Why Organized Ideas Are Bad: The Power of Rambling and the Tragedy of Organization

Organized ideas are nice but the real gems are dropped in the disorder, in the stream of consciousness. Organizing always kills those gems.

So, I buy and consume a lot of learning programs and stuff. The best by far, in terms of content, are the ones that are DISorganized, where the author is just speaking her mind, shooting from the hip. Because a lot of those hip-shots are headshots.

When ideas are organized, in organizing, priority is given to what “makes sense”, to what goes together, and so ideas that are awesome but don’t fit into the schema, those tiny, massive-impact drops of wisdom, get cut out in favor of big themes and Big Orga. It becomes ever-so-slightly more important that ideas fit neatly than that they be any good. Any good idea that doesn’t fit gets killed.

Japanese — as usual — has a word for this: 割愛(かつあい/katsuai), which refers to the unfortunate omission of something wonderful, kanjiwise it sort of has the connotation of the “severing of a beloved [body part]“.

But, I dunno, this may even be a personality thing. Or maybe it’s a coming-to-terms-with-chaos thing. In any case, the real world, as Nassim Taleb will passionately tell you, isn’t organized. Or if it is, only because people — “(thought) leaders” — artificially organize it for us because we demand that they do. We demand it. 1 And that’s nice that they do, but literally, pretty much all the cool stuff falls between the cracks, into the Davemattheusian spaces between the big boxes.

Perhaps the most pervasive example of this is history — literally none of the cool stuff about history is in the textbooks. Almost none of it is even in the “infotainment” documentaries. Because there’s never room, it never quite “fits”. So you’re pretty much forced to refer to something that doesn’t take itself seriously, like Cracked.com or James Burke’s “Connections” or primary sources, if you want at that cool stuff.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with organization, but 90 (fake number)% of the awesome ideas I’ve been exposed to were in the unintentional, off-the-cuff ramblings of highly knowledgeable, experienced people. Not in their over-choreographed, recited audiobooks, but in their lectures over lunch, in their unstructured or loosely structured interviews where they were just mouthing off.

And this, people, is the only reason why (wait for it, I’m about to say something good about school) college is worth it. It’s not the coursework; it’s not the textbooks; those are all schyte. It’s that one professor who goes off on interesting tangents. While all the nervous, stuck-up ones read PowerPoint slides to you verbatim, a handful of your profs at college (at least one, but likely no more than 3), will, without probably thinking about or realizing it, regularly drop pearls of mad knowledge into your head. And it won’t be on the test, and it won’t be considered important; it’ll all just seem like a red herring, but…yeah.

IMHO, the true purpose of college is not to read books, pass coursework or any of that crap. The purpose is to hear interesting people, whether student or faculty, rant. At the very least, that’s where you get your real money’s worth; almost everything else you could literally do better by and for yourself or by some other method, in less time. There’s a reason why academics go to conferences and it’s not just for “free” travel; it’s because they want to hear what Dave Chappelle might call: “real shi[z] from time to time”.

Let me be honest with you: I ramble in my writing because it’s easy for me; I leave things largely disorganized (with exceptions like “Nutshell“, among others) out of laziness. But I feel somewhat justified in my rambling and laziness because whenever someone who knows a lot about something rambles, magic happens, much like the magic of mindmaps and freewriting. It’s the magic of the unexpected, the undervalued…the little insight, the offhand remark, the petty rule of thumb.

Again, the irony of it all is that the expert herself often has no clue or appreciation for the fact that she’s dropping pearls; she’s brainwashed, too; she wants to write “proper”, “organized”, orderly books, too. In fact, she honestly thinks that the value she brings is in organizing ideas 2. She’s wrong. But that doesn’t matter, because (now, at least) you know the truth.

Having said that, the market rewards organizers and organized ideas, and with very good reason: for starters, it saves a buttload of time and effort. 3 Enjoy your organized ideas. Enjoy your saved time and energy. You’re busy; you have every right to them; you are entitled to them. You deserve to get and be given what you want 4; I believe in that. But once in a while, when you want the real good stuff, take a page from the hipster playbook, the mockery of which I am usually so fond: seek disorganized ideas.


  1. Religions actually work like this. People like to act like every religion or secular life philosophy (except maybe the one they believe in) is a top-down, mind-virus, brainwash-the-hapless-sheeple phenomenon. That’s not true. It’s a dance. There’s just as much bottom-up pressure for “order”, for rules and regulations and doctrine and stricture, as there is top-down command-and-control. On top of that, most of the pressure to conform is horizontal — from peers. Downward vertical power is weaker than we are wont to admit.
  2. I think there’s a lot of value in collecting ideas, even in organizing atomic actions, but not in organizing ideas.
  3. We can talk about how wonderful Linux is until we hyperventilate, but the disorder (of Linux) makes Windows and MacOS very attractive “inferior” options.
  4. Don’t make me qualify this. Of course there are qualifiers. Let’s just agree to not be ridiculous :P

  9 comments for “Why Organized Ideas Are Bad: The Power of Rambling and the Tragedy of Organization

  1. April 6, 2013 at 10:39

    Hey ‘moto… just a few thoughts.

    Your writing is like Shakespeare’s… so many genius bonuses for the careful readers, and yet irriguous with a current of profane jokes and references. You should “back up” your writing in physical book form and propagate it so that it transcends the atlantis that the internet and its accessories may one day become. “The Thao of Back Up” extending beyond digital copies…that kinda thing.

    I’m thinking about this because…while the internet and technology has for the time evar allowed us to record and store disorganized ideas and rants extensively…paranoid people will point out that the internetc may not last forever, and it’s blogs like yours that rouse me from my torpor and fear such an outcome. Does this mean I’m backing up AJATT on my hard drive? No…I’m may be an embarrassingly annoying fan, but I haven’t completely lost my mind.

    It does, however, mean that I have continued as is my personal custom with converting my favorite bits of this post into SRS flashcard knowledge bites that I will hopefully review and retain until the worms come. Laters

    • anonymous
      April 7, 2013 at 12:48

      i’ve backed up most of ajatt plus. hehehehe

      • Livonor
        March 5, 2014 at 14:22

        もう本にしてた 当然に遠くて隠された山にある迷宮にある、手に入れるに怪物と激闘しなければならない

  2. April 7, 2013 at 06:26

    I guess I’m getting some horizontal pressure to conform from two of my peers ;)

  3. Thomas Smith
    April 9, 2013 at 06:32

    Here’s a disorganized idea that I use:

    Delete the intro and outro to songs. Stay immersed in lyrics, not melody.

    Your immersion in music is now 10-20% more efficient. The seconds will add up to hours and eventually days.

    Or, you know, don’t. I’m rambling here…

    • April 9, 2013 at 07:48

      I used to do that with sound clips from anime, tv shows, and movies. There’s a lot of speech-less “air time” that can get cut out relatively easily…making your clips that you shuffle through and listen to sometimes 50-60% more efficient.

    • 魔法少女☆かなたん
      April 9, 2013 at 22:21

      At risk of sounding obnoxious, WHY WOULD YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?!

      It sounds like some horrible Reebok sweatshop way to create immersion, where your child neurons are forced into arduous labour without ever having the chance to just enjoy their life … or something. At some point, I think they’ll try to start a communist revolution in your head.

      • M
        April 10, 2013 at 09:04

        It doesn’t matter if it’s in Japanese – the guitar solo is still the best part… :p

        This idea works better for the sound on video clips etc. If I hear something I like or find amusing while browsing YouTube etc, I just grab it and stick it on my mp3 player.

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