Control v. Organization

As a working mother in my 30s and 40s, I was sure control was the key to success. I ran my life with lists and schedules. Nothing was unplanned, from grocery shopping to getting together with friends. Nothing was spontaneous because I was in control.

They never really get shorter, just change content, over a day, over a life.

They never really get shorter, just change content, over a day, over a life.

This worked well at work, except for days when the schedule called for leaving work promptly. In those days,much of the political part of work took place in bars and restaurants after work and for moms with children, the glass ceiling often looked more like the carved wood door to the club bar door. But I stayed ahead with strict schedules–often I’d organize my to-do list by day, week, and project.

It worked most of the time. When something unexpected came up, I would make a list for it, prioritize it, and schedule it. Rarely, I’d work around it. I often went to work sick. I truly believed that the cure-all tool was control. Self-control. List control. If it could be organized and controlled, I was on it.

The trouble with control, of course, is that it doesn’t allow for life to happen. It doesn’t allow for good problem solving either, or a flexible process. Unless I could predict the future, or control it, my life was sliding downhill. Uncontrolled. PIcking up speed.

As I got older, I realized that we are less in control than we think. We are not in control of the weather, when we will get sick,  when or how our family members will die,  or be broadsided by a driver who is on the phone and runs the red light.

As I get more experience, I prefer organization. Organization keeps an eye on projects, but doesn’t derail if something comes up to change the outcome.

Organization allows you to be flexible and re-solve a problem if the goal changes or the process has to change to solve the new problem.

Organization allows you to carry an umbrella and sunscreen, cold water and hot coffee in the same travel bag.

There is a difference between control and organization. Organization works with what you have. Control tries to place (or nudge, or force) people, plans, processes into step with where you are at the moment. With varying results. Often disappointing.

When organization doesn’t work, there is room to change the process. When control doesn’t work, we have to blame and crank up the rules some more. We are not capable of controlling as much as we’d like. Organization works pretty well, though. Most of the time.

-Quinn McDonald knows the futility of control. Confidence and credibility come from another direction.

16 thoughts on “Control v. Organization

  1. I’m well-organised, unless of course I choose not to be and even then because I have chosen it I guess I’m organised to be disorganised. My brain is more organised that it appears.

    And yes, I like my British spelling but having worked in international schools that have adopted American-style spelling, I get a little confused . . . is that disorganised? Or is it organised because I an aware of it? I am beginning to unravel here . . . best reorganise myself.

  2. I am very organized and honestly, can’t function well in disorganized chaos. A task as simple as cleaning up a few dishes in the sink, wiping down the table and countertops makes all the difference in the world for me.

    Control is another issue altogether. Some people might call me controlling but I don’t see myself as such. I think someone who’s super organized can appear to be controlling to someone who walks through life with a willy-nilly attitude. I do notice when there are a lot of people around, e.g. family gatherings, that I tend to want to control things because otherwise everyone just stands around and nothing gets done. I’m dealing with that now while on vacation in Michigan. A lot of family members are involved and everybody has their own ideas and opinions on what to do but nobody speaks up. So if I want to do something, I have to just do it on my own because if I wait for everyone else, I will almost always be disappointed. I’ve gone through this year after year and have finally learned the lesson. That and letting go of expectations when I’m here. Ok, I haven’t learned it all but I’m working on it.

    • I’m with you when it comes to making decisions in family groups. Everyone stands around, looking at someone else. For heaven’s sake, someone make up your mind! Yeah, I have some growth to achieve, too.

  3. I could go on far too long about organization. My favorite book in this area is _Knowledge Representation_ by John Sowa. I think it’s out of print but still available at Amazon, although pricey. The fascinating aspect of organizing starts out with a simple question: what is that? Where “that” is anything. Let’s say it’s a tube of sunscreen. OK, so it’s a tube. It’s sunscreen. It was made by Lotions Inc. In their factory in Newark. On a particular date. It belongs to Quinn. She bought it at the 7-11 nearest her home. Its current local location is in a bag also containing an umbrella, hot coffee, and cold water. It has ingredients. It has applications. It is similar to a long list of things, and the similarity can be in terms of color, consistency, aroma, quantity, price, weight, toxicity…well, you see where this is going. The information needed for organizing the thing, when you don’t know the organizing principle at the outset, is far more extensive than the thing itself.

    People have, my whole life, described me as “creative”. But all I do (and I believe I’m not unique in this) is play with how things are organized. (really, this is, like ALL I EVER do.) <–like right there

      • More than that, I think that is what creativity actually is. A metaphor is a recategorization; that raven [bird, animal, alive] is, in this case, preshadowing [idea, time-related, abstract] of death [event, state, transition].

        • I think the most useful ability in life is to be able to see connections, commonalities that allow you to “organize” things or actions in ways not usually considered, thus allowing problem solving with whatever you have at hand. Destination Imagination has a whole focus on this idea and I practice it a lot with my grandchildren. See this bottle cap, this pencil, this leaf what else could it be? If trees grew upside down how would our yard be different…etc. There is a website somewhere that you can post a “problem” you are working on and ask for solutions. Almost all the answers come from someone not in the expertise of the person asking the question. They extrapolate something from their own experience and stretch it to fit a new context.

    • By the way, I think I deserve some credit here for not getting into faceted classification, Resource Description Format, Web Ontology Language, or labeled directed multigraphs. You see, it’s [WARNING: COMMENT LIMIT ENCOUNTERED AT LINE 15,742. CONTENT NOT SAVED]

      • I couldn’t reply to your question in that post
        When my son was in it the project he was on needed to use 12 mousetraps to pop a balloon, ring a bell, move a car 6 inches, raise a flag etc. That was 25 years ago or so. It used to be called Olympics of the Mind but the Olympics sued them for infringement of trademark so now its a new name. The projects are separated into age groups and there are several kinds to choose from, skits, mechanical, etc. but all are dedicated to making you do creative problem solving.

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