This article develops a theory of messes, defined as disorderly accumulations of varied entities. More specifically, it examines disorder caused by individual, or collective human agents, in hierarchically-ordered and complex systems—systems composed of sub-systems that, in turn, have their own subsystems, and so on. Such hierarchical-complex systems include filing systems (filing cabinet, drawers, and folders), formal organizational systems (Presidents, Senior Vice Presidents, and Vice Presidents), as well as cognitive categorization systems (the category bird, big and small birds, big blue birds and so on). The article distinguishes different types of messes, their genesis, and their efficiency and effectiveness consequences, both negative and positive. Messes in offices are used at the individual level of analysis to illustrate the theory and the propositions derived from it, whereas messes in formal organizations are used to illustrate them at the collective level. The conclusion to the article raises the possibility that the theory and the propositions it suggests might be applicable to messes in cognitive systems and to the evolution of cognitive brain functions.
Research in Organizational Behaviorvol.
24, (January 01, 2002):