The Ripple Effect

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I had been thinking about it for quite some time. However, something inside seemed to say that, “today is the day.” What was that something? It was seemingly simple and of no real consequence. I was going to reposition my computer monitor on my desk; it would be moved a whopping 18 inches.

Six years ago, when I set up my office, I invested a great deal of time to produce an optimal configuration, the epitome of efficacy and efficiency. Yet over time, things had changed. New technology was brought in, additional office elements were added, and the scale of my operation increased. As each change was implemented, it never seemed to be a good time to look at the overall flow and function of my workspace. The immediate intent was always the same: find a place for it now and make it work as quickly as possible. It is sad but true that even as a practitioner and promoter of all things productive, I had allowed my workspace to deteriorate into a den of anarchy – well, not really anarchy, but there were days when organizational chaos seemed to be the rule rather than the exception.

One of the changes that occurred during this ongoing slide into disarray was switching from a laptop to desktop as my primary computer. The desktop monitor didn’t fit my desk like the laptop had. If I placed the monitor in front of the monitor stand (which was the space previously occupied by my laptop), 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” positioning of my computer monitor caused me to pivot my chair and sit a bit askew whenever I worked on my computer – which is most of the time. I astutely discerned that perhaps this was not an ideal configuration for my posture or physical well-being. I estimated that it would take about 15 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 emphatically implored. I knew that to be true. So after I processed the morning email — it was a slow day, only taking about two hours — I slid under my desk to investigate the complexity of the monitor stand removal process. Five minutes later, it was removed and sitting on the floor in the middle of my office. Gleefully ahead of schedule, I began to ease the monitor across the desk to its new home. Carefully, but intentionally, it crept along with the help of my firm yet steady hand, but after six inches, only one third of it’s journey, it came to an abrupt halt. The monitor cable must be caught on something, I surmised.

I was wrong.   The cable had no more slack. What to do? Go to plan B (which was yet to be determined) or retreat to my original configuration? Although seeking to procure a longer monitor cable was an option, I desired instant gratification and didn’t want to waste time searching for something that might not exist or would 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 to put stationary bins next to the printer, which was another “someday” project that I had been contemplating. I could use some of the bins that housed past issues of this magazine. After all, I didn’t need to keep copies in my office for as long as I was. I would simply move the unneeded books into 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 the office. One thing led to another and then another. I was three hours into the project and things were scattered everywhere; there was scarcely room to move.

I finally got the computer hooked back up and working, but I couldn’t work myself. Things were in too much disarray. By the time I was done, six hours had elapsed. I had 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 to dispose of unneeded and obsolete materials, reprioritized my pending work, disconnected an unneeded gadget, cleaned up some wayward wiring, and even cancelled some phone services that I had ceased using. Whew!

That was two weeks ago. It took several hours to do, but the results are worth it. I am now more efficient and effective. I am writing this column two weeks ahead of schedule, my backlog of work is no longer overwhelming, and I feel in control of my work, rather than being controlled by it. Did all this happen merely because I moved my monitor? Indirectly, yes. Moving the monitor had a profound and significant ripple effect that will be felt — and appreciated — for quite some time to come.

Some people — and even some organizations — 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 evolution around them. Things get squeezed in here, hooked up there, and stacked on top of, until routine work becomes an illogical series of unneeded steps or wasted activity.  Their work becomes harder, but change seems harder still. Taking time out to make things more efficient is an inconceivable consideration.

The converse are people — and even some organizations — that make changes often, seemingly for the fun of it or even out of compulsion. They spend hours restructuring their office and do so every week! They make this time investment so often that they will never realize payback on it. They experience the ripple effect frequently and often continuously. Some might say they are making waves!

There is another kind of ripple effect that is far more important. It’s the ripple effect we produce by the words we use and the things we do. These ripples affect others. Sometimes our ripples are positive; other times they are not. Sometimes there are none.

We’ve all been around and known people who are chronic complainers; they are negative and seem to pull others into their foul moods. They are seemingly not happy and their apparent goal is to bring others down to their level of pessimism. They have a negative ripple effect; the ripples they generate an undertow. We need to be careful 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 is gone. These people aren’t much fun to be around either. There is no movement, no influence, nothing. They inanely move from project to project and from day to day, in a sad and rote subsistence. No ripples, no fun, no way!

Other people make positive ripples. That is who I want to be. I want to have a positive effect on those around me. I want my ripples to motivate, to encourage, to inspire, to be supportive, and to be eagerly anticipated and greatly appreciated. We all know people – and organizations – like that, too. They are the ones with smiling people all around them, who inspire 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!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at

[From Connection Magazine May 2006]