Numerous studies have demonstrated that strategic planning works.Except that when Starbuck reviewed them, he found the studies typically involved interviewing senior managers to ascertain how useful they thought their strategic planning was. And what do you know? Strategic planners tended to to find their strategic planning very useful. For a more objective assessment, Starbuck reviewed data on how a coloration’s profits fared as compared to the amount of strategic planning the company had engaged in. The results: companies that did a lot of strategic planning performed, on average, no better that companies that did less strategic planning.
We live in a world where things that make noises are constantly near us, where in a sense even the space around us has a faint murmur to it. This noise feels right to us; at an unconscious level, it is reassuring. The technical term for this type of background noise, in fact, is comfort noise — engineers like Bourget call it CN — and trying to talk to someone in the absence of it is a bit disorienting and even a little creepy. Our brains rebel at the unnatural neatness.
That there is a heavy and somewhat blind bias toward neatness and organisation is a little strange, considering all the negative associations so many of us have with highly ordered systems. Order reached a zenith of sorts, at least in Western civilisation, with Nazi Germany. (What, in contrast, could be messier than the Garden of Eden?) Obsessive-compulsive disorder and some forms of autism are to an extent diseases of overorganization. The question, then, isn’t whether or not too much neatness and organisation can be a problem. We all know it can. The question, rather, is where to draw the line. But oddly enough, it’s a question that hardly anyone asks. Most people simply assume they’re on the overly messy and disorganised side of the line and believe they would de well to drag themselves in the direction of neatness and order.
Some situations leave little room for mess; for example, nobody would want to go to a messy eye surgeon. Rather, we argue that there is an optimal level of mess for every aspect of every system. That is, in any situation there is a type and level of mess at which effectiveness is maximised, and our assertion is that people and organisations frequently err on the side of overorganization. In many cases they can improve by increasing mess, if it’s done in the right way. At minimum, recognising the benefits of mess can be a major stress-reducer — many of us are already operating at a more-or-less appropriate level of mess but labor under the mistaken belief that we’re failing in some way because of it.
Worker output improved no more under a Taylor-style regimen than it did under clearly meaningless changes, such as lowering the lights or turning them up, so long as management was standing there to record the results.
Over the past decade, the respect accorder randomness by scientists has climbed to an entirely new level, thanks to a once-obscure phenomenon known as stochastic resonance. In a nutshell, stochastic resonance applies to a paradoxical-sounding situation in which adding some sort of randomness to a system makes it more effective — as if the more static you picked up on a radio station, the more clearly you heard the music.
Most messes encountered in daily life are failed orders — someone had an organizing scheme in mind, but for one reason or another it didn’t work.
But here's another point to consider about an ordered deck of cards: What’s it good for? Of all the things in all the world that are done with deck of cards, few require an ordered deck of cards. The first thing you do with an ordered deck of cards is shuffle them.
Anyone who has ever sat down in front of a blank sheet of paper and tried to force creativity knows that inspiration doesn’t usually happen that way. Rather it tends to to spring unexpected from novel connections, and novel connections, in turn, often go hand-in-hand with mess.
The results were surprising: over the course of as little as a few weeks, managers who threw monkey wrenches into their routines in this way found that they were also able to change the wat they treated subordinates. The reason, says Fletcher, is that people tend to get trapped in what he calls “habit webs”. When they try to effect an important, useful change, they find they’re stuck tight. But if they snip away at individual, thin, supporting strands of the web, the web can eventually be loosened enough to permit more important change. “New behaviours lead to new experiences, and eventually that helps people change the way they think,” he says.
The writer Caitlin Flangan has posited that people who are tempted to turn to professional organisers often feel that something is out of kilter in their lives, and they mistakenly attribute the problem to a lack of neatness and order in their homes. She goes on to quote Cheryl Mendelson’s book, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, which notes this of home-order enthusiasts:
"They arrange their shoes along the colour spectrum in a straight line and suffer anxiety if the towels on the shelf do all face the same way. The expend enormous effort on what they think of a housekeeping, but their homes often are not welcoming. Who can feel at home in a place where the demand for order is so exaggerated? In house-keeping, more is not always better. Order and cleanliness should not cost more than the value they bring in health, efficiency, and convenience".
If you are considering spending hours meticulously ordering a CD collection, you may want to think about the fact that after Apple brought out the iPod, the ideal device for neatly categorising thousands of songs, it discovered to virtually everyone’s surprise that the most popular feature was the “shuffle” capability, which plays tunes in random order.
In long technical papers, Kirsh and his students employ some of the anthropologists and computer scientists — Scruffy is a term from computer science, believe it or not — to analyse office “activity landscapes.” One of the key concepts in Kirsh’s research is that of the work entry point. What is it in your office environment that helps you figure out how to pick up where you left off or to begin a new task, where you’re interrupted, leave the office, switch tasks, or finish a task? “Neats,” he's found, depend on a small number of “explicit coordinating structures” such as lists, day planners, and in-boxes to quickly and surely determine what to do next. Scruffies, on the other hand, are “data driven” — that is, they don’t explicitly plan out and specify what they do but instead rely on the office environment to give them clues and prompts, in the form of documents lying on the desk, files piles up on top of the filing cabinet, comments scribbled on envelopes, Post-it notes (which, surprisingly, many Neats disdain) stuck here and there, books left open on the floor, and so forth.
“People shape their environments over time until it conforms to the way they’re comfortable working, even if it seems out of control to someone else,” he (David Kirsh) says. “As soon as you start to telling people how to do things, you’re customising their environment for them and that causes problems.” Not only will pushing Scruffies to get organised probably impair their productivity, he adds, but Scruffies will inevitably end up disorganised again anyway. “They’re recidivists,” he says.
It's a different way of thinking about a company — not as a seamless whole, but as a fractures conglomeration of transitory, semi-independent units, some leaping into being and growing quickly, others withering away, with employees and funding flowing freely and fast between them. University of Milan researcher Mario Benassi refers to spin-up-friendly companies as “modular” companies, and espouses three basic principles for them: growing in pieces instead of holistically; being as quick to shrink or get rid of logy pieces of the company as to invest in the promising ones; and being prepared to reorient its efforts around any of the pieces. “Modular companies are more focused, and faster,” he says. “They can quickly get rid of activities they’re not interested in anymore.” Traditional companies, by contrast, tend to be so fixated on preserving the same core business that potentially hot new markets are poorly served — if they are served at all.
In a society that insists on both group consensus and deep respect for the opinions of superiors, how can group decisions be reached at meetings without either excluding the boss or failing to defer his opinion? Easy: the boss kicks off the meeting, falls asleep, and wakes up when consensus has been reached.
The formula for experimenting with mess is simple enough and works in personal, institutional, and technical contexts: Try being a little messier in some way, and see if there’s an improvement. If there is, try a little more. Keep going until you get the sense that somewhere along the way things for worse, at which point you might want to try being a little neater. You get the idea.
The notion that terrible things can befall utterly innocent people, which of course happens all the time, is one of that forces us to confront the messiness and randomness of life, and we manufacture excuses to deny it.
“Gamblers are very reliable when it comes to reporting how many days they gambled, which days they gambled, what games they played, and almost everything else about their gambling,” he (Wehelan) says. “The one thing they seem to have a really hard time remembering accurately is how much they won or lost. The vast majority reports results that are highly biased toward winning.”
"I wouldn’t trade my ADD for anything,” said (Edward) Hallowell. “As far as I’m concerned , you all have attention surplus disorder.” He went on to describe the ADHD mind as “a Ferrari with Chevrolet brakes,” by which he meant that people with ADHD often seem to think more intensely and about more things than the rest of us, but with less control. “it shouldn’t be called a ‘deficit’ of attention,” he said. “It’s a wandering of attention."