Amazon: Organized Chaos

When we used to keep papers in file cabinets, I was bedeviled by the fact that however I’d organize and label something, by the time I went to look for it again I’d think of the thing in a different way, forget the original characterization, and the document would be lost to me forever. I used to give things to Dawn, our operations director — she could always find something again when I asked for it. Or, I kept things stacked on my desk. I had better luck finding a document visually in the stack than I did once it disappeared into a file cabinet.

I still organize my email and Google docs, but I don’t really have to. I can just enter a search term, and the doc or relevant email pops up.

I’d have thought Amazon organizes things in their massive fulfillment center according to some super organized schema, but it turns out they don’t. What they have is organized chaos. Things get put on a shelf wherever there is space, scanned, and then retrieved electronically when ready for shipping — sometimes by a robot. More important than knowing where something is physically in the huge building is knowing how to find it. The schema is called “random stow.

The online retail world has sort of come to me, at least the random part, with one significant improvement. They can actually find things.

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