II by ignoring orders and just making up battle plans as he went along. Sometimes being messy produces unique solutions to problems. I found Harford’s stories both compelling and inspirational. I’m going to try to be less rigid in my actions and thinking as a result. Are you messy or are you a neat-freak (or something in the middle)? GRADE: A
Introduction: “It was unplayable.” p. 1
1 Creativity: “You’re asking the blood in your brain to flow in another direction.” p. 7
Bowie, Eno, and Darwin: How Frustration and Distraction Help Us Solve Problems in Art, Science, and Life
2 Collaboration: “My brain is open!” p. 33
Paul Erdos and the Robbers Cave: Why Tidy Teams Have More Fun but Messy Teamwork Gets More Done
3 Workplaces: “Nobody cares what you do in there.” p. 61
Where Steve Jobs Went Wrong, and Why It’s Nobody Else’s Business Whether You Tidy Your Desk
4 Improvisation: “You ain’t got much lime to think, ’cause you in the chair from now on.”
Martin Luther King, the Help Desk, and the Unexpected Benefits of Letting Go of the Script
5 Winning: “What else matters but beating him?” p. 117
Bezos, Rommel, Trump: How to Use Mess as a Weapon in Business, Politics, and War
6 Incentives: “You wouldn’t need a large army. You’d need a small SWAT team.”
The Prime Minister and the Paramedic: The Pitfalls of Imposing Tidy Targets on a Messy World
7 Automation: “But what’s happening?” p. 177
Flight 447 and the Jennifer Unit: When Human Messiness Protects Us from Computerized Disaster
8 Resilience: “Everything had to be neat and orderly. No mess.” p. 205
Broken Windows. Stomach Ulcers, and the Dangerous Belief That Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness
9 Life: “Appointments are always a no-no, Planning ahead is a no-no.”
Franklin, Schwarzenegger, and the Genius Who Hacked OkCupid: Why We Should Value Mess in Our Inbox, Our Conversations, and Our Children’s Play
Acknowledgments p. 267
Notes p. 269
Index p. 287


  1. Jeff Meyerson

    I’m not obsessive when it comes to things like cleaning, but otherwise yes, a total neat freak. I like my routines and I don’t like change.

  2. Patti Abbott

    My husband would say a neat freak, my mother would say not. I think I am in the middle but getting neater as I age and have more time.

      1. wolf

        George, you described perfectly (or messily? :)) the situation for me and my wife!

        For her there’s a simple reason: She’s visually impaired so she relies on finding things where she put them …
        And with the important stuff I do too, but with books, CDs, magazines etc I’m still trying …

        So in the end life is always a compromise!

  3. Jeff Meyerson

    I like knowing where everything is – yes, including books – and being able to go right to whatever I am looking for, When I can’t, it drives me nuts.

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I know APPROXIMATELY when my books are. However, because of my messy organization, I occasionally end up buying a second copy of a book I know I own.

  4. Jeff Meyerson

    That’s how Bill Crider has so many multiple copies of so many books.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Also, if I had as many books as you do I would probably have the same problem.

  5. Maggie mason

    I’m redoing my closets, and one of the things I’ve found is lots and lots of clothes I forgot about. If I can’t see something, I forget about it (which is why I leave cupboard and closet doors open)

    1. Jeff Meyerson

      I follow the three year rule with clothes. If I don’t wear something, even if it still has the tags, it goes to the Salvation Army or Maggie.


      1. george Post author

        Jackie, I just trust Diane to clothe me. If left to my own devices I’d be walking around in a pair of Dockers and a white undershirt!

    2. george Post author

      Maggie, Diane buys all of my clothes. She sets them out for me each day and I get dressed not knowing what I’m wearing. I am NOT a slave to fashion!

  6. R. K. Robinson

    My grandfather said, many, many times, and so did my father, “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.” I believe in that.

    Organization is the defense against chaos.

    I get lazy, but still in a generally logical way, I know where to look for things, nd expect them to be there. If not, it drives me nuts (same as Jeff). Barbara rarely puts a thing in the same place in the pantry or ‘fridge twice, I think THIS should go THERE and always want it to be there. There’s some messy (magazines on the coffee table aren’t stacked or fanned), but then when we’re done reading them they are recycled, so it’s short term.

  7. Cap'n Bob

    Who reads these dumb books? Other than you, that is!

    As for messy, I have a 2-gallon house and 5 gallons of stuff! Of course it’s a mess! Well, I haven’t invaded the downstairs yet but I’m creeping down the staircase!


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