Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Best ideas win when you care about the work over the credit

With all the twitter-buzz on debate, there was a gem among all the noise as in tweets that make me think.
My experience is, as a vocal person myself, that it's often that the best ideas don't win, they get hidden under the need to win a debate. This has come more and more clear to me being exposed to Mob Programming.

Meeting dynamics

Think of a typical meeting. You have a bunch of people, discussing a new feature, it's scope and implementation, things to consider and risks. It's probably a cross-functional team where people take a bit different viewpoints.

Let's look at the meeting from the point of view of game theory: how do you win in a meeting? If you go to a meeting and come away being successful, you must have said something. There might, for us testers, be just the right question to ask on risks that changes the whole design that made the whole painful 2 hours worthwhile and exhilarating. Especially since there was a time that many of us remember when we weren't invited and lack of our contribution made us fail big time. In meetings, it's the ideas we can think of that argue. We often have a debate of some sort, with the idea that the best idea should win. In a meeting, there's an incentive to have your ideas be adopted.

Even better. If your idea gets adopted, for most people in the meeting this means that you get to step away from the responsibility of doing the work. If it takes you an hour of a meeting to get your idea across, it can easily take a day or week for the idea to be turned into an implementation. So there's even more incentive to get your idea across there. The idea is credited, it was my idea even if it was your work.

Mobbing dynamics

In a mob, we work on one thing, on one computer all together. It's like a meeting, but the dynamics are nothing like a meeting.

In a mob, the incentive moves from coming up with the idea to getting the work done. A typical dynamic of achieving this is that we don't debate ideas, but we adopt them. If there's two ways of doing the same thing, let's do them both. And perhaps start from the underdog, the more quirky idea.  And you start to trust. Trust enables you to unlearn the concept that idea matters over implementation. Getting credit becomes a team thing. You will also see combinations of two ideas from two people. And emergence of a third, because both ideas you could come up with don't quite cut it.

In these cases, the incentive is very different: get the work done. So, people are more willing to work together, more willing to try things out, and when it is done, they are more willing to let it go rather than continue fighting.  It's important to care about the work and result, over caring about the credit.

Best ideas don't come out in debates. Best ideas come out in collaboration, when people feel safe. Loud and quiet alike.

On credit: while this stuff right now is something I can easily say, I know where I learnt it from. Thank you Llewellyn Falco for opening my eyes on better ways of contributing.