Some years back, I was sitting with friends in the audience. Parents all, we were listening to our children’s school’s holiday concert. The friend who confided in me was a music lover, and what the children were doing to Handel probably violated one or more of the Geneva Conventions.
Once he pointed it out, it was inescapable. While at any given time most of the singers were within a half note of their target, and most of the instruments were within an octave or so, the impact on the average cochlea could hardly be described as pleasant.
And yet, until he pointed it out, I had found the concert enchanting. Why? Because it was our kids who were singing and playing their hearts out. While my friend was experiencing the sounds, most of us were experiencing our children.
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Before the Marx Brothers filmed a movie, they took the show on the road, performing for live audiences. During each performance, a member of the crew, armed with a stopwatch, timed the laughter that followed each punchline.
Armed with that data, they knew how much time to allow for their movie audiences to quiet down. Watch one of their movies on video, though, and the timing seems off. It’s because the smaller the audience, the more quickly the laughter finishes. Mood is contagious — our own enjoyment comes as much from the enjoyment of the people around us as from the performance itself.
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Back in the days of dedicated word processors (yes, I’m that old) I once attended a session on what, back then, we called “office automation” put on by IBM. The content was good. The presenter was exceptional. Talking with him afterward I asked how he managed to make it seem fresh when clearly, he had presented the same material dozens of times.
“I don’t think of it as presenting the same material,” he explained. “I think of it as talking to a whole new group of people.”
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The formula for how work gets done is people/process/technology. Those of us who toil in the fields of information technology spend most of our time thinking about the third piece of this puzzle … the tools people use to get their work done, or, when the subject is customer-facing technology, the tools our companies provide that empower customers to do business with us as conveniently as possible.
We make tools, which are then used by people. While there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from the coolness of whatever it is we build, there’s more satisfaction to be had from understanding how it benefits other human beings.
Which is why, once they get over the initial shock, so many developers find themselves enjoying the Agile experience more than traditional waterfall development: They get a much closer view, every day, of how what they’re building will be put to productive use.
How they get to do this is by interacting, informally, every day, with their colleagues who work elsewhere in the business.
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Many businesses seem to work hard to ignore the humanity of the men and women who do their work, turning them into “resources,” or, even worse, “human capital.” How the business does its work is described in terms of processes, in which the human beings are relegated to “roles.”
To have any hope of gaining traction among business decision-makers, anyone promoting a less dehumanized view of things must make their (our) case in terms of profitability, as in, “businesses with a fully engaged workforce are more profitable than their competitors.”
The good news is that if you treat employees with respect, as individual human beings, and encourage them to feel like they’re part of a community that serves an important purpose, your business won’t suffer as a result.
You can look at a business from many different perspectives. It’s an asset to be managed so as to maximize its value. It’s an entity that serves a social purpose, producing something that customers find valuable. It’s a mechanism for employing people, providing the dignity of earning a living today, and the opportunity to earn a better one in the future.
And it is also a community … a collection of men and women who connect with each other, enriching themselves and each other in the process.
It’s moral luck that if you encourage this, the company benefits. Luckily, there’s nothing wrong with being lucky.
So take the time to enjoy the people you work with. It requires no luck, moral or otherwise.
All it takes is perspective.
Happy Holidays, Bob! And thanks for your wonderful columns!
Happy holidays back at you … and you’re welcome!
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