OCD Control Freak • 3 March 2012 • The SnowBlog
OCD Control Freak
Just a word or too about that last post of mine where I give every appearance of being someone who lines up their peas into grids before eating them and afterwards records the fact in a Moleskine notebook*. If true, then it's worth saying that this was not always the case. As a child I was perpetually forgetting to do things. I was reasonably good at maths in school, but used to get low marks because I'd always make what my teachers called a 'silly slip'. My early attempts at writing programs tended to fail for the same reason: I knew the theory but what I'd written was not quite what I thought I'd written. When I was a bit older I had a car that I tinkered with and I tended to rush into repairs or upgrades to it without planning them properly, without making a note of where all the bits went and then get bored before the job was finished.
But I suppose I was somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between spontaneous and free-thinking at one end and rigid and obsessive at the other. Or to reverse the pejoratives there: between chaotic and completely organised.
In my early twenties I worked on what bosses called my 'lack of attention to detail' until my code compiled and my equations balanced and I rarely forgot to do something important. I knew I was getting somewhere when people started to criticise me not for being slapdash but for being a 'neat freak'. Me? And the further I've tried to push myself towards the OCD, anal-retentive end of the spectrum, the more rewards it's yielded. Because the fact is that details usually matter, and if you don't attend to them you're denied the great pleasure of really getting things right. Painstaking organisation still doesn't come naturally to me, but these days I don't mind the struggle.
In my consultancy days, my determination to get good at the details led to me being called an 'idealist' or 'unrealistic' - even 'uncommercial' - but as I've suggested elsewhere on this blog, all the really cool stuff in business is idealistic. Everything else is plagiarism.
I've started to think that 'normal' on the chaotic/obsessive spectrum is too far towards the chaotic end. We encourage people to be 'spontaneous' as though that wasn't going to happen anyway. We're all impulsive; it's being organised that needs work. And there actually isn't even a dichotomy between creativity and order: the artists I admire most have more inspiration than they know what to do with, but they pursue that inspiration with the dogged rigour of the perfectionist.
So if you read that last post thinking that I might well have a problem with my obsessive attention to detail and my fixation with order and neatness, I do. But it's the opposite problem to the one you might think.
*incidentally, while I like Moleskines, my favourite little notebook at the moment is the gorgeous A5 orange Rhodia 'webnotebook'. Available from Moo, among others.