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.


Cost of Perfection


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



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


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


Depending on what

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


Among Anarchy

Feelings toward workspace chaos can

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


“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


Instead, accounts

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

professional organisers).


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



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


  • This article appears on the

    ­ website

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.