“A quiet life stimulates the creative mind”

There are two full floors of TechHub goodness at the Google Campus in London.

One is studious and conducive to knowledge work. The other is like a nineties rave with music blaring from speakers, and people goofing off…

…or perhaps its that one is sterile, boring, like a stuffy old library and the other is buzzing with excitement and energy.

One of the many great things about about TechHub is that they have catered for people with two quite different types of temperament.

The education system and workplaces increasingly reward those with extroverted temperaments and see introversion as pathological.

Reformers of workspaces continue to tear down physical barriers and create open plan working environments (or worse, hot desks) when all the evidence is that knowledge workers do better with their own space which they can personalise and have the quiet needed to do their job without interruption and distraction.

At Surevine, we have made it the norm for people to work from a dedicated room in their home, which they personalize and try and make the best workspace they have ever worked in, and where they can shut the door and focus.

Traditional interviews require people to behave in ways which mitigate against introverts: they have to talk to strangers about themselves, maybe being asked to present ideas on the spot, or answer

Surevine have been working to eliminate CVs and traditional interviews from their candidate assessments, by giving people the opportunity to spend the day doing what they do best (for example, writing great open source code.)

What was particularly thought provoking was the discussion on collaboration. Most of us know from experience that brainstorming is in fact not a great way of generating new ideas (and the book cites research which overwhelmingly backs that up.) In fact it is invariably better to get people to go away and think through ideas on their own. And yet we often find ourselves rehearsing the same ritual.

These same problem can (and often does) surface itself in agile software development, with the interaction and collaboration mentioned in the agile manifesto surfacing itself as non-stop discussion. It can mean even the smallest project teams find themselves obliged to spend hours cooped up together whilst they “play planning poker,” debating the “definition of done”, conducting yet another retrospective generating lots of things to “start, stop or keep” doing, meeting for the “daily standup” – all of which can quickly become a well rehearsed ritual, all of which predicated on the idea that the whole team getting together to talk things through together will necessarily produce a better result.

This gives those team members with an extrovert temperance the sense that something is really happening around here (because they derive energy from interactions with other people) but those with an introvert tendency just find themselves distracted, their energy dissipated (because the expend energy in personal interactions) and the sense that they have wasted their valuable time providing an audience for the extroverts.

Yet most software development teams have a greater number of introverts than the population at large. Even at Surevine, where we have striven to create a fantastic distraction-free working environment, we find ourselves tempted (by fashion?) to join in some of these software development rituals, and we need to be ever-vigilant so that our productivity, our morale and our ability to innovate don’t suffer because we aren’t affording our Introverts space they need in order to thrive.

I am optimistic, because Surevine is rooted in open source development, and time and distance mean we can’t adopt those extroverted software development tendencies (daily standups, co-located teams etc.) on those open source projects. This inner-sourcing, the adoption of open source ways of working on our own software development, will be what keeps us sane, and allow us to keep innovating, quietly.