Saturday, April 03, 2010

Flow - The Psychology of Optimal Experience




This is a very interesting book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Have you ever wondered the difference between pleasure and enjoyment?

Pleasure : 


When you are involved in a pleasurable activity - it takes your mind out of the worries you are having ( watching TV to escape from stress ) and satisfies the needs of the moment ( drinking coke to quench thirst ).

Enjoyment : 

An "enjoyable" activity, not only gives you pleasure - but gives you the feeling of fulfilment, the feeling of joy and living life.

You need to put some effort to "enjoy". Playing a guitar, compiling linux, playing badminton - all these are very enjoyable activities. It takes effort, requires skill, practise and is extremely rewarding in the end.

There needs to be clear goals and feedback in such activities. 0 errors, 0 warnings is the reward in the end - till then you should keep tweaking,do more research, try different approaches.

You lose your self-consciousness and sense of time. Your entire concentration is on the job at hand - and will give you immense enjoyment.

Autotelic Experience

When you have really enjoyed an activity - you had just had an autotelic experience. 

When you solve a sudoko puzzle - you really do not gain anything in the end. The boxes get filled - so what? It is the time you spent solving the puzzle that gives the maximum enjoyment. This is an example of Autotelic experience. The reward is the activity itself.

There are some who can derive this experience on all the activities they do in a day - watering plants, washing the car, answering customer support emails. These autotelic personalities can go from one task to the other - and their mind is always in the "zone" - they are happy throughout the day - they are immersed in the "now" and they enjoy their life.

There are lot of by-products - the task gets completed perfectly. There is a sense of peacefulness around this person - which affects everyone else in a positive way. It is a joy to work along side such people.

So how can one cultivate an Autotelic personality? :

The suggestion given by Mihaly is quite simple - for any activity :

Set a goal
Become immersed in that activity
Pay attention to what is happening
Learn to enjoy the immediate experience.

In Conclusion :

I started observing that I go into the "zone" when I code or when I write a blog post. I have talked about it here - http://venkat2.blogspot.com/2009/08/getting-into-zone.html.

This book just opened my inner brain - there are so many activities that we do in a day - exercise, playing with a kid, washing the car, cooking - what if we aim to go into the "zone" in all these activities? Thats when we will get "flow" in our life.

Then life would be more enjoyable - and more meaningful.

Peace.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to handle Developers!

Here are a few tips if you get pushed to managing a team of code monkeys..err..developers.

1. Deadline is 8 hours away and they are whiling away time by reading Joel Sposky or watching a South Indian actor dancing in a superman costume.

Ignore this - they are just warming up.

2. After the above intellectual stimulation they go for coffee.

Again, be patient. They are refueling.

3. Call them for a meeting to explain how grave the situation is. Only 6 hours is left.

Stop stop. Don't call them for a meeting now, it will just drain the warm up and caffeine effect they are having now. They are about to enter their "zone" where things will start "flowing".

4. How to know what the status is?

Hmm..it is a difficult thing. If you send an IM or an email it will interrupt their flow which will make them very angry, or they might mistake you for micro managing things. Wait for one of the developers to go for a bathroom break and follow them there. Of course you should be of the same gender.

There you ask - hi hows it going you are aware of the deadline today right? If the specimen nonchalantly asks - "what deadline" - don't panic. He is just messing with you. In fact the developers are very conscious of not being fired / or not getting the next hike - they usually would have a mammoth credit card bill - because of a 3G iPhone, or a flight ticket to Ladakh..

So don't worry..patiently explain to him that the clients want this by EOD - so it will be great if we can deliver it. He will just say a hmm and will take his own sweet time to comb his hair, or gargle, or one of the thousand things he can do to frustrate you - so do not wait for him but move back to your seat. Things are going smooth - if there was any problem or the deadline cannot be met he would have told you - trust me on this.

5. You see a few developers packing their bags

Time to go ask your QA team if everything is fine. If you had not troubled the developers throughout the day there is a good chance the stuff is done well and your team has met the deadline. Now you can prepare for the telecon with the clients and draft the congratulatory email to the team.

Of course it is not this cut and dry. Use your judgement - you will get better at it as you go. Understanding the developers mindset is having half the battle won.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Earth hour is a sick joke on us

So you participated in the Earth Hour? Good for you - this will encourage Bescom ( or TNEB or whatever entity ) to give more power cuts - Oh so our customers don't want power - lets cut some more. 

There are so many power cuts in a day for varying durations. Our office UPS beeps almost the entire day - and I have started getting "flow" when I hear the beeps. At times when the beep stops ( because power is back ) I start browsing and cannot concentrate on my work.

We have placed an order for one more home and lighting UPS - Jan Feb we were able to manage without a fan, but now it is unbearably hot. The term "sweat equity" takes a different meaning for us! 

Anyway, I applaud the western world to interrupt the power for an hour in a year. Great. I wish they do it every week. And also they switch off the AC and lighting on weekends when they leave office. 

And we Indians - let us see how to increase power production. I initially thought I will go with the flow and participate in Earth Hour - but later realised we are kicking ourselves in the butt - why will I sit in darkness - let me enjoy the little power Bescom had blessed us with. 

With the nuclear technology US is going to give us ( thanks to Manmohanjee risking his turban et all ) , I am waiting for some enterprising hackers from national market to  come up with a desk top mini nuclear fission reactor to ease our power woes. I will buy one - even if it is going to mutate me into an ogre!