Gart: Mayhem Managed
A little bit of chaos is crucial to creating a more productive and engaged atmosphere at Dartmouth.
When I began working at a spunky, midtown startup last summer, I expected to slog through a hopefully rewarding, but probably boring, few months. I braced myself for long hours of worksheet organization, awkward water cooler small talk with 30-year-olds and the majority of my time spent twiddling my thumbs instead of actually accomplishing real, important work.
Fortunately, those somber expectations couldn’t have been further from reality. The motormouth, turbo-charged CEO constantly peppered me with excited remarks on new projects I could work on, and the office environment was overwhelmingly friendly. My fellow employees spent equal time teaching me how to pour the perfect shot of espresso as they did how to analyze an entire industry from the bottom up for potential customers. I treasured my time soaking in the ever-growing, endlessly hopeful aura that the startup emitted and was truly sad to leave it behind when my internship drew to a close.
After I left the startup, I began to slowly digest my experience. I took in the new faces, the thrilling notion of money in my bank account and the first notch in my professional belt. But above all, I couldn’t stop thinking about the most prominent core component of daily office life: chaos.
Between crucial business calls with bigshot execs, the leadership team would whip up gin and tonics for the entire staff. Daily lunches usually skirted business entirely in favor of raucous conversations about the hottest Netflix show or the juiciest piece of celebrity gossip. Employees regularly came in late, spontaneously worked from home, brought in unexpected guests and tossed around plates of mysterious desserts supposedly baked by someone’s grandma. And yet, for all this chaos, the company seemed to run smoothly. Every member of the company was able to seamlessly transition from fun to work, and every deliverable across every team was completed with flying colors. Instead of ruining the “serious work environment,” the startup’s chaos actually increased the productivity, confidence and energy of the office. Confoundingly, a healthy sprinkling of havoc made the whole place run better.
With this revelation, I began examining other areas of my life. In my high school classes, I had consistently been able to focus more (and stay awake) in the classes where random humorous uproars often shook the room. When studying with friends, a few friendly jabs and a spontaneous Dunkin’ Donuts run would help us all recenter and refuel our productive energies. Looking beyond my own anecdotes, this same principle seems to hold true. Companies like Tesla and Google throw reliability out the window, instead giving their employees ball pits and basing massive company decisions on Twitter polls. Politicians who are able to carefully ride a tumultuous wave of relevance, usually toeing the line between boldness and controversy, have been far outperforming candidates operating in a veil of sterility. Time and time again, the presence of a little chaos has improved the outcomes instead of worsening them.
To an extent, this principle can be seen at Dartmouth. Take, for example, Librex — the wildly popular, totally anonymous social media app. Posts alternate between complaining about Dartmouth Dining, making fun of various frats for their shenanigans and publicly voicing opinions on Taylor Swift’s new album. But sprinkled between this chaos is, surprisingly, productivity. For each post asking about the difficulty of a class, inquiring for pre-professional advice or just an anonymous user in need of a friend, there are at least a few genuine, thought-out responses. While most mainstream questions can be answered by college newspapers or employees, Librex has become an invaluable source of honest, quirky answers to the more indelicate student questions. Librex represents chaos better than almost anything else — and through it all, it can still be used as a platform for getting questions answered.
Another area where this idea thrives is the oftentimes-overwhelming tsunami of the “listserv.” This all-school email list presents a hurricane of topics: Professors looking for research assistants, clubs advertising meetings, a cappella shows, administrative emails and upcoming frat parties all whirl around side-by-side in a given inbox. But once again, this chaos actually cultivates a usefulness that these emails likely wouldn’t possess without it. The fact that each email has an equal likelihood of discussing low-ceiling pong basements and high-achieving guest speakers causes every student to at least give a cursory glance to the emails they receive, and in turn, people may discover unique opportunities that they might have otherwise disregarded.
And let’s not forget: our (technically unofficial) mascot is Keggy the Keg. Enough said.
Of course, it’s important to recognize that this organized chaos has a very clear limitation. If the chaos ever grows too strong, the balance can easily shift too far into the realm of disarray, disrupting any semblance of productivity. Just as an environment of rigidity can kill any chances of creative thought, a structure defined by its own lack of structure can rapidly descend into total anarchy. The positive side of chaos is only displayed when it acts as a spark within a system of order — otherwise, no progress could be possible at all.
There’s a clear temptation, particularly in academia, to keep things picture-perfect. Smiling college brochures and sunny panoramas over Baker-Berry are much easier images to polish than unnamed fraternities having their letters stolen or sophomores doing cartwheels in the dining hall.
And yet, it remains abundantly clear that Dartmouth simply wouldn’t be Dartmouth without the loving tornado of chaos constantly flying around campus. Our greatest triumphs, the richest moments of culture and the true recipe to our success lies in the careful balance between order and chaos that is maintained on campus. We have hundreds of students upvoting posts on beloved dining hall staff, gaggles of chittering pledges sprinting through the Green and a beloved melting pot of athletes, bookworms, astrology experts, astronomy enthusiasts, beanie-rockers, Masters’ players, Collis-smoothie-chuggers, carefully crafted flitz senders and far, far beyond.
Yeah, it’s chaos. But it’s Dartmouth.