I was thinking about messiness while I was working out yesterday. My little neighborhood gym is a branch of a huge franchise. But it feels very local. Part of what makes it that way is the constant changes in decor, hand-made by the staff.
Right now, the staff has a food bank drive on, and are building a mountain of food in the middle of the gym. If you bring in a bag, you get your name on a paper grocery bag on the wall. [Naturally, I wanted to be up on the big board, so did my duty as I saw it]. They are weighing the food as it comes in, and tracking the total weight on a huge, colorful chart on one wall, with giant painted flowers marking the big milestones of the group effort.
It's the antithesis of a managed environment, but it works.
I was reading this morning an article about the perfect level of messiness. Eric Abrahamson, author of the "The Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder", says:
"If you devote all your time to organizing, you won’t get anything done. If you don’t spend any time organizing, the resultant mess bogs you down completely. When you find the ‘sweet spot’ between messiness and order, then you have a perfect mess."
Abrahamson extends this idea to over and under organizing at all levels of organization activity. Too tight a strategy or budget doesn't allow for useful messiness, and takes too much effort to maintain anyway.
I think we should also extend this idea to customer environments.
The kind of "slightly messy" environment I described above feels friendly and local. It's in the context of the reliable national chain. You get the best of both worlds.
I used to be a regional manager of a group of retail bank branches. I was on a mission to clean up the merchandising of the branches, and wanted to put an end to too much mess that was interfering with a clean and orderly customer environment. You couldn't have your collection of crystal animals beside your teller wicket. You could only have one family photo in your office, not a dozen. Every local charity could not put a collection box by your reception desk.
It was a positive change, on balance, but you have to be careful about going too far. If you go too far, what you have is a sterile environment, which is how most bank branches feel to me today. There is no personality there.
There are no painted tulips stuck to the counters in the spring. There is no mountain of donated teddy-bears just before Christmas. In short, no local flavor, and no feeling of personal connection with real people.
The effort to create a consistent environment has created consistent sterility, not consistent warmth and ambiance.
We need to help people find the right balance.