Saturday, January 15, 2005

Relax and don't-do it

Thanks to a post by Tayssir John Gabbour in a discussion on Larry Lessig's blog I came across Joel Sapolsky's 2002 post on "Fire And Motion". The title refers to the infantry tactic of constantly moving forward as a way to suppress enemy fire, which is a simile for the successful software business (and life) strategy of just keeping going, day by day. His comments on Microsoft's use of this approach, which sounds a lot like kaizen, gets most attention, but I was more taken by what triggered Joel's meditation: creative block, and creative productivity.

Sapolsky starts out from the observation that there are times when he just can't get anything done, which leads to the observation that most people only do two or three hours of productive creative work a day - which is more than enough, it turns out. The rest is filler. Perhaps it's filler; but perhaps the rest of the grind is the kaizen that yields the creativity.

Perhaps; but perhaps the grind dulls the creative edge. Joel tells the story of an intern that only worked noon-5 every day (including lunch), but was loved by the team because he still got more done than the average developer.

This sounds a lot like the taoist approach of doing by not-doing (see e.g. It is easiest to perform an action when one is relaxed, when it's like not doing it. A hard task for the obsessively conscientious among us - particularly those who apply themselves diligently to the paradoxical work of non-work. A new year's resolution: every day I will strive to not strive, and work harder at not-doing more.

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