Monday, February 20th, 2017
We often succumb to the temptation of a tidy-minded approach to getting something done, when we could be better served by embracing a degree of mess.
Sometimes, our desire to tidiness —our seemingly innate urge to create a world that is ordered, systematized, quantified, neatlyl structured into clear categories, planned, predictable— can be helpful. It wouldn’t be such a deeply rooted instinct if it weren’t helpful. But we should resist our instincts when faced with a disorderly world. Life cannot be controlled. Life itself is messy. When we try to be rigid in response, the result is a messy failure.
The world is a messy place, and people and companies that enjoy outsize success are often messy as well. The most creative people work on multiple projects. Intellectual mess, such as flitting between projects, breeds insight and helps make connections.
We are so seduced by the blandishments of tidiness that we fail to appreciate the virtues of the messy —the untidy, unquantified, uncoordinated, improvised, imperfect, incoherent, crude, cluttered, random, ambiguous, vague, difficult, diverse, or even dirty.
It’s not that disruption is inherently good, or that we should strive actually to be messy. It’s that rigid rules are bad, whether they err on the side of too much mess or too little. Rigidity disempowers people.
Mess — the autonomy that comes from discarding inflexible rules and neat labels — is important even when we don’t actually want it. The mess with the greatest transformative edge may be the one that forces you out of your routine despite your certainty that what you’re doing works just fine already.
Summing-up: Rules are easier than exceptions: People themselves are messy, but heuristics and labels are often easier than nuanced analysis. The result can be a disconcerting like-mindedness, an invisible bubble of opinions that reinforces our own. The order that we crave is our own worst enemy, and disorder sets us free.