Harvard University’s Cruft Laboratory was built in 1915 as a gift donated by Harriet Otis Cruft. During World War II it served as Harvard Physics Department’s radar lab. In the early 1940s, unused technical equipment could be seen stacked in front of Cruft Hall’s windows. According to students, if a place filled with useless machinery is called Cruft Hall, the machinery itself must be cruft. This image of “discarded technical clutter” quickly migrated from hardware to software before making its way out into the world. In 1958, the term was used in the sense of “garbage” by students frequenting the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club. In the 1959 edition of the club’s dictionary, it was defined as “that which magically amounds in the Clubroom just before you walk in to clean up. In other words, rubbage”. Cruft is incestuous in an organization and it grows like a tumbleweed, picking up more junk along the way. In an organization cruft goes beyond just dated technology. It includes rules created for a one time rule breaker who was trying to test his boundaries. Its the weekly meeting that no one wants to be in, because it accomplishes nothing. In every business that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working there is always cruft. It’s left over after the new system gets installed, but we hold onto it in the event the new system doesn’t work. Its shelves filled with archaic software books, just in case. We hold onto things for parts. We add new rules without removing old. We add more and more and ever more onto the almighty To Do List. How many individuals/organizations have a Stop Doing List? Waiting until you leave the building is never the best time to clean house.
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