Geeks are more creative when left alone — No duh

I’ve been saying this for years, and now a nice lady named Susan Cain has come along on written a whole book about it: “leave me alone so I can get my work done!”  From an op-ed by Ms. Cain in the New York Times:

the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

I like the part about how “they’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas”. A sexy geek knows how to socialize and is aware of the benefits of human contact — stimulation of creativity, being able to bounce ideas off of people, and of course, being able to meet people of a certain gender. But we’re comfortable with solitude, indeed, it’s crucial for us to do our best work.

Especially relevant for us programmers is this paragraph:

Privacy also makes us productive. In a fascinating study known as the Coding War Games, consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister compared the work of more than 600 computer programmers at 92 companies. They found that people from the same companies performed at roughly the same level — but that there was an enormous performance gap between organizations. What distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed.

Unfortunately, most managers refuse to grasp this incredibly obvious fact and continue to herd their best employees together like cattle. Sometimes they even have the nerve to call it a bull-pen. When they get a bunch of programmers into one massive cubicle, I call it a nerd-pen. I also call it an insult to my professionalism, a hindrance to my productivity, and a living hell (yeah, I know, #firstworldpains, but still).

If you can’t get your manager to see the light (or if you can, but they have no ability to change anything because the CEO wants everyone working in an “open-plan” office), here are some things you can do to get some productive alone time:

  • Come into work early or stay late. I’ve tried to come to work early, and it never works. I’m just not fully awake at that time of day to be productive. But the trouble with staying late is that a bunch of other people stay late, too. And they don’t seem to realize that the reason you’re at the office late is to work, not to hang out and chat.
  • Book a conference room for a few hours. Don’t invite any of your colleagues, or even tell them where you are. Lock the door in case they come looking for you.
  • Work from home, or an internet-connected cafe.

Any other ideas?

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