Creative Organization

I love books. That’s not hard to guess given the subject of this blog. But here’s the thing, I really, really love books. Given the choice between buying new clothes or buying new books, I’ll pick books every time. Since I buy so many books, I sometimes end up with duplicates.

Now this is where I get geeky…well, at least book-geeky. I bought a program called Book Collector and the matching bar code scanner. I have since scanned my library of books, exported a text file into a spreadsheet, and synched it to my PDA. Now, every time I’m in a book store, I can compare against my list of already-haves with an armload of potential-haves.

Few areas of my life are organized and cataloged like my books. This lack on my part means I admire organizers who create fabulous catalogs of stuff. Other people seem interested too. On Amazon, using the keyword “organization,” I get 358,238 results. On Google, I get 342,000,000 results.

Google states that its “mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” (link) But, as much as I love organizing my books, I do wonder if there’s such a thing as too much organization. Does organization ever restrict creativity and the potential to discover something new?

I’ve seen posts in recent days reviewing David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous, and I definitely plan on reading his book. (See here and here for some good write ups.) However, Cory’s review on Boing Boing struck a chord:

“Weinberger’s thesis is this: historically, we’ve divided the world into categories, topics, and hierarchies because physical objects need to be in one place or another, they can’t be in all the places they might belong. Computers and the Internet turn this on its head: because a computer can “put things” in as many categories as they need to be in, because individuals can classify knowledge, tasks, and objects idiosyncratically, the hierarchy is revealed for what it always was, a convenient expedient masquerading as the True Shape of the Universe.” (link)

In essence, my book scanning project is a microcosm of this concept. It challenges the hierarchy, the idea of the Dewey Decimal System. (link) I can define, organize, and view my books based on what fits my needs rather than a pre-set notion of order. Even better, I can manipulate the data at any time to change the organization characteristics.

Take messy people versus neat people. The messy people will swear their stacks represent organization. The neat people will swear their carefully stacked, color-coordinated files represent organization. The reality? They’re both right. Trying to slap information into pre-conceived sets of rules will ultimately backfire, especially when the data in question tests the validity of the rules. I think copyright fits in there somewhere, but I haven’t worked it out—yet.

David Allen, the Getting Things Done guy, said that, “It’s hard to be fully creative without structure and constraint. Try to paint without a canvas. Creativity and freedom are two sides of the same coin. I like the best of both worlds. Want freedom? Get organized. Want to get organized? Get creative.” (link)

I believe that when we try to separate creativity and organization, we run into problems. We need to treat them as partners rather than competitors So I’m ok taking a creative approach to making my ever-growing and rotating collection fit in containers. My organized list will always provide a starting point. Where in your life could you use a little creativity to get organized?



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May 2007
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