LISA’11: Tech Sessions – Copacetic

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David Blank-Edelman keeps meeting sysadmins that are sad in their jobs. Maybe you’re unhappy at work, know someone, even making someone unhappy? How the people he meets are always saying, “if only we could do that in our environment”, “if only my boss would give me time to do this”, “that person I work with is such a pain”.

There a 2 types of mind set, one based on the belief of growth, that we can improve ourselves, become more intelligent and the other type based on a fixed image of oneself where you’re born with what you have and that’s it, your intelligence is something very basic about you and you can’t really change that. With the idea of a fixed set of traits – every situation is evaluated and one seeks confirmation of traits, which in turn requires a diet of easy successes. This changes the meaning of failure and effort.

We know that organisations need to make mistakes but they avoid anything resembling error. All learning begins when comfortable ideas turn out to be inadequate. People learn better when told to not worry about mistakes. Sometimes making deliberate mistakes will help us learn a lot about something. For example, David explained a famous psychologist (didn’t catch who) recommended that we should not correct children when they make mistakes as they need to discover for themselves in order to learn.

So how do you overcome the fixed way of thinking? You must learn to hear your fixed mindset, recognise you have a choice, talk back to your voice and create and argument against the flawed logic and choose growth.

In the book Drive by Daniel Pink, the author speaks of Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivations a theory explaining how we have a drive to do things that are interesting. It seems that generally we believe that are only motivated by the “carrot or stick”, however, really “human nature is to be active and engaged”. So if you reward people with interesting opportunities, you’ll ultimately make them happy. In Hedonic Adaptation, people become attached and dependent on demanding work in order to maintain happiness. David gave us some tips to make your coworkers happy by making use of some of these ideas. Such as the need to nuke intrinsic motivations – give rewards, narrow focus to an area of interest, provide something that gives a sense of mastery. We don’t feel we are a master at something unless we associate some level of pain to achieve it. Asymptote; you can always strive for perfection but you’ll never get there. But that’s OK! Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said this needs to be challenging but not overwhelming, we need to have “purpose” (have a calling). We ourselves can seek autonomy, mastery, teach. Bruce Vincent, who writes and talks with a focus on the motivational middle describes how people at work are one of committed, compliant or complacent.

David asks, if we can understand things at work by comparing some ideas from the gaming world? The card game Fluxx, works on the basis of goal cards, which when found changes game – systems administration is much the same sort of game, we plod along and all of a sudden a goal card is given, like oh you’ve just spent the last year working towards a goal and it’s lifted right from underneath you and your users, developers management say we need to run this now and you need to learn how to support it! In the book Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal explains how the world can be perceived through how games work, that in fact we are learning and improving ourselves by playing games. A great game called Epic Win, an iPhone app, allows us to give ourselves rewards for our own mastery at time management skills. You could use it to give yourself a boost in character stats when you meet that personal goal or interest.

As a last note David says it’s the little things that make the difference . Someone (I didn’t write down who) has a sound of children clapping and cheering when he commits code. Just that little touch raises his morale and happiness. Stumbling on Happiness, written by explains some ideas of how we find just those things to lighten the tone of the day.

So David challenges us to make a difference to a coworkers day and to try some of these approaches ourselves and be happier in our day.