We live in a Marie Kondo world: one in which minimalism, planning, and scheduling are seen as habits practiced by the best and most accomplished among us. But there’s one man telling us to forget all of that and accept that life is, well, messy. Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist, visited HZ HQ to talk creativity, community, and his latest book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. Here are our top three takeaways:
1. “Difficult circumstances produce great work.”
Often, it’s the unexpected break in our rituals that upset us the most. Imagine this: You’re working on a project, it’s moving along well and then, out of left field, there’s a new problem that needs solving. The client has added more to the ask, or maybe the project has been scrapped and has to re-start from the ground up. Now you have to make the whole thing happen in half the time originally allotted. Ain’t got time for this!
While not ideal at first glance, a break in typical flow ignites the need to work harder and smarter. Working under pressure helps us to unlock new ways of thinking—parts of our brains we typically don’t access when there’s nothing making us break form. Challenging situations can result in work that is far more creative and compelling that what we might have done under more predictable circumstances.
2. “The role of disruption is to help us solve problems.”
In Harford’s view, thinking in a nonlinear fashion when it comes to problem-solving is the best path—and it’s typically the road less traveled. When our modus operandi is to work in a step-by-step fashion, any disruption often means the product gets worse before it gets better. Harford challenged us to think like computers: Rather than working on a linear path to find solutions, work sideways, like an algorithm. By pivoting when the process reaches a point of disruption—instead of starting over from scratch—we are able to make a lateral shift and continue forward with new thinking.
3. “Embrace collaborative disruption.”
Tension is the key to reaching impactful solutions. Harford shared that we often undervalue working with people with ideas dissimilar to our own, but in fact, working in groups composed of strangers and members of different “tribes” produces better results than teams that regularly work together. Placing yourself in uncomfortable situations with dissimilar people is usually the opposite of what we tend toward when working in groups. So the next time a project comes around, or if you’re feeling stuck in a current one, tap people from different teams. You may end up with a truly beautiful mess.