Thursday, May 19, 2005


In Dinosaur Brains, Albert J. Bernstein described the M*A*S*H unit:

"You know the show: a bunch of intelligent, antiwar doctors are competent and loving. In a crazy situation, they keep themselves sane by going crazy. You see M*A*S*H units developing, especially with young, bright, creative people.

Notice the crazy hats, the rude parody of the corporate logo, the graffiti on all the posters, and the strange outfits in the software development department of your company or your own particular M*A*S*H unit. What you're seeing are the behaviours that intelligent, creative people come up with when they feel disenfranchised or under almost intolerable stress."

I think there's at least two things going on here. First there's the intelligent and creative worker's tendency to decorate their workspace in a creative way. Secondly there's the disenfranchised workers tendency to attack the organisation.

The first should be encouraged as a creative mind's way of expressing their individuality; The second should be used as a warning signal to management that there's a morale problem. The two shouldn't be confused.

Of course, there's a behavioural difference between having a giggle with the people you're working with and goofing off. There's a creative difference between having a photo of your child and a cuddly toy on your desk and having a piece of photography and some lego models.

We have a giggle, and we've got a lot of lego. We find the lego not only allows for people to express themselves in their space, but is also a great tool for focusing the mind. When someone is mulling over a particularly tricky problem or musing on the future implications of a problem they will often find that they'll pick up a some lego and just fiddle.

Thankfully we've got a management team that accept the fact that we're not just mucking about. Not all companies are quite so forgiving...


MikeH said...

Well, there's that and that some of us are just loons!

Anonymous said...

I now feel better about having a picture of a cow on my desk.

Anonymous said...

Cows aside, this post raises a good point. For me, one of the benefits of XP is that it encourages the development team to work with the customer. They will provide consultancy to the them, but ultimately, the software written will be what the customer wants. This is a stark contrast to the "developer knows best" attitude which tends to go hand in hand with the M*A*S*H scenario.