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December 27, 2006

News & Opinion: A Perfect Mess

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 7:10 PM – Filed under: Personal Development & Human Behavior

After any holiday, I always return to a slightly messy desk; one that is covered with books, letters and anything else left from the week before. Today was no different. In attempt to dig out of the post-holiday mess that is my desk, I found this a bit comforting:
Don't let the neat freaks push you around. Chaos, clutter, disorganization, and on-the-fly decision-making actually are good for your company--and for you.
[More here.]

David Freedman and Eric Abrahmson (authors of the soon-to-be-released A Perfect Mess) would assure us that there actually is hope for those of us too busy for filing and perfect piles. [Sigh of relief for not making my bed this morning.]
A perfect mess in practice is that of the New England Mobile Book Fair (known to Bostonians as Strymish's). It's a bookshop that operates less than five miles from four other major booksellers. Still it manages to generate around $10 million in sales a year!
How did its founder Louis Strymish, a Harvard-trained chemist, make the store so successful? By dumping books onto shelves straight from their boxes and creating a hodgepodge of new and bargained books along with leftovers. One would imagine that most bookstores buy based upon some science that involves bestseller lists and publisher suggestions. Strymishs does neither; decisions are based upon gut and instinct.
Yet, most people (including myself) would have never guessed to operate a business in a such a messy manner. Throughout time messiness has built a bad reputation. One that accounts for why 2/3 of the Americans surveyed by Eric and David said they feel guilty about how messy they are and believe they'd be more successful "if they were neater or more organized." It's also why 59% "think somewhat less" or "the worst" of messy people.
For Strymishs, being "messy" means:
  • Saving time not organizing (equates into more time, money saved and lower prices).
  • Creating an experience that's unlike any other bookstore.
  • Enabling their visitors to run randomly into books that would otherwise remain undiscovered.

As with anything there are extremes to messiness and neatness. A certain amount of messiness can be good; it's about finding that sweet spot that works for you. So go ahead, make a mess.
[p.s. check out the article for more on why having a messy desk can lead to inspired connections, Nobel Peace Prizes and more.]
[p.p.s. if you'd like the NYT review of the book, click here.]

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.