Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Be messy, be happy

How often have you wished that if only you were more organized with your possessions, time and resources, you could be more successful and efficient? If you experience these pangs quite often, you are not alone. The unpleasant feeling or guilt that each of us should be more organized, better organized, or differently organized seems nearly ubiquitous.

Hundreds of books, a vast array of home- and office-organizing aids, classes and seminars, software, television shows, magazines and organizational consultants- an entire industry has sprung up that purveys some variation on the theme of straightening up, rearranging, acquiring highly effective habits, planning your day/week/life, restructuring organizations and standardizing processes.

A standard ploy used by consultants is a little demonstration, using two decks of cards, one shuffled and one ordered by suit and rank and given to two different volunteers. The consultants then call out the names of four cards and ask the volunteers to find them in the respective pack. Naturally, the person with the ordered deck always clocks the shorter time and wins.

Therefore it pays to be orderly. Right?

Wrong, say Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, authors of the book, “A Perfect Mess”. What about the time someone spent in arranging the cards in the first place. Why is that not accounted for? Besides, arranging cards is a complete waste of time, as we make it a point to shuffle the cards before every game, anyway.

The core of their pro-mess argument is that organizing, storing, and maintaining the order in the various aspects of our lives is often more time-consuming, expensive, and restrictive than living with a moderate degree of mess. Besides it stifles innovation. Anyone who has ever sat down in front of a blank sheet of paper and tried to force creativity knows that inspiration doesn’t happen that way. Rather it tends to spring unexpected from novel connections, which in turn goes hand-in-hand with mess.

Remember, first of all, that when you try to be organized, you are going against the grain of Nature, for Nature likes nothing better than to increase the state of disorderliness or entropy, as experts on thermodynamics would love to tell you. If you need more proof, look at the scattered toys in a kid’s room or the mess created by the monkeys in the zoo. These are creatures not indoctrinated with the dogma of orderliness and it is refreshing to see them being their natural selves, with their brains unwashed. Take a cue from them.

And, do you know that Einstein was as well known for his messy desk as he was for his theory of relativity. But, he countered, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then is an empty desk?” Answer that, you cleanliness freaks.

There, are you feeling better now that you are a normal, messy person like Einstein ( or that brain-unwashed monkey) and not one of those organized weirdos?

I have done it yet again. I first taught you how to be happy as a person (“lower your expectations .Expect to be fired tomorrow. If you still have a job by evening, you will be very happy”). I then shared with you the secret of a happy marriage (“give a positive spin to whatever your partner does. If she whacks you on the head, it is not to kill you, but to improve the blood circulation to your brain”). I also provided some valuable tips on how to feel lighter. (“if you are 80 kg and feel heavy, keep hogging till you reach 90 kg, then shed 10 kg to come back to 80 kg again. You will feel lighter at the same weight that you were in, to begin with”). Finally, in this episode, I have shown you the path to a blissful, guilt-free life, paved with messiness.

My ambition is to make Plus Ultra the place where people will want to visit whenever they need to be rid of any guilt. At this rate, I am going to acquire the label of “Acharya Rajneesh of the blogosphere”.

Update 05/03/07
: This article reports on an experiment in the town of Drachten in Netherlands, where they scrapped all traffic signals. In the seemingly chaotic system, the accident rate actually went down. ( via)


Anonymous said...

I have always used the entropy theory as an argument in favor of messiness.
I am going to add liberal doses of messiness to my desk and feel good about it!

Sigma said...

ENTROPY rules !!

Cmreddy said...

How come witty and smart Raj failed to see the correlation between the consultants showing off the cards and the Eric Abrahamson(A Perfect Mess)?

Dont u see both are trying to make money.. One cleaning it up and another messing it up..

I am sure you will wack your sales trainee if he gives a messy report and quote a quotable quote from "A Perfect Mess"..

May be we should wack ourselves whenever we go out to buy something fancy which adds to the mess. This is advice is for free.. :o)

Raj said...

naveen, sigma : Let's hear it for entropy, then, Hip, hip....

cmreddy : Collusion,eh, between the mess-creator and mess-cleaner. Like the Charlie Chaplin episode where his accomplice breaks the window glass in each house and Chaplin will go to fix it.

Cmreddy said...

I dont think thats a collusion.. Its just "make hay when sun shines" by these authors.. One guy is making money by telling you mess is not good and the other guy is making money telling you just the opposite..

Just you and me are not making anything but giving out priceless wisdom. By the way I would love to listen from you if you really wack the sales trainee or strangle him with your sarcasm?

Anonymous said...

My elder son will love you so much- he had made such a fine art of messiness that his room never had enough space for him to sleep in- he'd crash out on the living room carpet! He's also one very creative dude- so I'm very thankful not to have him at home any more! He's successfully trained his father, though. I can appreciate mess in theory, so of course I enjoyed your post, Acharyaji!

Escape.... Great Escape said...

Talkign abotu lowered expectations... do you think you would want people to watch Veerasamy first and babel next to make them feel better abotu Babel ?

Raj said...

cmreddy, maybe they want to make hay ,but we have a choice of not buying their books, no?

Dipali :I hope you are able to see your son in a new light now..

escape : Ha, yes. Especially, after reading the reviews in your blog.