Last year, our sister site EETimes posted our first gallery of the messiest engineering desks, and we followed up earlier this year with one of our own. Our thought was, "The messier the desk, the more of a genius its owner must be."
We are putting the call out again. Send photos of your disheveled workspace, along with a short caption, to executive editor Jennifer Campbell, and we'll post the results on Designnews.com in the coming weeks.
"Those who subscribe to a Clean Desk Policy can never experience the delight of finding something that was thought to be irretrievably lost!" - Unknown.
Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.
In fact, in the days I was still allowed to eat chocolate peanuts and raisins, I would tip the whole packet on my desk above my keyboard and, lo and behold, finding a stray one weeks later... tastes so much better!
I work in a small shop and wear many hats. The masses of paper on my desk serve more as a historical record. Having spent too many years in software and documentation, I long ago realized that ANY piece of paper is supplanted by a more current version living somewhere on the computer. The function of the paper therefore becomes a reminder of what I have done, am currently working on, should be working on, or what I MIGHThave named the project. I just do proposal sketches for sales, design and manufacturing engineering, documentation (safety and inspection, assembly, disassembly), internal/external regulatory compliance, forms creation, training, supervise maintenance, run testing and in my copious free time add content to the website I wrote and illustrated.
Thanks Rob, your link to the study "proves" (tongue in cheek), it's all about science! My desk, featured on the earlier photo set, has a different set of messes on it today. This latest blog got me to thinking about the entire concept. I come in early and leave late everyday. The regular staff engineers arrive and leave exactly on time and have very clean desks. I work on various projects (design, BOMs, parts orders, equipment repairs, training, accounting, etc) and hate to stop work in order to placate my boss and his ideas of having a neat work area. When I assign work to one of the staff guys I find it difficult to pass on my vision. I try to make my prototypes look professional, yet the staff prototypes and even finished equipment appear to have been measured with a micrometer, marked with chalk, and cut with a chainsaw. They seem to lack quality as well as the ability to think through all the steps clearly to output a good product. But their desks are clean! I am starting to believe that there indeed is some link/correlation between work output, quality, and messy desks.
Interesting observations, Island_Al. So you're seeing the pattern even in a small sample. I'm not surprised. I think the creative mind is able to hold a variety of ideas simultaneously while still bringing sustained concentration to a particular problem. Thus, the desk probably doesn't seem messy to the creative person at work.
My assertion, Chuck, is that the desk doesn't seem messy to many creative people. It looks messy, and you can wonder how anything could be found in the pile of papers. But for many creative souls, the desk isn't a mess. Everything is in its place.
I've had a number of conversations over the years and have found that some managers like to use "relocation" every couple years to keep the messy desks to a minimum. While I'm not one to win a competion such as this, I don't necessarily have neat little piles either. Just a happy medium. Since I have been doing some contract work lately, it does force a higher standard since you only bring what you really need.
Kid, my friend, I'm sorry I have to disagree a little on one point, my experience has been messy vs. clean are just two different strategies of organization. I do think this whole blog misses the point, our highly revered (rightfully so) engineering forefathers with the messy desks were able to find whatever it was they were looking for, or whatever it was someone asked them for. Clean or messy, Felix Unger or Oscar Madison, ask them for, say, that obscure nitnoid specification on that component released several years before and see how long it takes for them to find it. Felix would go digging through the numerous hanging files in the desk drawers, Oscar through the numerous piles on top of the desk.
Another offensive thing about this contest is the presumptuous position assumed by the "cleaners" in holding the darned thing! Cleaners are those who use organization method "A" (which they call "organized" or "clean"). They begin from a self-appointed position of authority from whence they chide others who use method "B" (which cleaners call "messy")
Bottom Line: What counts are RESULTS. Results are measured in fixed qualities of design and manufacturing, mesured in units of time, cost, and excellencies of performance. Those significant outputs are measured against specifications supplied by the customer, or by engineering standards, or by other fixed boundaries which transcend personal habits or preferences unrelated to the outcome.
They are not achieved by conformance to preconceived notions of "correct placement of desk objects during the design phase" especially when the placements are those postulated by others.If they were, we could simply glue down everyone's inkwell and desk calendar and go home. All designs would be excellent!
The units of production output which meet or exceed the requirements are quality...PERIOD. Further, rather than becoming suspect, the work habits of the person who achieves those excellent performance characteristics in T/C/E should be considered the norm. If type "B" results in lower cost, faster output, higher excellence, then type "B" (mess) should be "best practice" or "correct". Cleaners should be required to have type B (messy) desks!
To my knowledge, there is no additional measurement wherby the placement of objects on her desk later disqualifies the quality of the designer's output. This is true even if the object placment practice does not conform to a particular organization scheme favored by others (even majorities of others)
These spurious categories of work style and/or practices which do not bear on the measured outcomes of interest are nothing more than artificial constraints constructed by those who believe their job is mostly to achieve uniformity of behavior, not excellence of design. Truth be told, those uniformities are nothing more than make-work invented by that majority of persons in the workplace. That sad majority are those who are almost daily frightened to face the relatively blank slate of their actual creative capacities. They therefore fill in the blanks with organizational make-work, forming a veritable religion of organizational taboos and rituals with workers around them. They find their power in the fact that such substandard performers constitute the majority in many workplaces.
I actually agree with Ockham and I was initially reluctant to post on LinkedIN as there was no qualifier to be listed. It is basically a JBON! (Just a bunch of Names!)
so I posted the following by Seth Godin - 2011/04/13:
"In search of a biz monkey (why bother?)
Andrew Chen coins a great term. A biz monkey is a replaceable, Powerpoint toting, suit wearing, acronym-spewing middle manager business dude drone. They are quick to comment and sneer, slow to actually ship.
When something is scarce, it's valuable. MBA's with buzzwords and the ability to raise a million dollars around some web idea are not scarce. They are fungible.
People who understand technology and are willing to bend it to their will, on the other hand, are scarce. They can't be found with a classified ad on Craigslist, LinkedIN or in a blind project ad on eLance.
The job of the smart business person isn't to fish in waters where coders are cheap. It's to have enough initiative and vision that the best coders in the world will realize that they'll do better with you than without you.
Business people add value when they make things happen, not when they seek to hire cheap. - Seth Godin - 2011/04/13
which is basically in the same vein as Ockham's soliloquy above/below.
I found members on LinkeIN that I have "worked with" and know they are bloody dangerous! - hence my reluctance to be associated.
I'd particularly want to know how many clean desk engineers are out there. I was never a clean desk guy but it got worse when I got out of engineering! I've actually studied this and have even given a presentation on "Organizing skills for creative people". There were no other engineers in the group. I started out by showing a picture of my desk. One of the people in the class was a person that trains people for public speaking, he is very good, He talked about the program in his own class which I attended later at the same conference. He said it was like coming home to family you didn't know you had. There were about 35 of us in the room. One of my points was that you can't use left brain organizing methods with right brain people. They just don't work. When I put something in a file cabinet it's like it doesn't exist anymore. You need to use your own creativity to organize your workspace. Sometimes you have to "clean up' a little just to please the boss. Also, it can get out of control. Not every messy desk is a creative mind at peak efficiency. We had one "clean desk" guy in the room. He came because he had a key employee in HR and she had to get her desk clean because of HIPPA rules. His table spent time coming up with ideas to help him and his employee. It was really great.
As manufacturers add new technologies to their products, designing for compliance becomes more difficult. Prepare for the certification testing process. Otherwise, you increase the risk of discovering a safety issue after a product leaves the assembly line. That will cause significant time-to-market delays, be much costlier to fix, and damage your brand in the eyes of customers.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies.
You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived.
So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.