Messiness the key to success

2010-04-10 10:37

YOU’VE got multiple

stacks of paper on your desk (not to mention the heaps slyly hidden under your

desk), indiscriminate piles of books on your shelves and your cube walls are

haplessly adorned with various items. OK, so you’re messy. Can you really be

productive amidst all that mess?

Yes, according to

A Perfect Mess, the book by

Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman, which claims to reveal the hidden benefits

of being disorganised and cluttered.

The

Cost of Perfection

The

authors claim a messy desk can be the product of an effective worker and that

there actually is a price for being neat in terms of staff, time and computer

system costs. “Neatness and organisation can exact a high price and it’s widely

unaccounted for,” they argue, and these costs typically outweigh their

advantages.

One

Man’s Trash...

“Roughly speaking, a system is messy

if its elements are scattered, mixed up or varied due to some measure of

randomness,” but that’s only according to another’s point of view, the book

contends.

For Kristen*, her

messy desk was more an annoyance than a hindrance. In her 360 degree review

process, some of Kristen’s co-workers and employees commented that her desk was

a disaster and that she appeared disorganised. But she was highly praised in

these same ­reviews for her timeliness, leadership ability, communication

skills, strategic thinking and ability to get things done. She has received

­several promotions throughout her career and is now a vice-president in her

firm.

Depending on what

industry you work in a cluttered workspace may not be damning at all.

Success

Among Anarchy

Feelings toward workspace chaos can

be strong. The book cites a ­police chief who was fired for not having a neat

desk.

“Fortunately for the

world,” the book states, “Albert Einstein did not work for the police.

Einstein’s desk at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton was maintained

by all personal and photographic accounts, in a stupendous disarray.”

The general

assumption is that success is related to organisation. But according to a study

of the behavioural profiles of more than 240 presidents, CEOs and chief

operating officers by PsyMax Solutions, a human capital assessment firm, CEOs

actually are more creative, but less organised.

“According to our

findings, company heads are decidedly less organised than their subordinates,”

said Wayne Nemeroff, PsyMax Solutions CEO.

This finding

correlates with the book’s assertion that messiness tends to ­increase sharply

with ­increased ­education, salary and ­experience. Conversely, the authors

point out that there has been no research to directly support the benefits of

neatness.

Instead, accounts

touting the wonders of order ­are usually ­anecdotal (and delivered by

professional organisers).

A

Method to the Madness

“Mess isn’t necessarily the absence

of order,” Abrahamson and Freedman claim. “A messy desk can be a highly

effective prioritising and ­accessing system.

“In general, on a

messy desk, the more important, urgent work tends to stay close by and near the

top of the clutter, while the safely ­ignorable stuff tends to get buried at the

bottom or near the back, which makes perfect sense. The ­various piles on a

messy desk can represent a surprisingly sophisticated informal filing system

that is far more efficient and flexible than a filing cabinet could possibly

be.”

The

Benefits of Messiness

Attaining complete neatness and

order may only be an illusion. Following rigid organisational systems and living

life driven by a day planner means you’re operating with blinders on.

Many new discoveries,

inventions and creative projects are the result of sheer happenstance or

­inadvertently veering off in an ­unexpected direction. If you don’t inject a

little disorder in your life you mostly likely will miss out on the serendipity

of an unplanned ­success.

* Not her real

name.

  • This article appears on the

    ­careerbuilder.com website


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