Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

The danger of "all in one place"

I generally view cliches with a heavy dollop of skepticism. The way I see it, if something is so easy to explain that you can use a canned line to do so, the person sharing the cliche probably hasn't thought deeply about the situation at hand. Because of its organizational roots, I'm especially critical of the cliche which presumptively values having things "all in one place" as good.

As it normally goes, at least when talking about organizations and management or creative spaces, people imply that having things - whether it be people, business process experts, information or materials - co-located...all in one place is what is needed, that having these things all in one place is obviously good and useful. Having things all in one place reduces transaction costs because the task of combining goods or services before consuming them becomes cheaper. This makes sense.

Except when it doesn't. For much of the 20th Century, perhaps it was desirable to have things all in one place. But now whether it's goods or ideas, it's a lot easier to instantly bring things together from disparate places in the moment you need them. Take Amazon for example, they can get you goods from around the world at a few days notice, maybe less than that. This makes it less necessary to have a superstore within 5-10 miles of where you live. Shipping things is cheap and fast, world-wide so it's not necessary to have things all in one place.

This is even more true for digital consumables, like information. It costs virtually nothing (pun intended) to scour for and synthesize information from across the net, as long as the information is connected. We don't need to have massive libraries or other repositories of concentrated information as long as that information is digitized, consistently formatted, and searchable. To spend effort putting information "all in one place" to just sit around is almost laughable because of how easy it is to bring information together within seconds.

The same thing goes for organizations. Organizations don't need to have all materials and expertise in-house, anymore. They can combine things and form teams around problems within hours if necessary, bringing disparate skill-sets and passionate people to a problem from around the globe. Fewer and fewer organizations need to be "one stop shops" or "all under one roof" to be successful. The same forces that have made it easy and cheap to bring goods and information together instantaneously apply to people, too.

More than merely pointing out that having things "all in one place" is inconsequential, I'd say an "all in one place" mentality is actually dangerous. Having things all in one place requires a lot of effort and a lot of internal structure. To make having something "all in one place" worth the effort you have to spread out the fixed costs of doing and make processes efficient when in operation. This often requires rigorous, inflexible processes which stifle creativity and promote the territorialization of people and resources. In other words, having things "all in one place" requires standardization, and standardization stifles creativity. That's a bad thing if you're trying to do something creative.

Now, throw my point of view out the window if the example in your mind doesn't require creativity. The rub is, there are fewer and fewer circumstance where that's actually the case, at least in the organizational world. Being efficient isn't always a useful objective anymore; the need to be creative often trumps efficiency.

So, I'd ask, before you make a statement implying that having things all in one place is unquestionably good,  make sure that's actually what you mean, and that it is truly beneficial to have things all in one place.