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A perfect mess: The hidden benefits of disorder

A perfect mess: The hidden benefits of disorder

Does order really provide efficiency? Contrary to preconceptions, what if a certain dose of disorder was conducive to performance?

Author(s): Eric Abrahamson, David H. Freedman

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Date of publication: 2007

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Companies are the kingdoms of organization, with clearly allocated tasks, well-oiled processes to avoid overlap and production stoppages, organization charts to clarify the scope of action of each individual and reporting lines, etc. Some companies even push the love of order to the point of dictating policies on how individual workspace must be arranged. Indeed, order and efficiency are often connected in many minds. Disorganized people lose information more easily, may manage time and priorities less efficiently, tend to flit from one project to another to the detriment of the end product, etc. But what if order were not as important as people think? What if order also had hidden costs and created pockets of inefficiency? What if, in the end, we are a bit too orderly? Once again, Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman call into question our comfortable assumptions. In this book, they flush out the hidden costs of organization. They show that, in some cases, too much order is, at best, ineffective—for example, when an emergency plan is applied to cope with a crisis not covered by the original plan, or, at worst, counter-productive, because it keeps individuals from taking initiative, nips audacity in the bud and prevents serendipity at the root of major innovations. The cited examples are sometimes anecdotal, but the general thinking is instructive. Chapters 1 and 2 are particularly recommended to learn about the hidden costs of order and chapters 4 and 8 for examples of companies that have learned how to capitalize on the relative disorder in their organization.