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Monday, April 24

"All you want to do is put on your headphones and get on with it"
Such was the somewhat dismissive accusation leveled against me by an ex-colleague. He was describing my ideal work ethic. I'm a loner when it comes to coding. On days where I've produced the most code, and let's assume that this code is good code, rather than nasty hacked-together-nonsense, I've also spent a lot of time with the headphones on and music playing. My body may have been in this world, but I've been somewhere else. It's called the zone. It's a level of concentration where time passes more quickly and lots of information is being juggled in the short-term memory.

Back in the early years of my first proper job (also my previous job), I would find that a stack of CDs soon went from the "to play" pile to the "played" pile. Or I'd find that it was time to start the current disk again. It would appear to happen really quickly. The albums would just pass by. This was because my mind was more occupied with the task in hand. This may seem unsociable, even more so if you happened to disturb me in the middle of a thought - I might emerge from my reverie grumpily, or I might wave at you to give me a minute to finish the thought I was on.

This is no surprise to me. When I was much younger I programmed computers for fun (I still program computers for kicks, if I'm totally honest) and almost always had music playing. It's not uncommon. Lots of people used to use headphones at my last place and there are plenty of them around in my new place. It's a great feeling, and it's nice to be in an environment where people respect the headphones.

The thing is, I'm producing some of my best ever work at the moment. The reason is because I'm being left to get on with it. It's not some selfish thing. I'm not produce the weird and wonderful, nor shunning collaboration. Instead, I'm doing what I do best in little pockets of activity and synchronising with the rest of the team the rest of the time. That, I think, is what good knowledge working is all about. With that in mind, the gung-ho over-enthusiastic efforts of previous team coaches seem to be nothing short of silliness.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be a time for collaboration. There should be. Collaboration is a good way to iron out odd ideas. It's also a good way to ensure buy in between people who disagree. Stop them from focusing on one solution and get them to focus on the problem, together. So long as they choose a solution which will work, without breaching any fundamental rules, then they should both be happy. I tried this recently with a colleague. We instinctively took opposing views on something and I could detect a tension between us. So, I suggested that we solve the problem working together. We did it pretty much "his" way. However, I went from doubting to believing. If we'd ended up doing it "my" way, then I hope (and I believe) he would have ended up feelingt he same way that I did.

Working for the man
I recall seeing a post on another blog that related to something I'd written on here - the pleasures of googling oneself (I must stop doing that). The post criticised me for my enthusiasm to put the extra effort in to help my employer out. Why should I be enthusiastic about thrashing myself more, if it didn't gain me any extra personal benefit? I don't get paid overtime. I don't directly profit from the extra work, do I?

In fact, the answer I must reprise (I think I've mentioned it before) is that, quite simply, I do benefit from my own increased endeavours. Working for a company with a bonus scheme makes it clearer, mind, but here are the reasons:
  • Sense of personal satisfaction in a job well done
  • Sense of pride in getting recognition for a job well done
  • Bonus payments for achieving a particular bonus target
  • If my employer is more profitable, then my job is safer
  • If my employer is more profitable then I may get a better payrise
  • If I'm working hard and not complaining, then the people around me may feel encouraged to compete with me to do the same - more benefits for everyone
This rationale works well in the sort of environment in which I work - an innovative, reward-based environment, but would it be the same if I, say, worked in Ikea? I think it would. At the end of the day, even if all you do is mop the toilets out in McDonalds, your contribution to your employer's business is there to have some effect on the bottom line. If your employer is doing better, then you will, yourself, be in a better position. The sad thing, I suppose, is that if you're that far down the food chain, you probably won't be able to measure the benefit... so you may as well slack off... which means that you'll be treated as a slacker and stay down the food chain.

I live a privileged life. I know that. I couldn't sit with my headphones and do just any job. I probably couldn't survive if I was on the minimum wage. I probably couldn't do a job which my upbringing defined as "menial". It's a shame. I bet that the person who pushes the trolleys round Tesco's car park has pretty low levels of stress. He or she is probably less impressed by their own ingenuity too!

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