For the record, I'm complex, not disorganized. Please strike all references to “messy desks” from my past and future work evaluations.
“But why do we pile documents instead of filing them? Because piles represent the process of active, ongoing thinking. The psychologist Alison Kidd, whose research Sellen and Harper refer to extensively, argues that “knowledge workers” use the physical space of the desktop to hold “ideas which they cannot yet categorize or even decide how they might use.” The messy desk is not necessarily a sign of disorganization. It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven't yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head. Kidd writes that many of the people she talked to use the papers on their desks as contextual cues to “recover a complex set of threads without difficulty and delay” when they come in on a Monday morning, or after their work has been interrupted by a phone call. What we see when we look at the piles on our desks is, in a sense, the contents of our brains.” [at The New Yorker, via MeFi]
Oh, and it talks about Melvil Dewey (“the anti-Walt Whitman”), his Library Bureau (“essentially the Office Depot of his day”), and vertical files. I really have to find time to read the rest of this book someday, as I think I've become a Gladwell groupie. [The Shifted Librarian]