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13 May

When the non-structure is the best structure

Datum: 2024-05-13 09:10
A collection of colorful candies is scattered randomly on one side, while a neat, circular cluster of white candies is organized on the other side of a white wooden surface.

My acquain­tance (and Done!-reader) Alexan­der Ehn gave me a tip about an arti­cle by the author Austin Kleon in which he argues for being unstructured.

Kleon tells about the col­lage-artist Lance Letsch­er who is most com­fort­able when keep­ing all of his cut­tings (which he then con­se­quent­ly makes art from) in a big mess so that he will come across unex­pect­ed things when he search­es for material.

For you who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, this post is also avail­able as an episode of the Done!” pod­cast:

Doc­u­ments, books & drawers

The author Steven John­son is also cit­ed and describes how he keeps a doc­u­ment on his com­put­er in which he makes note of all kinds of ideas he gets, with­out orga­niz­ing or cat­e­go­riz­ing them. Now and then he skims through the doc­u­ment and looks at all the bright ideas that he has for­got­ten he had.

The queen of mur­der mys­ter­ies, Agatha Christie, reveals how stim­u­lat­ing it is to browse through one of her very much so unsort­ed note­books and find­ing a lit­tle embryo for a book that she has not yet done some­thing with.

And, some­where (I do not know where or when, but it was not in Kleon’s arti­cle) I have read that the film­mak­er Woody Allen col­lects ideas for films on Pos­tIt-notes in a draw­er, and when it is time to shoot the movie of the year, he puts his hand into the draw­er and just pulls one out randomly.

Is it not bet­ter to be structured?

I can see how you would assume that I, as a struk­tör and an obvi­ous friend of order, would be appalled by this approach and would think that it ought to be a lot bet­ter for the per­sons men­tioned above to sort, cat­e­go­rize and sys­tem­ize all the mate­ri­als they have.

Quite the oppo­site. I am not appalled — I am delighted.

Why? Because in the sit­u­a­tions that have been described, they did not want to find some­thing spe­cif­ic. Rather, they want­ed to find some­thing they did not know they were search­ing for.

For these spe­cif­ic pur­pos­es, the unstruc­tured approach is the best and most opti­mal. Sure, they could close their eyes and pick some­thing at ran­dom out of an ordered and well-struc­tured col­lec­tion of mate­ri­als too, but if they are nev­er search­ing for some­thing spe­cif­ic, why spend time on sort­ing and cat­e­go­riz­ing in the first place?

Do this

Con­sid­er your sit­u­a­tion at work. Do you have a place or con­text where you could tone down or com­plete­ly skip the ambi­tion of being struc­tured, where the non-struc­tured would be the best structure?

It can be a sit­u­a­tion where you want to find some­thing unex­pect­ed, but it can also be a place where you search for the spe­cif­ic mate­r­i­al you are look­ing for and the search func­tion is so quick and pow­er­ful that you do not have to keep the mate­r­i­al sort­ed and orga­nized in order to find what you are look­ing for.

More time for cre­at­ing value

If you adjust the lev­el of struc­ture to what you real­ly need, you will avoid spend­ing time and ener­gy on unnec­es­sary struc­tur­ing. You will have more time for what is actu­al­ly cre­at­ing val­ue. If that is not a great idea, I do not know what is.

How do you do it?

So, how is selec­tive non-struc­ture work­ing out for you? Where or how does it ben­e­fit you to be a bit messy and unstruc­tured? Let me know!

(Some­times, you want to get rid of the mess. Here’s how to do it with less effort, con­tin­u­ous­ly.)

There's more!

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If you want more tips on how to create good structure at work, there are many ways to get that from me - in podcasts, videos, books, talks and other formats.

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