Why messy is good

Maybe your mother was wrong to make you clean up your room?

Co-written by business and science journalist David H. Freedman and Columbia University management professor Eric Abrahamson, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder (out 1/3) deflates the conventional wisdom that highly ordered systems are automatically better. In fact, the authors argue that “moderately messy systems use resources more efficiently, yield better solutions, and are harder to break than neat ones.” Yes.

They take us on a wild ride through “the history of mess,” showing how a chance juxtaposition of data on a messy desk led to Nobel Prize–winning insights into molecular biology, and how Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “improvisational lifestyle” (he used to refuse to keep a schedule) helped fuel his unlikely rise in politics. And they explain how modern-day cell phone technologies actually add a garnish of background noise—add mess—because perfect sonic order, perfect silence, confuses us (for one thing, “it sounds like a hang-up”).

The bottom line of this highly engaging, often funny book is that most of us have brains that are wired to react most fruitfully to a certain degree of disorder—which explains why some of us react so badly to people like Martha Stewart.

“>BUY A Perfect Mess (Little, Brown; 304 pages)

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