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A Perfect Mess? 6 April 2007

Posted by David in Comment.
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A Perfect Mess:The Hidden Benefits of Disorder – how crammed closets, cluttered offices and on the fly planning make the world a better placeby Eric Abrahamson, Professor of Management of Colombia Business School and David H Freedman, a technology journalist, explores the value of disorder in our personal, professional and political lives.”

It’s already been reviewed by James Morris, and it’s got me interested because – I’m fairly certain – it’s right.

Here’s the thing. Individual and small group efforts, working with limited resources and constrained by time, doing things on the fly, achieve huge things – example, just about everything successful in the private sector, let’s say YouTube. Making do, getting along, experimenting. But giant state started projects with 5 year plans, implementation committess, blank cheques and armies of workers, flop – example, just about everything in the public sector, let’s say the Millennium Dome or 2012 Olympics. 

I must also point out that over-planning is also to be found in the private sector, and ‘planning on the fly’ can be found in the public sector, usually at non-management levels such as nurses on wards etc.

Now there’s a place for planning and order, we need both, but the difference is in the reason behind it. Is it really necessary? Or is it just planning for planning’s sake? Planning for plannings sake, exemplified by the filofax holding, dictophone dictating, cheap suit wearing twit, and also by the report obsessed official using management speak (a favourite of New Labour), simply complicates the situation.

Do we need a national action plan for getting rid of MRSA, or should we just hire some decent cleaners and sack the bad ones (and isolate the infected)? Do we need to “think out of the box” and do “blue sky thinking” or would common sense be better?

I think we plan and organise too much.

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