Messy – Tim Harford

As one of the BBC’s top statistics correspondents, Harford is not the person I would expet to write a book subtitled “How to be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World”.  But this is not a book on tidying, but on how the human brain requires opportunity to be creative, new constraints to seek new solutions and move outside our comfort zones.

Now in the spirit of “forced improvisation”, a quote from a page picked at random:

As Bezos [of Amazon] liked to say during the crunches of 1998 and 1999, ‘If you are planning more than twenty minutes ahead in this environment, you are wasting your time.’ He was a man in a hurry. No wonder he created such an almighty mess.

This was from a chapter titled “Winning” and describes how some successful military and business tactics involve making “good enough” decisions so fast that your opponents are unable to react. This is also descibed as Trump’s tactic as getting inside his opponents’ OODA loop such that they are incapable of reacting before he has moved onto his next tactic.

Overall this is a fascinating look at how to keep yourself on your toes, and the benefits that can come from doing so. I’m still going to keep my tidy desk though!


The Undercover Economist Strikes Back – Tim Harford

The Undercover Economist Strikes BackThis is a very well-constructed book exploring macroeconomics and how events effect the lives of individuals. Tim Harford is very good at communicating complex economic concepts without over simplification.

I love the dialogue in Undercover Economist, which is a reasonably informal discussion throughout. This explores how the world has got into the position it has, and the difficulties in getting out of it again. Both technical and democratic difficulties are discussed. How do we cope with things which seem irrational or immoral to the majority of voters, even when they may well be the solution to the crisis we are currently trapped in.

The best way this book works is to strongly break the comparison between household economics and macroeconomics, and explain the balance between Keynsian and classic approaches to understanding the economy and how to decide which one is best for any given situation.

I also want to go back to the Science Museum to look at the MOINAC (or Phillips Machine) whilst understanding what it is designed to model and how. The physical model approach to seeking an understanding of complex problems before the advent of programmable computers is inspiring.