Tim Harford


Author of the million-selling "The Undercover Economist" and other bestsellers


Tim Harford, described by the New Statesman as ‘perhaps the best popular economics writer in the world’, is a behavioural economist, BBC radio and TV presenter and award-winning Financial Times columnist. Sometimes called ‘Britain’s Malcolm Gladwell’, Tim offers a distinctive blend of storytelling, humour and intelligence.


Tim Harford is the host of the BBC World Service podcast series, 50 Thinks That Made the Modern Economy. It was rated #1 on iTunes in the UK. 50 Things presents brief stories of the ideas and inventions all around us — and the way they’ve shaped how we live, from the gramophone to the iPhone to Ikea’s “Billy Bookcase”. Tim is also host of the podcast More or Less. Both podcasts we listed as the top 30 podcasts around the world by the Times of London. His BBC Radio 4 series, More or Less, offers a genial smackdown of dubious statistics. It was commended by the Royal Statistical Society five years running for excellence in journalism.

Tim Harford has written six books, the most successful of which, The Undercover Economist, has sold 1.5 million copies in over 30 languages around the world. Hartford’s most recent book, Messy: How to be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-minded World, argues that we underrate improvisation, randomness, and vagueness — and overrate the scripted, the controlled and the quantified. If we embraced a little more mess we’d get more done, and be more creative and resilient. The book has many ideas from his recent TED Talk, How frustration can can make us more creative. Tim is about to publish a book on the popular podcast series titled Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy (Little, Brown July 2017).

Harford’s writing has won several prestigious awards, including the Bastiat Prize for economic journalism (2007), Economics Commentator of the Year (2014), Society for Business Economists writing prize (2014) and the Royal Statistical Society prize for journalism (2015).

Tim has also worked at Shell and the World Bank, and is a visiting fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. He has given numerous invited lectures, including at the Royal Economic Society, Google, the Bank of England, PopTech, the Sydney Opera House and (twice) at TED.

How to See into the Future.

Two of the greatest economists in history failed to see the Wall Street Crash coming - yet one died a millionaire while the other died poor and alone. From this starting point, Tim explores the latest thinking on how to forecast, and what to do when your forecasts don’t work out.

The Art of Good Misstakes.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” We’re so often told to learn from our mistakes that it’s become a cliché. But why is it so hard – and how can we do a better job? With stories and ideas from psychology and behavioural economics – as well as aviation, ballet and a TV game show – Tim describes the art of good mistakes.

Preventing Financial Meltdowns.

Have we learned the right lessons from the financial crisis? Tim isn’t so sure. He argues that there is a group of people who’ve been focusing on what really matters, and they aren’t the economists, bankers and lawyers we usually turn to – but experts in nuclear, industrial and aviation safety. A nuclear meltdown and a financial meltdown have much more in common than we realise.

Ideas that Matter.

We talk a lot about innovation – but what do we really mean? Tim believes we’ve become fixated on a particular kind of innovation, and we’re missing out other possibilities. Ranging across high performance cycling, genetic engineering and military innovation, this is one of Tim’s most popular talks.

How to Run – or Ruin – An Economy.

The “Indiana Jones of Economics”, Bill Phillips, was an inventor, an adventurer and a hero – as well as being a truly great economist. In a yarn well suited to an after-dinner format, Tim uses the life of Bill Phillips to ask what modern economists can learn from their larger-than-life predecessors.

Misinformation is beautiful.

Data visualisation is all the rage, but with examples ranging from Florence Nightingale to the latest YouTube infographic hits, Tim shows that we’re being fooled by sketchy statistics dressed up beautifully. A humorous and visually striking statistical survival guide.

Big Data: Are we making a big mistake?

When Tim explained some of the fallacies behind the big data boom in the Financial Times, it was the newspaper’s most-read article of the year. From Google Flu Trends to retail targeting algorithms, Tim argues that big data will only fulfil its potential if we can avoid some very old statistical traps.

The Magic of Mess.

Tim’s latest TED talk is about creativity – and about the unexpected benefits of obstacles, interruptions and distractions. With examples from cognitive psychology, complexity science – and of course rock and roll – Tim delivers a powerful and inspirational talk.

How Obstacles Make Us More Creative

Challenges and problems can derail your creative process ... or they can make you more creative than ever. With examples ranging from jazz to commuting, and drawing on research from cognitive psychology and computer science, Tim Harford may just convince you of the advantages of having to work with a little mess.

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

From the award-winning columnist and author of the national bestseller The Undercover Economist comes a provocative big idea book about the genuine benefits of being messy: at home, at work, in the classroom, and beyond.

Look out for Tim's next book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives celebrates the benefits that messiness has in our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it instead. Using research from neuroscience, psychology, social science, as well as captivating examples of real people doing extraordinary things, Tim Harford explains that the human qualities we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – are integral to the disorder, confusion, and disarray that produce them.

From the music studio of Brian Eno to the Lincoln Memorial with Martin Luther King, Jr., from the board room to the classroom, messiness lies at the core of how we innovate, how we achieve, how we reach each other – in short, how we succeed.

In Messy, you’ll learn about the unexpected connections between creativity and mess; understand why unexpected changes of plans, unfamiliar people, and unforeseen events can help generate new ideas and opportunities as they make you anxious and angry; and come to appreciate that the human inclination for tidiness – in our personal and professional lives, online, even in children’s play – can mask deep and debilitating fragility that keep us from innovation.

Stimulating and readable as it points exciting ways forward, Messy is an insightful exploration of the real advantages of mess in our lives.

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy.

Look out for Tim's next book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

A provocative and lively exploration of the increasingly important world of macroeconomics, by the author of the bestselling The Undercover Economist.

Thanks to the worldwide financial upheaval, economics is no longer a topic we can ignore. From politicians to hedge fund managers to middle-class IRA holders, everyone must pay attention to how and why the global economy works the way it does.

Enter Financial Times columnist and bestselling author Tim Harford. In this new book that demystifies macroeconomics, Harford strips away the spin, the hype, and the jargon to reveal the truth about how the world’s economy actually works. With the wit of a raconteur and the clear grasp of an expert, Harford explains what’s really happening beyond today’s headlines, why all of us should care, and what we can do about it to understand it better.

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run or Ruin an Economy.

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

A lively history seen through the fifty inventions that shaped it most profoundly, by the bestselling author of The Undercover Economist and Messy.

Who thought up paper money? What was the secret element that made the Gutenberg printing press possible? And what is the connection between The Da Vinci Code and the collapse of Lehman Brothers?

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy paints an epic picture of change in an intimate way by telling the stories of the tools, people, and ideas that had far-reaching consequences for all of us. From the plough to artificial intelligence, from Gillette’s disposable razor to IKEA’s Billy bookcase, bestselling author and Financial Times columnist Tim Harford recounts each invention’s own curious, surprising, and memorable story.

Invention by invention, Harford reflects on how we got here and where we might go next. He lays bare often unexpected connections: how the bar code undermined family corner stores, and why the gramophone widened inequality. In the process, he introduces characters who developed some of these inventions, profited from them, and were ruined by them, as he traces the principles that helped explain their transformative effects. The result is a wise and witty book of history, economics, and biography.

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

In this groundbreaking book, Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, shows us a new and inspiring approach to solving the most pressing problems in our lives. When faced with complex situations, we have all become accustomed to looking to our leaders to set out a plan of action and blaze a path to success. Harford argues that today's challenges simply cannot be tackled with ready-made solutions and expert opinion; the world has become far too unpredictable and profoundly complex. Instead, we must adapt.

Deftly weaving together psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, physics, and economics, along with the compelling story of hard-won lessons learned in the field, Harford makes a passionate case for the importance of adaptive trial and error in tackling issues such as climate change, poverty, and financial crises―as well as in fostering innovation and creativity in our business and personal lives.

Taking us from corporate boardrooms to the deserts of Iraq, Adapt clearly explains the necessary ingredients for turning failure into success. It is a breakthrough handbook for surviving―and prospering― in our complex and ever-shifting world.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.