Why disorder, mess and chaos may be good for you

Photo by lundgrenphotography

“In Praise Of Mess: Why Disorder May Be Good For Us” is Hidden Brain’s latest episode. I’m very far behind on my podcasts but I’m glad I caught this episode. In it, Shanker interviews Tim Harford about the subject of his latest book is entitled “Messy: How to be creative and resilient in a tidy-minded world”.

And here are my take-aways:

Creativity sparked by random shocks

Creative solutions can emerge from unexpected, undesirable provocations. Tim gave a few examples of this:

  1. Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett had to improvise a concert on a piano that was in such poor condition that some of the keys and pedals did not work properly. This recording eventually become The Köln concert.
  2. Algorithms designed to make incremental improvements with the goal of getting the optimal solution would inevitably get stuck. To get it un-stuck, scientists would introduce random shocks into the system.
  3. A transportation strike forced British commuters to find alternative routes to their work place. After the strike about 5% of commuters stuck with their new routes.

Very often we don’t have any reason to look for a better solution than the one we’re familiar with. Random shocks force us to improve on the current solution or seek out completely new ones.

Skill & preparation help take advantage of random shocks

Shanker points out, rightly so, that had he been faced with a broken piano he would not be able to re-create anything similar to The Köln concert because he lacks any musical training. And indeed having practiced skill and preparation allows us to benefit from random shocks.

Besides Keith Jarrett, the famous “I have a dream…” speech from Martin Luther King Jr. was also improvised but not without prior preparation. King had written his speech before hand which he recited to the people. But starting from that famous line “I have a dream…” King had gone off-script and spoke from the heart. And that’s the part that we remember to this day.

Photo by lundgrenphotography