Ep 30: Nonprofits Are Messy… So What? (with Tim Harford)

by Joan Garry

Some argue that when I call nonprofits “messy,” I’m doing them a disservice. Am I? My guest Tim Harford believes that we should all embrace the mess. But how?


Subscribe on Apple Podcasts
Subscribe on Android
Subscribe on Google Podcasts
Subscribe on Spotify

I like to say that nonprofits are messy; so much so that I made it the title of this podcast series as well as the subtitle of my upcoming book.

But not everybody agrees. In fact, a few people have even reached out to me to argue that by calling nonprofits “messy,” I’m doing them a disservice.

But here’s what I think they miss. I believe that within the mess comes opportunity. Rather than fight the chaos, we can embrace it and recognize that good things can rise out of it.

Apparently, the late David Bowie agreed with me 100%, as I learned from today’s guest Tim Harford, author of the terrific book, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

I sought Tim out as a kindred spirit who believes, as I do, in the opportunity that exists in the passion that is messiness. He and I had a fascinating conversation about how organizations view the world versus how it actually is and how to embrace chaos to your advantage. I absolutely loved our conversation and I think you will too.

About Tim Harford

Tim is an economist, a journalist, a broadcaster, and the author of four books on economics. He writes a long-running column for the Financial Times, The Undercover Economist, which reveals the economic ideas behind everyday experiences. His new column, Since You Asked, offers a skeptical look at the news of the week.

But I was most intrigued by his book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. He is here today to talk with me about our shared belief in the potential of messiness and how to harness its power.

In this episode:

  • The importance of messiness, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it.
  • The world tends to value order and rules. So how can an organization shoot for messy instead?
  • Is a tidy desk a good sign of an organized person?
  • The operational case for diversity.
  • Given that so many nonprofit leaders feel like so much is at stake and they therefore cannot tolerate much risk, how can they still embrace messiness?
  • How to build your improvisational “muscle” and use it in your work.
  • The specific connection between messiness and the nonprofit sector: how to take advantage of it and not have it take advantage of you.

Episode Links: