Making Ripples

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatWhen I set up my office several years ago, I invested a great deal of time to produce an optimal configuration, the epitome of efficacy and efficiency. Yet over time, things changed. New technology was interjected, additional office accoutrements were added, and the scale of my work increased. As each change was instigated, it never seemed to be a good time to look at the overall function and flow of my workspace.

The immediate intent was always the same: find a place for “it” now and make “it” work as quickly as possible. It is sad but true that even as a partisan and promoter of all things productive, I had allowed my workspace to deteriorate into a den of anarchy – well, not quite, but there were days when organizational chaos was the rule rather than the exception.

One of the changes that occurred during this slippery slide into disarray was switching from a laptop to desktop as my primary computer. The desktop monitor didn’t fit my desk as the laptop had. If I placed the monitor in front of the monitor stand (which was the space previously occupied by my laptop), it was too close. If I set the monitor on the stand, it was too high. In the immediacy of the moment, I set the monitor to the left of the stand, with the intent to devise a better solution when things slowed down.

This “temporary” positioning of my computer monitor lasted three years, causing me to sit askew whenever I worked on my computer – which is most of the time. I astutely discerned that this was not an ideal configuration for my posture or physical comfort. I estimated that it would take about 15 minutes to remove the monitor stand and slide the monitor 18 inches to the right.

“Today is the day,” my inner voice emphatically implored. So after processing the overnight email, I slid under my desk to investigate the complexity of the monitor stand removal process. Five minutes later, it was removed. Gleefully ahead of schedule, I eased the monitor across the desk towards its new home. However, after a mere six inches, only one third of its journey, it came to an abrupt halt. The cable, I surmised, must be caught on something.

I was wrong; there was no more slack. Being practical, I decided to simply move the computer. However, to do that I needed to first move the printer, which opened up space to put stationary bins next to the printer – another “someday” project. I planned to use some of the bins that housed past issues, as I didn’t need to keep copies in my office for as long as I was. I would simply move the unneeded books into storage.

That effort, unfortunately, prompted me to review my inventory of past issues, throw extras away, and reorganize my archives. A half hour later, I was back in the office. One thing led to another. I was three hours into the project and things were scattered everywhere; there was scarcely room to move.

I finally got the computer hooked back up and working, but I still couldn’t work. Things were in too much disarray.  By the time I was done, six hours had elapsed. I had relocated every item on my desk (and moved a few things twice), rearranged, sorted, and purged much of my file cabinet contents, made multiple trips to the garbage bin, reprioritized my pending work, disconnected an unneeded gadget, cleaned up the wayward wiring, and even cancelled some phone services that I had ceased using. Whew!

It took several hours, but the results were worth it. I became more efficient and effective. My backlog of tasks no longer overwhelmed me. I felt in control of my work, rather than being controlled by it. Did all this happen merely because I moved my monitor? Indirectly, yes. Moving the monitor made profound and significant ripples, ones that would be felt and appreciated for quite some time.

Some people (and organizations) never make ripples. They just go from day to day, month to month, and year to year without ever giving a thought to the incapacitating office evolution around them. Things are squeezed in here, hooked up there, and stacked on top of, until routine work becomes an illogical series of unneeded steps and wasted activity. Their work becomes harder, but change seems harder still. Taking time to make things more efficient is an inconceivable consideration.

The converse are people (and organizations) that make changes often, seemingly for the fun of it or even out of compulsion. They spend hours restructuring their office and do so every week!  They make this time investment so often that there’s never opportunity to realize the payback. They make ripples frequently and often continuously. Some might say they are making waves!

There is another way to make ripples that is far more important. It’s the ripples we produce by the words we use and the things we do. These ripples affect others. Sometimes the ripples we make are positive; other times they are not. Some people make no ripples at all.

We’ve all know people who are chronic complainers; they are consistently negative and seemingly want to pull others into their foul moods. They are evidently not happy, with the apparent goal to drag others down to the depths of their pessimism. They make negative ripples, which produces an undertow. Be aware around such folk or risk being sucked in and pulled down.

Sadly, other people make no ripples at all; they are merely going with the flow. They have no affect on others, neither good nor bad, positive nor negative. Surely at some point, they must have made ripples, but not now. These people aren’t much fun to be around either. There is no progress, no influence, nothing. They inanely meander from project to project and from day to day, in a rote and sad subsistence. No ripples, no fun, no way!

Other people make positive ripples. That’s my goal. I want to have a positive influence on those around me. I want to make ripples that motivate, encourage, inspire, support, and be eagerly anticipated and greatly appreciated. We all know people (and organizations) like that, too. They are the ones with smiling people all around, stirring others to achieve more as they make ripples for the benefit of all.

Today is the day. Go make some ripples!

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the April/May 2008 issue of AnswerStat magazine]