Step Up Create

October 21, 2021
E07 – Creative Book Club “Messy” by Tim Hartford
The Step Up Create Podcast
The Step Up Create Podcast
E07 - Creative Book Club "Messy" by Tim Hartford

Show Notes

This month our Creative Book Club reads “Messy: How to be creative and resilient in a tidy-minded world” by Tim Hartford. In this episode Katie pick out the many ideas in the book that made her think and shares both the ideas and their impact on her. It is more of a word association game than a book review.

Following the structure of the we look at different types of messiness and whether they really need to be tidied up. This includes frustration and distraction, collaboration and diversity, whether you should have a tidy desk, Improvisation, winning, incentives, automation, resilience and life. And since we can’t do the whole thing justice in under an hour, we recommend you get a copy and enjoy the carefully curated stories and ideas in it.

If you’d like to join our free creative book club where we discuss books like this one, go over to our website and sign up to the book club.

Find our website at Follow us on Instagram @step_up_create Follow us on Facebook @stepupcreate

Follow my art at an on Instagram at @katieannice

Original music written and performed by Jonathan D. Mellor licensed to Step Up Create S.L.

Hello there, welcome back and this week we are back with a creative book club edition, and we are reviewing, or talking about, or doing a random word association with the ideas that come up in Messy how to be creative and resilient in a tidy minded world by Tim Hartford. This was published back in 2017 I picked it up at the airport somewhere, when I was still travelling for work. And I think it just caught my eye, partly because I have to admit, I am one of the people who support messiness. So, I think messiness is a bit like being a dog person, or being a cat person. And so I’m definitely on the messy side. Now, I really don’t agree with or conform to that crazy messy creative type, I find it kind of annoying that creative people or is thought to be like that because I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. And I have known and do know a lot of creative people who are not messy or not disorganised so I’m probably on the organised, but messy side of things, and I quite like having a bit of mess around and I know where things are, even though it looks like I probably don’t, at the very beginning of the book, Tim says, I will stand up for messiness, not because I think messiness is the answer to all of life’s problems, but because I think messiness has too few defenders, and that is certainly true in the business world, everything that we’re told is to be really organised and to have this strategy and execute that strategy, and do it one by one, in a very kind of organised way. Now obviously there are some plus points to that but as the book goes on to look at, there are some negative sides to it as well. So, essentially, the book is all about different types of messiness and kind of goes on to, to prove or disprove what we expect around those things. So, each of the chapters is focused on one different type of messiness, so we’ll have a look at those separately and I’ll go through today talking about each of those, like I did last time on the creative book club. It’s kind of what the book is making me think about in my head as well as the ideas from the book. Now this is quite a big book. So it actually has felt today as I’ve been preparing the notes that I haven’t really done this and gone through and analysed a book since I did a level English quite a while back. The main idea behind the book, is this idea that we live in a kind of tidy minded world and tidy mind if people suggest that if you want to be creative, and resilient, you need this disorder in your world and what Tim goes on to say is that there’s a lot to be said for disorganisation improvisation, confusion, openness, adaptability. All of those are inherently messy. I certainly found this book really interesting to read. It is full of stories. So, little stories, brought to life by the author’s colourful language, and just really thoughtful prose so it’s definitely not a dry read in any way and I felt I learned a lot about things that I knew a little bit about, but he kind of really went into a lot of detail on them and told the story behind them and I’ll tell you a few of the bits of those stories that I found most memorable as we go through. So talking about creativity, essentially what he’s saying is that frustration and distraction, help us to solve problems in art, science and life. He tells the story of musical producer Brian Eno who worked with lots of different bands, and really tried to help them to take their music to the next level. And one of the things that he developed were the oblique strategy cards. These are just cards that have random pieces of advice on them that say so, the examples that he gives the things like change instrument rolls, or only the part, not the whole, so it’s certainly something that I’ve done in some of my classes, it’s what we do in design thinking in the ideation phase when we’re trying to really stretch those ideas out we might go up to a table of a team working on something and say, How would Superman do it, or, you know, what does the chair, think about this stuff that is completely random and might seem to be a little bit crazy, but actually does get the conversation moving in a different direction. And essentially what Tim calls this is introducing a judicious dose of randomness. Another thing that I found really interesting in this and it’s still on the same subject of this randomness was talking about algorithms and how algorithms really don’t allow for randomness their very definition is trying to really categorise things and come up with a quickest route to solve the problem, but when we’re solving complex problems, we don’t know what that route is and algorithms work on this in a different way. And one of the ways that he was talking about in the book, one of the analogies, is this idea that if someone says you got to get to the top of the highest mountain on a planet planet Earth, whatever, how are you going to do that with you don’t have a map and you don’t have any other information, and what he suggests is that the easiest way of doing this or that the most likely to succeed way of doing this is by combining a hill climbing approach with a random approach. So what you would literally do is to drop a pin on the map just decide where you’re going to go to go there, see what the elevation is like and decide whether it’s worth climbing up to see if that is the highest one, or just going somewhere else. I’m not sure I’ve explained that particularly well but I thought this was kind of interesting in that it’s not about necessarily constantly climbing up, so he says that humans are innate Hill climbers, the way we’re taught in society is this idea of climbing up and making an effort. We don’t necessarily know we’re climbing up the right Hill or the right mountain, or even one that is good for us. so actually an approach which involves being aware of other options, or allowing for some randomness and maybe trying another mountain, and then climbing from there or deciding whether to climb from there is something that can lead to success quicker. Basically, he says when you’re forced to start from somewhere new, the cliches are replaced with magic. And you can see that this is connected to music it’s connected to art. When you actually have to start from somewhere new. Everything is different and so therefore what we can do is different and we’re forced into something more creative. So then he goes on to talk more about distraction, and the idea that creative people can be easily distracted, and how does that fit with what we know about brain science or whatever else. And he says basically that distractible brains make more of those useful random leaps and these random leaps may be to an unfamiliar location, it forces us to be alert to figure out where we are and where we want to go from here. This immediately makes me think about some of the Travelling I’ve done on my own I’ve, I’ve had the fortune to do a lot of travelling obviously pre COVID on my own. Usually off the back of a business trip with the flexibility to go and visit places, and discover the world. And I just remember particularly a time in India, they went up to Jaisal mir which is in Registan about 50 kilometres from the Pakistani border, and it is a town or a city, which is made out of sandstone so essentially it’s got a big fort, so it looks a bit like a sand castle, and all of the buildings are pretty much sandstone it’s just beautiful, and I was there I was there for two or three days I think just sort of enjoying being there on my own and out with a camera and taking lots of photos and there was a big Indian wedding, which was pretty much the whole village which was coming down the street, and I had one of those moments of all. Shall I go down and you know get involved or shall I not. And usually when, when I have these moments when I’m away on my own I try and get involved because I know that the experience will be so much richer. If I do that rather than sitting in the restaurant or wherever I am having a beer on my own. And so I went down and was obviously immediately invited into this massive outdoor wedding party made to feel hugely welcomed by people who I’d never met. And just notice that I became really alert, in a very human way of the connections of the colours of the smells of all of this life that was going on that quite often we are, I at least would not be so aware of, and this was because it was a whole different experience. And this is something that happens when you travel you go somewhere new, But it can also happen just by connecting different concepts together. You know those conversations you’ve had with someone who you’ve never met before, and you just suddenly click with them and you’re talking about something you know nothing about but you’re learning about and you’re making connections with your field, that kind of thing is what we’re talking about here these random links or random connections between different things. So, he also talks about some research that was done by psychologists Bernice edusson Basically she looked at top scientists the most successful scientists to try and find out why they were so successful, what was making them successful. This is sort of success determined by papers and publishing and all the rest of it, what she noticed was that top scientists switch topics frequently. They didn’t just stay with one idea and continue that their whole career. The long term achievers, were able to switch projects, or have several projects that were kind of growing at the same time, these are people like Alexander Fleming, or Louis Pastore, who switch topics frequently, and they were kind of juggling, these different projects. Project juggling behaviours, is also the subject of a study done by Keith Sawyer, and Mikhail check sent me mile high, the scientist behind the concept of flow, and this is cited in the book as well so this is not something I’m adding in here, and they looked at the Creative Habits of 100 exceptionally creative people, and every single one of these had multiple projects going on at the same time. Now this when I heard it, I thought, brilliant that’s, that sounds like it’s totally justifying the way I work in that I always have several projects going on at the same time, I remember just a few months ago my therapist said to me, it seems to me that you’re building the Sagrada Familia here, the seven other familia being the Goudy church which has never really finished well maybe it’ll be finished one time but it’s, you know, each of the towers is being built separately and hopefully it all come together in the end, but some of them are really quite different from the others. What my therapist was referring to was just some of the different projects and different things I’m working on at the same time which seemingly have little to do with each other, and yet I just kind of keep building up little by little. This was just an idea in the book if I could just put a tick next to NGO Yes, totally agree with this, I felt really good about that chapter. And that’s pretty much what I took from it in the long term. So, the next chapter is all about collaboration and this is now, co creation. And the idea here is that, well basically the conclusion here is that tidy teams have more fun, but messy team work gets more done. So what do we mean by messy team work. First of all, there are two separate ideas here in this chapter one is about the strength of weak ties. So we know this a bit from LinkedIn and how LinkedIn works that some of the most useful ties that we have in our network are not our close contacts, but contacts that we have much further away so they could be people we met at a conference we don’t have a really close relationship with them. And those are the ones that really have been shown to lead to more job connections and more possibilities. So that was one thing about the weaker connections, he’s also talking a bit about different types of social capital. So this is the idea of when you are in a team, he obviously uses some stories here talks about a story of the British Olympic rowing team who just sort of shut themselves off from the world and really concentrated on getting to know each other and how they work together and, and this is an example of bonding social capital, and that there’s another type of social capital called bridging social capital, which is all about connecting between different social groups, and this could be also seen as the tidy minded approach versus the messy minded approach the clear limitation of this is our team and we’re going to work together, compared with this kind of connection with lots of other teams and maybe collaborating with lots of different people. What he says is that most tasks require a combination of bridging and bonding flashes of inspiration to identify the right approach, and hard graft characterised by selfless teamwork, to put it into practice. The next idea on this part on collaboration is all about diversity trumping ability, and he cites complexity scientists Scott Page, who wrote the difference, and he says, if you already have four brilliant statisticians working on a problem, even a mediocre sociologist or mediocre economist may add more to the team than another statistician, basically being in a diverse group of people, does two main things according to the book one, is it helps to get different approaches to problem solving to come up with different ideas, and another is that it makes people less lazy with thinking. And he talks about an example here of a jury study that was done, where essentially the least homogeneous group came up with a much better reasoning around why they were deciding one way or another. This is something that we see a lot in design thinking and this is something that we talk about a lot, for example, when I have a company who comes to me and wants to design thinking workshop, what we’ll do is deliberately if possible, make these transdisciplinary teams so that people are not working in the same teams that they always work in, and we’re building now, not just this kind of close knit community but also this bridging social capital this ability to be able to, in business terms work across silos, that’s something that’s obviously really important in order to come up with business ideas that all working on all levels and not just for one department or one team, what The



Book says about this sorry I went off on what I think is what the book says about this is that of course all of this makes decision making more messy. We have people who are collaborating across the distance and across different disciplines that’s not easy to handle, and we have people of different backgrounds or different training or whatever, that are working together, and that is also not easy. It’s of course easier to work with a group of friends, and in one of the parts of this chapter he says that there’s some research around people working with friends having a wonderful time and thinking they’ve done a really good job but actually what they’re producing is a lot less good than what another team that was more diverse and haven’t had such a great time, but have been able to produce better work, we’re talking about being more effective being more creative being more innovative in a diverse group than in a non diverse group. This I guess isn’t news really, but I like the idea of diversity being connected with mercy, and there’s this idea that we need to create these really strong teams and it is much easier to work in this strong team, but at the same time, we need to be able to balance that with this bridging over to other teams and other disciplines. So I think that’s quite an interesting idea from this chapter. There’s also a really interesting piece of research mentioned in this chapter which is done by Paul Ekman and Michael Morris, where they use the electronic tax in a networking event, where the objective was just for executives to get to know each other, they said that they wanted to reach out and get to know more people what they found was that most people made a beeline for people that they knew, and then any new people, they met tended to be friends with these people who they already knew before. Which basically meant they were all from pretty much the same industry or the same background and they weren’t actually reaching out and getting this more diverse network so we as humans have a tendency to be tidy minded about this in my experience of teaching networking it’s more to do with not wanting to make a fool of yourself than it is perhaps, reaching out into the unknown, but I guess those two are probably linked. So in the third chapter is talking about workspaces, this is quite interesting as well. Essentially, the conclusion is, it’s nobody else’s business, whether you tidy your desk, we’ve all suffered, haven’t we, from these minimalist workspaces, and some of them are a lot more draconian than others, he talks about a Japanese company called Kyocera who seemed to have an extremely stringent policy based on the five s method which was originally designed for car manufacturing of sort straighten shine standardise sustain, where they didn’t want to allow anybody to have any kind of personal effects in the workspace so design this beautiful office and they really didn’t want anything else to mess that up and so went around policing it and, essentially, not letting anyone have any kind of personal things, and that people were obviously really unhappy with this, what we see in this chapter is that, if you don’t allow people to create their own workspace in some small way, they end up feeling disempowered and empowered offices are 30% more productive, AND people flourish when



they’re in control of their own space, this was some research by Alex hellsten and Craig Knight, Robert, some on Hard and Soft spaces. And this is just the idea that hard spaces or spaces very institutionalised spaces that you can’t really change things a prison cell where things nailed down, or soft spaces where you can move it around and personalise it. So, just saying that having an office that is a little bit messy if you’re from a company such as deciding how to set up your office is a lot more productive than having this awful I say awful because I hated open plan space, and hot desking and all the rest of it. I remember the first time I got an office with a door on it, which was just for me, was wonderful. I could have the door open if I wanted people in and I wanted to connect to their people outside and I could have the door closed. If I didn’t want anybody in. And I just wanted to get on with some work and I was certainly a lot more productive. It’s interesting how this might connect to what we’ve been going through over the last year and a half where we’ve been creating our own spaces or working on the kitchen table or purchasing wherever we can in our house away from our children to try and get our work done, whether that is a better way to work than working in one of these cold office spaces. I think it probably depends on the person. For me I like to have my own stuff around but not too much distraction, what we might see when we go back to work now, and this was kind of more for you guys that work in big offices, is that yeah we do have the hot desking and the shared space because the companies don’t need so much space, if everybody is going to work from home three days a week. Let’s see what happens there. The other thing that they mentioned in this chapter and there’s something just sticks in my mind because I think it’s quite interesting, is about the building 20 At MIT, and this is just a ugly prefab building that was designed and built really really quickly but ended up producing an astonishing amount of research because it had loads of different people in the same building. And essentially, the building itself through people together. Again, not because of its amazing design actually because it was so complicated to move around that people ended up walking into other people’s offices and and making these random connections between different pieces of research that was one side and the other side was that nobody worried about customising the space, because it was so ugly that they weren’t going to make it any more ugly with whatever changes they made to it. So, this is held up in the book as what we want to achieve, if possible, in an office space, this idea of this building 20 Where people did mix together they had their own spaces, they were able to develop their own research, but there was this bridging going on between the different ideas, and that brings it full circle back to the idea at the beginning of the chapter.



The next one’s all about improvisation, obviously a topic that I love, and basically just says that there can be unexpected benefits of letting go of the script, the author tells the story of Martin Luther King, obviously I knew that Martin Luther King was an expert speaker and he spent a lot of time developing his speeches and his sermons and really seriously. What I didn’t know was that the I Have a Dream speech was mostly improvised is obviously improvised by someone who was excellent, and extremely skilled at speaking. So it’s not just sort of that’s just improvise and see what happens in the book does give a few examples of politicians who’ve done that to their own Showground because they’ve basically then messed up these speeches or forgotten some really important parts of it being able to improvise is letting go of some of this consciousness which is limiting us from moving forward in creativity and Tim tells a story about Miles Davis and how he recorded kind of blue album One of his most famous ones, And then it was done in just 10 hours, which was much much less than any other ones he gives the example of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I think he said took 700 hours to record or something like that improvisation is obviously good for speed and it’s good for flexibility, but one of the reasons that people don’t improvise is about this illusion of control, if we’ve got a PowerPoint deck and we know exactly what we want to say, we feel like we’re in control. And yet, that’s actually just the illusion of control and speed economy, flexibility, are three examples of really good advantages of improv. Now, for me, I think one of the key things about improv and he does go on to mention this, is that you need to practice. And so, a bit like we were saying last week when we’re talking about comedy. Comedy is not just something that hey I just said a funny joke without thinking about it. It’s something that you practice and you practice improv, a lot, if you’re a jazz musician or something like that you’ll do that even more than if you’re an improvisational theatre or improvising a speech that the idea is also that this helps with suppressing the consciousness and letting go and there’s actually some research on this also cited in the book by jazz playing neuroscientist, Charles Lim, and apparently what Charles Lim did was get some improvisational pianists in an MRI machine, and have them improvise pieces of music I’m not sure how he did this but anyway, have them improvised pieces of music, compare that brain activity with when they were just doing scales, and also compare that again with playing a normal piece of music that was written down. And what they found was that there were large parts of the brain in the prefrontal cortex that were kind of shutting down, and what they suggested was that improvisers are suppressing consciousness and letting go. This is something that I work on a lot when I’m teaching especially theatre workshops in this case, and we talk about improvisation we talk about the foundations of improvisation being noticing more letting go, and using everything, and using everything is connecting the dots so that’s sort of the first thing that you were saying about connecting bridging the gaps. Letting go is this idea of letting go of your preconceived ideas letting go of your judgement, just letting things flow a little bit more, rather than really thinking about the result. In this chapter, I was sort of going yes yes this is so true, yes, yes, I love this. Yes, so kind of preaching to the converted really, he can access to some of the ideas in business where we improvise and where improvisation has been helpful, even though it’s Messier to manage, and one of those is around social media communication so he gives the example of otoo when they’re dealing with, I think it’s a service issue where basically everything crashed and they get a lot of people complaining, and they had one social media manager who was on Twitter and basically started replying in a funny way to these customer complaints and turn the whole thing around, just being quick thinking and not having to use a script, this idea of having humans that are off script that have some freedom to be able to do things that are a little bit different and he gives other examples of stuff that is a lot more human than perhaps what we would do normally if we’re waiting for some kind of approval or whatever else he talks about, yes, and he doesn’t call it yes and, but this made me totally connect with the idea of yes and for me, one of the big inspirational quotes around yes hand, is a Keith Johnson, quote, who is like a guru of improvisational theatre, and he says, Those who say no, are rewarded by the security that those who say yes, are rewarded by the adventures they have. So improv is all about choosing the adventurous route. And yes, this the idea that someone says something in theatre for example it’s easier to explain it to them perhaps music’s someone says something, and you build off that. So if someone says you’re a dog, you’re a dog. You don’t say no, not a dog, I’m a cat or I’m not a cat I’m a whatever you have to go with that is the same in music, someone plays something you’re working with what that person is playing, you’re not complaining that they’re not playing the right note or that the rhythms are for whatever you are dealing with what that is. And there’s something so beautiful about this, about being able to just say yes yes yes and build up and just sort of CO create one on top of the other.



I love using this in creative processes, not just in theatre or whatever else they yes and we get to places that are so much further than you would if you were saying no but, or,



yes but or whatever else. And apparently in the book, this has been used in dementia cases where it’s really difficult because the person thinks that they are in different space and you can either argue with that or you can go ahead and pretend that it’s true and so you can just have this kind of improvise theatre conversation with someone with dementia, which keeps them in a safe space they feel comforted, and that all works quite nicely, apparently. So what does it take to improvise, according to the author, practice and willingness to cope with messy situations the ability to listen, and taking risks and letting go. Sounds good to me. In the next chapter I find it hard to connect with this because it was all about winning and war, and it was pretty interesting and relaying some of the tactics of the Second World War, but not being someone who is genuinely interested in that, I find it difficult not to kind of skip ahead, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do here, but what he basically says is that mess can be used as a weapon in business, politics and war, you can use mess to create general confusion, or you can use it in order to outsmart the opponents in one way or another. The example that uses here which I thought was pretty interesting was, Amazon in the beginning, apparently Amazon was a complete mess in the beginning, and I didn’t realise this, but I remember it opening up but I don’t remember any of the real mess so they apparently just started with these massive goals so without really knowing how they were going to do it. Currently in the first week they sold $12,000 worth of books but only actually got around to shipping $846 of the books and they just kind of built up and built up this problem with getting the orders out, and then they got offered this opportunity in Yahoo where they could have their link on the front page of Yahoo, which at the time was the internet connection place where everybody was, and they knew that that would be really difficult to deal with because they’re getting even more customers and they couldn’t even deal with the ones they had, but they said yes anyway, and then did get even more customers and then had to deal with that so it was cut this was definitely saying yes to everything, and just seeing where it went to, when I was reading this, I thought this is brilliant because now I don’t feel so bad about my disorganised approach to business, this idea of having kind of a general strategy but not having it really really refined down and being able to change as quickly as possible, what essentially they were thinking of or Bessel said was that if you’re planning more than 20 minutes ahead of time you’re wasting your time. That is pretty interesting that that was a very very messy approach, and yet it was extremely effective. The book also talks a little bit about Trump. Now, this was published in 2017 so it missed out on him winning the election, and also then in the Trump years of the presidency as well, but what it notes is about the primaries and it’s talking about how Trump was against a very careful minded messaging machine from the other candidates the other candidates within the Republican Party of this stage but we could extend that to later in the actual real election. So what he did was create these outrageous behaviour on Twitter or whatever, which would then send his ratings sky high, and anything that the other candidate did which would take longer to get out there because it was carefully honed message prepared by their sort of propaganda machines if you like, just would be completely dominated by what Trump was doing which might have been making fun of a disabled person or something like that. In his case, he just really didn’t seem to care what it was that was making the noise. And in the book they talk about this being part of OODA pattern which was something that was defined by John Boyd, and the idea was that they command has changed the situation faster than their adversaries could figure out what was going on. So, this was chaos, deliberately being used as a weapon and, and so the OODA part of it refers to observe, orient, decide, act, and you’re basically just watching and reacting very, very quickly, taking advantage of the fact that the other people are slower than you, so that was pretty much what came out of that chapter, and then he goes on to talk about incentives, and the idea that incentives are really difficult to place any of you that have had management by objectives might have already found this that your objectives over the year, seem to get more and more ridiculous or seem to make less sense because they made sense in the beginning, but now they don’t make so much sense. And so if you actually just go for the objectives, you are not doing the job that you were hired to do very well. Certainly that’s been my experience of the whole objectives thing. And, and this is something that, that he highlights in the book, particularly talking about health service initiatives, ideas, like Tony Blair’s idea of improving the service to family doctors and surgeries and being able to get appointments and and how that kind of backfired because the surgeries weren’t able to give the appointments in the allotted time and so therefore they delayed people from being able to make the appointments and that obviously wasn’t what was planned with the



objective and yet it, it sort of led people down that path, there’s this whole idea of having a tidy minded targets that are easy and simple this smart objectives can work really well in some circumstances, but we need to be very careful, cutting his objectives and how, what, what’s that, leaving out essentially. So what this chapter says, is that we need to have a combination of different objectives that when they put together they more or less mean that, you know, someone’s doing a good job in the job that they’ve been asked to do, but it doesn’t mean that they have to do one or the other of them, and it doesn’t sort of lead them down a path of being able to gain them and win at one objective or the other. He then moves on to automation and automation is an interesting topic because it helps a lot with a lot of things it makes my life easier on certain things like some newsletters and stuff like that, but he talks about it here in relation to the Air France flight 447, which was an A 330 which went down, I think it was flying from San Paolo to Paris, and it went down in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And I remember that going down and I remember that awful picture of the tail fin from Air France floating in the water, and I never really knew what happened. This book gives a really detailed account of what happened. And that was fascinating for me, I found it really, really fascinating. And it’s very nicely told the way that the author is constantly telling these little stories although this is quite a long one, I think it’s probably about 10 pages long, where he’s really explaining what happened. Essentially what we take from this is that the problem that the aeroplane had was that the pilots weren’t used to flying the plane without the plane flying itself so the plane has an autopilot. It’s extremely effective, all of our planes that we fly on have auto pilots that really help them to adjust and to make sure that the flight is as smooth as possible as safe as possible and all the rest of it. But when there’s a circumstance when the autopilot doesn’t understand what’s going on, or can’t deal with this anomaly. It means that the humans have to fly the plane. And if the humans haven’t flown the plane because the auto pilots been flying it for so long, then this is going to be a problem. And that’s exactly what happened, it was a problem they didn’t know how to find the plane properly there were some other errors and things that went on human errors, again, it can create this big mess, as the author puts it automation will routinely tidy up ordinary messes, but occasionally create an extra ordinary mess, and we have an automation bias and he talks about this as well, I mean I don’t know how many of you have just kind of randomly accepted what the GPS says, and you can easily mess this up by. 

I didn’t know if you put a shop in you could end up going to shop in a different shopping centre than we wanted to go to or if there’s a city of the same name if you don’t check you could end up going to that city instead of the one you want to get to, just because we kind of assume that the computer knows best, and therefore we shouldn’t even bother to use our mind on it anymore. So when algorithms are making the decisions for people. We stop working to get better. It’s a vicious circle people become more dependent on algorithms, and their judgement erodes making them more dependent. So this is something we have to be really careful of. And what the book says is that we should be designing tools to help support human expertise, not to supplant it, so we’re not always just relying on the machine and we don’t actually know what’s going on. We can do it ourselves as well. So we’re actually doing it ourselves, and then the machine is coming in to adjust that a little bit, and to make it a little bit better or to make it a little bit safer. This is interesting because, as I was reading this I was thinking about the financial crisis, and the idea that it’s basically was logic built on logic built on logic and nobody really understood what was behind it all this collateralized debt obligations and CTOs, at the bottom of all of this other financial stuff. And this is kind of my understanding from the NBA when I studied it and still kind of think of it like this that it’s something that’s so complex, but it’s complex because it’s someone makes it this way and then someone adds a little thing on top and then someone adds something else on top, and someone adds something else on top and you get this kind of ball. You really don’t know what’s in the middle of the ball. So it’s thinking about this and then the book went on to talk about it so the book does suggest that had we been being more careful and more conscious of what we’re doing, then the financial crisis, wouldn’t have happened. The last thing that they talked about in this chapter that another last thing that comes to mind that I thought was quite interesting, was some stuff done by Hans Monderman who was someone who was brought in to make a road through a village safer in the Netherlands. And what he decided to do instead of putting more speed bumps in or more signs or whatever else was to make it look more like a village, so he took down all of the speed signs and all of this and just made it so that it really looked like it was a nice calm village and people were going to be walking through it, and the effect that this had was that people came off autopilot, they weren’t automatically thinking okay well I’m driving on a road I’m just going to not be very careful. I’ll go straight through this village, but rather they thought, it’s a village, there are children, I need to be careful so this is extending this idea of automation to how we automate ourselves or this autopilot that we can get onto particularly when we’re driving, or doing something that we do every day, the same guy went on to to sort out an extremely dangerous crossing by putting in what looked like a far more dangerous, messy, square about that nobody really understood how it worked, but everyone drove very carefully through because they knew something that needed to be managed, rather than done on autopilot. So that was quite an interesting end to that chapter. The next one was all about resilience, believing that cleanliness is next to godliness is dangerous is pretty much the conclusion of this, he refers to natural systems for us things like that we know that there needs to be an ecosystem there needs to be different things that are relying on each other in order to make the soil, keep being fertile and make things keep on growing. You refers to some research on German German forests on that but I won’t go into detail on it. And he sort of says, well, can that be referred to our artificial environments our cities, essentially says that cities should have mixed economies so that we’re not relying on just one economy is a bit of a no brainer these days. But anyway, just making sure that there’s not too many eggs in one basket that things are mixed up that you can be good or tend to be good at most of the different things that you do, then that’s something that’s going to build resilience, he talks about neighbourhoods and the need for them to be diverse so that they have different uses and they can be used at different times during the day so that they’re always active, and that that’s a much better use than having neighbourhoods, destined for one group or another, which tends to be part of this bureaucratic desire for tidiness we like to have our university district we like to have our shopping districts we like to have our whatever district that’s maybe more so in the new world that say rather than Europe where everything tends to be mixed up. And this got me thinking about the example of Barcelona, and there’s a neighbourhood in Barcelona called the assembler, and this was actually deliberately built to mix up different levels of income, most of them are four or five storeys so there’s a large entrance way where you could have a doctor or a lawyer or someone who had a nice big family house large high ceilings, all the rest of it. And as you go up the building, it’s for more and more humble professions or people, and the ceiling size gets lower and the very top of the houses was traditionally for the people who looked after the houses that was an idea back in the 80s that got societies mixed together and there are lots of other ones that are being put into place now as well to try and make sure that we also don’t self segregate and that things are mixed up in terms of cultures in terms of uses in terms of families and offices and all the rest of it, and that just makes things a lot nicer and a lot more livable, a lot more human. The last chapter is titled Life, and the main things that stick out for me on this is something about filing, which is basically sort of saying that, do we really need to spend time



worrying that we’re not organised enough. And there’s a nice quote from Merlin Mann, who’s a productivity expert. He says, We are often too busy to get organised but if we focused on practical action, we wouldn’t need to get it organised, so sometimes you’re just doing stuff, and you don’t need to be more organised than just doing stuff that made me feel a lot better because I’m often just doing stuff. I could be more organised, that’s for sure looks a little bit about categories and how difficult it is to categorise things there’s some, some interesting quotes on this just tries to help people not get fixated on filing things, then they also talk about zero inbox which for me has been something I’ve tried a few times and failed at. And now I’m making peace with the fact that I’ll probably never be able to do it, and that’s fine. I don’t really need it to be able to either. Also the research that he cites, which is, am I wasting my time, organising my email by Steve Whitaker and researchers at IBM, basically says yeah, you probably are. And they found that people who were, had a lot of folders were spending more time looking in the folders for the emails than other people who just had an archive folder and we’re just doing searches in the whole email box. So, at the time of recording this, I in my main email box have 11,118 messages, I think that might be unread messages as well because it’s in the little red thing. Anyway, I feel okay with that, I’m feeling good about it. I need to go through and delete some stuff I think. This made me feel a lot better about just being a little bit messy. And the other thing that really appealed to me in this last chapter was about planning time. And this is something for me which I’ve been working on quite a lot this year, figuring out how to plan my time that is in line with the objectives they want to achieve, but isn’t so structured that I feel like I’m trapped. And essentially, this really fits in with some research that is cited in the book, and this is by Daniel Kirschenbaum Laura Humphrey and Sheldon mallet, they did calendar experiment with some students to try and help them to be more productive and more effective in their exams and in their studies, and essentially they put them into three groups. One group was given a task to plan every day and it’s very structured. The other group had no plan at all, and there was a middle group, which had a plan but with a lot of flexibility in it, so the ability to be able to move things around, to decide what to do with your time. And this is what really won out all of the students in that group managed to increase their productivity and still a year later were being more productive because they were still using that. That’s kind of what I found with my way of doing things, all I do is that every month, I do my three main things that I want to get done that month. Now I do the same thing per week, and then every day I do the same thing three main tasks. Plus, my little calendar of meetings or whatever that I’ve got that I can’t move, and then some other tasks as well but really my idea is that by the end of the day there’s three main tasks are going to be done and off my desk that’s been going pretty well for me and it’s been different to when I tried to plan in the day before go okay well, from 10 to 11 I’m going to work on this and then from 11 till 12 I’m going to do this, that I hated it. I find it really demotivating in the morning to come into that. And so I definitely need the structure and mess. At the same time, a little bit of structure a little bit of mess, and he finally finishes talking about playgrounds, which I found quite interesting because I’ve got one two small kids, so I spend quite a lot of time in playgrounds at the moment, he found that kids are more careful and more creative in playgrounds that are Messier, so we tend to think of a good playground as being something that’s all new and it’s got that nice spongy floor, it’s very difficult for kids to hurt themselves, but what he says is that in those kinds of playgrounds, more children get hurt because they don’t take as much care as they do in a playground, which basically has a lot of dangerous things in it, so I’m not sure that’s convincing me to go and put my kids into really dangerous situations but it’s definitely an interesting observation and it seems to fit back with the added observation with cars and automation so that is pretty much what he says, I feel like again I haven’t really done justice to the whole book I’ve tried to pick up some ideas and some colour that Tim Hartford is used throughout this book, I’d really recommend it. I think it’s a really good book, he is a business writer.



He wrote the undercover economist, as well as this book, and written a lot for the Financial Times and radio for you can see it’s very kind of mainstream business, and yet he’s shown all this creativity throughout the whole book and these wonderful little stories that are woven through so it’s it’s an easy book to read, in terms of keeping you interested, it’s challenging intellectually as well it’ll keep you on your toes, thinking about different things so I’d recommend getting a copy of it and for me, it was great just to have someone justifying that it’s okay to be a little bit messy, he concludes with we see again and again that real creativity, excitement, and humanity lie in the messy parts of life, not the tidy ones, so there we go, messy, how to be creative, and resilient in a tidy minded world by Tim Harford, go buy it



next month we will be reading, “Against Creativity” by Ollie Mould.


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