The Ripple Effect

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I’d been thinking about it for quite some time. However, that little voice inside said, “Today is the day.” It seemed simple enough. I was going to move my computer monitor on my desk: a whopping eighteen inches.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Six years ago when I set up my office, I spent a lot of time finding the optimum configuration, the epitome of efficiency. Yet over time, things changed. New technology arrived, additional elements were added, and the scale of my business increased.

With each change, it was never a good time to consider the overall flow and function of my workspace. My immediate goal was always the same: find a place for it now and make it work as quickly as possible.

It’s sad but true that even as a promoter of all things productive, I allowed my workspace to deteriorate into anarchy – well, not true anarchy, but there were days when chaos was the rule rather than the exception.

One of the changes that occurred during this slide into disarray was switching from a laptop to desktop. The desktop monitor didn’t fit my desk like the laptop had. If I placed the monitor in front of the monitor stand, 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 figure out a better solution when things slowed down. That was three years ago.

This “temporary” position of my computer monitor caused me to sit at a contorted angle whenever I worked on my computer – which is most of the time. This was not ideal for my posture or comfort.

I estimated it would take about fifteen minutes (which I rounded up to an hour, just to be safe) to remove the monitor stand from my desk and slide the monitor to the right.

“Today is the day,” my inner voice proclaimed. After I processed the morning email, I slid under my desk to investigate removing the monitor stand. Five minutes later, it was detached and sitting on the floor in the middle of my office.

Ahead of schedule, I eased the monitor across the desk to its new home. Carefully, but intentionally it crept along with the help of my firm yet steady hand. However, after six inches, only one third of its journey, it came to an abrupt halt. The cable seemed caught.

I was wrong; the cable had no more slack. What should I do? Go to plan B (which was yet to be determined) or retreat to my original configuration? Although finding a longer monitor cable was an option, I sought instant gratification and didn’t want to waste time searching for something that might not exist or be hard to locate.

Just move the computer, I concluded. However, to do that I needed to first move the printer, but that opened up space for stationary bins, which was another “someday” project.

I could use some of the bins that held past issues of my magazines; after all, I didn’t need to keep so many copies in my office. I’d simply move the extras to storage.

That effort, unfortunately, prompted me to recount my inventory of past issues (no need to keep too many copies), throw extras away, and reorganize my archives. A half hour later, I was back in my office.

One thing led to another and then another. Three hours into the project and things were scattered everywhere, with scarcely room to move.

I finally got the computer hooked back up and working, but I couldn’t work. Things were in too much disarray.

By the time I was done, six hours had passed; I’d relocated every item on my desk (and moved a few things twice), rearranged most of my file cabinet contents, made multiple trips to the garbage, reprioritized my pending work, disconnected an unneeded gadget, cleaned up some wayward wiring, and even cancelled some phone services I wasn’t using. Whew!

That was two weeks ago. It took several hours, but the results are worth it. I’m now more efficient and effective. I’m writing this article two weeks ahead of schedule, my backlog of jobs is no longer overwhelming, and I feel in control of my work, rather than controlled by it.

Did all this happen merely because I relocated my monitor? Indirectly, yes. Moving the monitor had a ripple effect, one I’d feel – and appreciate – for a long time.

Some people – and even some businesses – never experience this ripple effect. They just go from day to day, month to month, and year to year without ever giving a thought to the incapacitating office evolving around them.

Things are squeezed in here, hooked up there, and stacked on top, until routine work becomes an illogical series of unneeded steps or wasted activity. Their work becomes harder, but change seems harder still; taking time to make things more efficient is inconceivable.

The converse is people – and even some businesses – who make changes often, seemingly for fun or out of compulsion. They spend hours restructuring their office and do so every week.

They make this investment so often that they’ll never realize a payback on it. They experience the ripple effect frequently. Some might say they’re making waves!

Another kind of ripple is far more important. We produce the ripple by the words we use and the things we do. These ripples affect others, too. Sometimes our ripples are positive; other times they aren’t.

We all known people who are chronic complainers; they’re negative and pull others into their foul moods. They’re unhappy and they try to bring others down to their level of pessimism.

They have a negative ripple effect; the ripples they generate produce an undertow. We need to take care around such folk or risk being sucked in and pulled down.

Sadly, some people produce no ripples. They have no impact on others, whether good or bad, positive or negative. I’m not sure how this happens. Surely at some point, they must have had a ripple effect, but now it’s gone.

These people aren’t much fun to be around either. There’s no movement, no influence, nothing. They inanely move from project to project and from day to day, in rote subsistence. No ripples.

Other people make positive ripples. That’s who I want to be. I want to have a positive effect on those around me. I want my ripples to motivate, encourage, inspire, and support, to be anticipated and appreciated.

We all know people – and businesses – like that, too. They’re the ones with smiling people around them, inspiring others to achieve more as they spread their ripples in all directions and for the benefit of all.

Today is the day; go make some ripples.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer ServiceSticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Leadership and Management featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.