I used to be a slob. I’m not anymore (no, really!) – I have reformed my ways. But when I used to be a slob, I would very so get struck with a religious fever to clean my office. Each time I did this, it took me months to restore the easy access and retrieval I had when the piles and mess prevailed.
As it turns out, those messy “piles” also provide unique affordances. Gladwell writes that piles “represent the process of active, ongoing thinking.” Psychologist Alison Kidd argues that knowledge workers use piles to hold “ideas which they cannot yet categorize or even decide how they might use.” The messy desk “is not necessarily a sign of disorganization,” Gladwell writes.
It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven’t yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head.
Moreover, the apparently disordered arrangement of papers you often see on peoples’ desks (certainly on mine!) actually act as “contextual cues” to help us “recover a complex set of threads without difficulty and delay.” Think what happens when you come in the next morning and a very helpful cleaning person has “organized” your desk for you.
Michael is thinking and writing about all sorts of interesting ideas related to the use of language.