When my older brother was a young man his fantasy was to be a part of a great team building cutting edge race cars. His passion led him to spend countless hours on his own figuring out how an internal combustion engine works, how well-tuned suspension helps keep power to the ground, and why one transmission was better than another. He got his foot in the door at the local garage and began his career as a mechanic. Today he is a very successful, respected and knowledgeable mechanic at a different local garage. I am very proud of him and the skills he has acquired over the years. But what happened to building race cars?
At his garage my brother had all the tools he needed plus skilled co-workers. What stopped him from building his race car? Whenever my brother wanted to work on something new, innovative, and generally cool he would have to wait until after work hours or the weekend. Young and energetic he would complete his work day and dive into his own pursuits. Sometimes he was even able to get co-workers to stay with him and try something he could not do alone. This lasted for a while but as time went on he could not afford to invest the hours his creative mind was asking of him. At the end of the day he would be exhausted and ill-suited to pour creative energy into his projects.
In the agile software development environment I currently work in I am surrounded by seasoned professionals, inexperienced raw talent, and everything in-between. I am proud to be a part of a company that values professional development time as discussed in Hemant Naidu‘s post, A Vivid Imagination Isn’t Just for Kids. In doing this we acknowledge how important creativity and innovation is to the growth and success of our company.
In an effort to provide momentum to the professional development time the development leads have asked our developers to get together with no manager participation. They have been tasked with using their professional development time to work together on the major hurdles affecting development across all teams. It is our hope that leaders will rise, tribes will form, and developers will learn to work together on their own initiatives. As a developer, expect from us the creative freedom to try, and from yourself the courage to fail.
By Logan Peters
Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Sir Ken Robinson speak at the University of Saskatchewan as part of the Gail Appel Lectureship in Literature and Fine Arts series. His talk was titled Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative which focused on how our educational system and businesses are structured in ways that suppress creativity and imagination. He is convinced that we are at the start of a revolution as we are starting to recognize these limitations we have placed on ourselves.
Robinson presented an interesting study that showed how 98% of 1,500 children between the ages of three and five scored at a genius level in regards creativity. With those same children that number dropped to around 40% only five years later. By the time they were over the age of fifteen, the number was a measly 2%. The reason for this as Robinson posed, was that the children had been educated in our system. They had been conditioned to believe that there is ever only one answer, or one way to solve a problem.
If children are being taught to solve problems this way then they are obviously taking this with them to the workplace. What we end up with is people who feel they have a job and not a career. They feel that they are limited in what they can do, and are expected to work a certain way – the normal way. That natural sense of creativity has been suppressed for so long that the idea of trying to readopt it is not even on the radar.
What we have to do as educators and business leaders is create an environment that fosters creativity and imagination. The good news is that this is starting to get recognized in many organizations, and is being addressed. I’m happy to say that Point2 has been taking on this battle for the last year or so. We understand that creative minds will not only make our company a leader in the industry, but will also grow our team professionally and personally.
Like I said above, this is a battle. You don’t just say you are going to do it and it will magically happen. What we have found in our quest to create a culture of learning is that we have to come up with creative ideas to get the ball rolling. It’s kind of a catch 22 – we have to be creative in our ideas to develop a creative work environment.
We have implemented a weekly professional development program for our team and are constantly trying to make it more useful. We encourage trying to solve problems in a variety of ways and failing fast is always an option. And I love Marcos Tarruella’s idea in his most recent post, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast. And keep in mind that it is not just the leaders driving this, but the entire group as a collective. As always I am interested in hearing from others on how they get their teams’ creative juices flowing.
Sir Ken Robinson spoke about the myth that a human’s number of brain cells is finite, and as we get older we kill more and more of them off in a variety of ways. As it turns out humans can stimulate the growth of brain cells by exercising their mind through creative thought and imagination. I’m not sure how many brain cells actually exist at Point2 at the moment, but I’m pretty confident that it is rising.
“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice in Wonderland.
Creativity is a cornerstone of software development. Believe it or not, this is something one can exercise. A great way to train the creative part of your brain (right hemisphere) is to daydream or think about impossible things.
Why don’t you try it and follow the Queen’s advice ?
Make this exercise part of your daily stand up when working on an Agile team. Ask your team members to come up with an impossible thing each. You’ll see how much fun this can be. Make sure they think about it before the stand up starts.
You can also do this exercise at home with your partner or kids. If you do this on a regular basis you will see your creative side improving.
We came across this idea in Tony Buzan’s book “Head First” and practiced for a couple of months. It can actually be challenging to come up with new impossible things every day.
By Barbara Mayerhofer and Marcos Tarruella