Find role model for middle school student with sorting talent
September 18, 2013 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Which famous person in history is know for being neat, good at sorting and organizing thing?

A very sweet girl I care about is very neat. She likes to sort things, organize things and keep everything in the right place. She likes to follow the rules and is very honest. Her parents is not happy that she's often scared of things, sticking to rules too much, not very creative, proactive, outspoken or showing leadership skills. I want to inspire her to be proud of herself. I want to show her examples of people achieving great things because of this type of personality. I want to tell stories of people like her. She's 13 yr old right now. Thanks!
posted by akomom to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Melvile Dewey, who created the Dewey Decimal System, comes to mind. Where would we be without library organization and ease of use?
posted by mmf at 1:43 PM on September 18, 2013 [15 favorites]

All librarians need to be organized, sorting things and keeping them in the right place. Melvil Dewey was a famous and important librarian in the US.

Archaeologists must also be meticulous. One example is Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978). "She was one of the great women archaeologists of the twentieth century and is most famous for her careful excavation of the ancient city of Jericho. She was full of learning, a precise and careful recorder, and wrote well." (source) More on Kathleen Kenyon here.
posted by GrammarMoses at 1:43 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I did an archaeology "boot camp" a few years ago our leader started us out with a project where we had a few people per team and a huge box of assorted buttons. She told us "Sort them." No instructions about how to classify them or determine what to do about edge cases or anything but "Sort them." She then explained that this is what archaeologists do, they take a wide range of data and find ways to sort and classify that data that will help us learn about the past. She might be an amazing archaeologist some day!
posted by Rock Steady at 1:44 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Annie Jump Cannon, who sorted the stars.
posted by BrashTech at 1:44 PM on September 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Linnaeus, Webster, Roget? but really i suspect that almost every prominent pre 20th century scientist or scholar had to be incredibly organized by modern standards...
posted by pete_22 at 1:45 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

The philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote many difficult but amazingly thoughtful, precise, and well-ordered books about human beings, cognition, ethics, aesthetics, etc. He is also known as a "genius of pedantry and punctuality." There exist some cute anecdotes about his extremely rule-governed approach to life. I would not say he's a role model, but he was probably so much more extreme than you have in mind that he could be a comforting example of how someone can be legendarily successful while having an even more structured way of living.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:48 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tom Sachs isn't from history, but he is the master of knolling.

(Also please note that if you probe very far into Melvil Dewey's life and personality you will find plenty of non-role-model-ish things, like the antisemitism and the sexual harrassment…)
posted by oliverburkeman at 1:53 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, studied inherited characteristics in pea plants and bees. To succeed in his work, he kept voluminous notes that had to stay carefully organized.
posted by GrammarMoses at 1:53 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

The sorting hat from Harry Potter would be a fun example amidst the old scientists.
posted by cakebatter at 2:16 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding Linnaeus (and taxonomists in general). Also, Christiane Nüsslein-Vollhard, who won a Nobel prize for her painstaking work in identifying and classifying the genes involved in fruit fly development (laying the groundwork for large parts of modern embryology and molecular biology).
posted by jlibera at 2:19 PM on September 18, 2013

Too bad Martha Stewart is an ex-con. Otherwise she is a great example of someone turning that skill into an empire.
posted by cecic at 2:50 PM on September 18, 2013

I think Charles Darwin kept dozens of meticulous notebooks on his voyages, and classified hundreds of specimens. A mind boggling amount.

I am like this too.

It definitely does not indicate a lack of creative ability. coming up with evolutionary theory was certainly creative!

Rather, it may indicate a lack of interest in art specifically, and that's okay. I actually ended up in art school, and this sort of super methodical approach its generally really successfull for many artists. One of the great classic musicians methodically wrote the same type of piece systematically in every key!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:54 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Escoffier changed the traditional kitchen havoc to the current-day kitchen stations, and changed the popular form of service from a la francaise (all dishes on the table at once) to a la russe (dishes served in set courses).
posted by elizardbits at 3:15 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lemony Snicket is methodically writing his way through the alphabet.

Creativity is really just a willingness to work at something when you don't feel like it and a willingness to fail....this seems to be true for everyone, scientists and artists alike.

There's a great (appropriate) documentary on a British? mathematician working on Fermat's Last Theorem. It really address this intersection of creativity and art and methodical science. It would be good for her AND her parents. On my phone now, but if I can find a link layer I'll post it.

There is also a really neat episode of Nova on origami and math, was on Netflix. Highly recommend...mathematicians making art with math. So cool.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:17 PM on September 18, 2013

Good Eats = methodical science in the kitchen! ok I promise to stop!

man, this kid sounds awesome.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:19 PM on September 18, 2013

"often scared of things, sticking to rules too much, not very creative, proactive, outspoken or showing leadership skills"
While your heart is in the right place, personally, I don't think teen girls need to be encouraged to stick to the rules as society does a ducky job of telling them that already. If her parents are encouraging her (not in a mean way) to break out a little more, I don't think you should undercut their message.

She can be creative while being tidy, orderly and organized--have her take a gander at the Tom Sachs videos--Working to Code and Always Be Knolling.

Film editors, like the great Thelma Schoonmaker are famously organized, and creative as hell.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:49 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe show her the Things Organized Neatly tumblr and others of that ilk, and ooh and aah over them together? No famous people are involved, but it demonstrates that being organized can be cool and artful. Maybe she could even submit something.
posted by Wordwoman at 5:09 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was also like this as a child and when I did a book report on Gregor Mendel I took a liking to the fellow. Bonus: he opened my eyes to learning about plants and the environment.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:16 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mary Poppins liked things tidy and in their place, and she was a sort of minor deity. You didn't mess with Mary Poppins.
posted by wdenton at 8:40 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Akomom, I'm not famous (yet), but I'm a Certified Professional Organizer. (FWIW, there's at least one other professional organizer on MeFi.) I own my own business, have a book soon to be published, and am a member of a profession with over 40 sub-specialties. My colleagues and I work independently, in partnerships and in firms; we work with individuals and families, small businesses, corporate entities. We help people with general disorganization issues and we also teach people and give them systems so enable to dramatically improve their productivity.

I'm not saying that this is a profession to which your young friend should aspire, or that orderliness is remotely the only skill required to be successful in this heavily psychology-based field, but she should know that she has the building blocks within her for a wide variety of professional paths, including this one. Good you for encouraging her to be proud of herself. You could even take her to a chapter meeting of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) if there's a chapter near you so she can see one way in which her skills can bring her satisfaction. (Of course, those same skills are the basis for fields of medicine, law, sciences and a whole plethora of futures she might have.)

She's often scared of things, sticking to rules too much, not very creative, proactive, outspoken or showing leadership skills. I want to inspire her to be proud of herself.

Fear generally lessens the more one has experiences; she might benefit from a group like Girls, Inc., which offers entrepreneurship camps and all sorts of opportunities to empower young ladies. There are different kinds of creativity, and the more experiences she has, the more she may be able to articulate her areas of creativity, but seeing disorder and creating order is its own kind of creativity. As for rules, well, if she's too structured, more experiences may be able to help her see that there are different ways one can be "right" but sticking to rules too much at 13 seems like a win; the more opportunities she's given to lead, to "fail" and to have experiences in a safe environment, the more she may flourish.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:54 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a YA dystopian trilogy by Ally Condie, in which the protagonist is a data sorter who (spolier) eventually saves humanity with her data analysis skills. I don't know if the trilogy has a name, but the first book is called Matched.
posted by amarynth at 5:50 AM on September 19, 2013

Herman Holerith. He invented the data punch card1 and a machine that could sort and organize cards using relay logic. This was used for the 1890 census, allowing it to be done months ahead of schedule and under budget.

1You could argue about the distinction between data punch cards and instruction punch cards used in the Jacquard loom. One sees the holes on loom cards as instructions to move threads and the holes on census cards as data records with no instruction. You could also view the loom punch cards as data that is interpreted by a fixed program on the loom.
posted by plinth at 6:55 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

She likes to sort things, organize things and keep everything in the right place. She likes to follow the rules and is very honest. Her parents is not happy that she's often scared of things, sticking to rules too much, not very creative, proactive, outspoken or showing leadership skills.

This girl sounds like J. Edgar Hoover!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:11 AM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, there's the original great organizer, Noah -- and he lived to be 950 years old!

How about the women "calculators" in WWII who did tons of simple math that was leveraged to beat The Hun?

Or Dwight Eisenhower, who was more of a staff officer than a dashing leader (like Patton, etc.), but whose brilliance in getting things organized and people to cooperate saved the world?

You could show her the beauty of small work, like the Hmong textile artists whose embroidery is so fine that it is called "the blind stitch": they create wonderful larger pieces from a collection of tiny elements. Pointillist painters (e.g., Seurat) also fall into this.

Building on the aspect of someone who knows how things should be done, a proof-reader or editor can take a sloppy idea and turn into into a brilliant piece of art or persuasion or teaching. E.B. White was one of the most famous editors (and most beloved writers!) ever.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2013

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