2 The Meaning of “Organizing” – Three Questions to Answer

Everything can be organized!  Libraries organize books, schools organize students, stores organize their goods for sale, zoos organize animals, closets organize clothing and shoes, museums organize paintings and other kinds of art, and calendars organize events.

The organizing systems in libraries, zoos, and supermarkets seem very different.  How could studying how books are organized in a library help us understand how animals are organized in a zoo or goods in a supermarket?

We discover the secret of organizing when we analyze the definition of organizing from the previous lesson.

Organizing is the process of designing an ARRANGEMENT OR STRUCTURE that enables effective INTERACTIONS with the RESOURCES you have organized


This definition of ORGANIZING doesn’t mention books, people, shoes, animals, or time.  Instead, it treats all of them as resources.   A resource is “anything of value that is used in some activity that has a goal.” This definition means that a resource can be a physical thing, a non-physical thing, information about things, people,  or anything you want to organize so that you interact with it for some purpose.  Time is also a resource we organize;  people say things like “I don’t have enough time to do that” or “We have lots of time so we don’t have to hurry.” Just as you organize your books or clothes in a closet, you organize time by putting the events you want to do in a calendar or schedule.

This definition also doesn’t mention any specific ways in which resources are used, because different resources are organized for different uses.  In libraries, you check out books and later return them.  In museums and zoos you can view and study the things in its collection, but you can’t check them out.  We interact with calendars and clocks to schedule events and things we need to do, or to remind ourselves when we are supposed to do them.  Just as the definition of organizing uses the general term resources, it uses the general term interaction rather than mentioning specific purposes like “checking out” and “returning” books. 

Finally, this definition allows for any arrangement or structure that enables the interactions because different resources need to be organized in different ways.  Simple arrangements use a single property like color to create groups or categories that are easy to understand.  Think back to how you organized your first small set of Lego blocks.  Other resource collections require a very complex arrangement that uses many properties to define a category system with many levels.  A familiar example is the organizing system that arranges animals into broad categories like birds, fish, and mammals, and then further organizes these into smaller categories (like robins, pigeons, and eagles for birds), repeating this sub-division until the species level.   The schedules for professional sports are also very complex and use many properties to make sure that all the teams play the same number of games, to arrange home and away games, to enable playoffs, and to preserve traditional “big games”with rival teams that fans especially like.

So the secret to becoming a master organizer is learning how to see what organizing systems have in common instead of focusing on how they differ.  Using general words like “resource” and “interaction” makes it easier to take the broader view.  All organizing systems — whether they are organizing books, people, animals, time, or anything else — can be understood as designs that answer three interconnected questions:

  • WHAT is being organized?
    • in other words: What are the resources?
  • WHY is it being organized?
    • in other words: How will the resources be used?
    • What interactions need to be enabled?
  • HOW is it being organized?
    • in other words: What properties or features of the resources are used to enable the interactions?
    • What are the organizing principles that are designed into the arrangement and structure of the resources?


These questions are interconnected because answering any of of them implies or constrains part of the answers to the other questions.   You’ll see this when we analyze some organizing systems and answer these three questions for each one.  This practice will help you develop your power as a master organizer!


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"The Discipline of Organizing" for Kids Copyright © 2022 by Robert J Glushko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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