Richard Feynman illustrated a point about involvement and productivity in the book “Surely you are joking My Feynman”. There was a big team of physicists working with every possible resource available to create the atomic bomb. As part of the project they were supposed to do tons of calculations and hence  hired the best mathematicians in the country and placed them along with expensive computers to churn the necessary calculations out. Since the project was top secret, the mathematicians just received the problems; in spite of their level of expertise, the performance was found to be too mediocre.

Feynman took the tough decision of disclosing the project secret to enhance their productivity and convinced his superiors to help him to do so. He got a buy in and went ahead in explaining about the nature of the project and why it is necessary for them to come up with the bomb before any other country comes up with their own. As expected by him he found the productivity to increase many folds when they knew the end goal and its importance. His idea of treating them not just as a facility for mathematics but involve them to be as part of the project has paid rich dividends. He has observed that the mathematicians became very inventive to make use of the limited availability of the computers and took extreme care to iron out inefficiencies.

This is a real life incident and I have also heard many times about “difference between laying the bricks and building the cathedral”. In the software building world, the bigger picture never gets painted to the entire team and often the talent is overrated than how the job can be taken to the finish line. Unless every one in the team has a strong sense of ownership towards the goal, the peak performance never occurs. Getting the whole picture can also give an illusion of a time consuming activity, but benefits out weigh the time spent on that activity.

What would happen if the captain of the football team need to yell to every one the field on what to do next, wont it be a terrible team to play with?

Is it not cool to look like James Bond and attack every problem coming to us at runtime ? My answer is, it does not take us too far if we are not using the manuals for the tools we use unless it is extremely simple like a hammer and has only two steps to use it.

I some times wonder that if search engines had made people lazy to learn something from the grass roots up. This is not just an one off observation, I have known developers who thrive on search engines for everything from silly to complex ones. Of course, the search engines made a huge repository easily accessible to us; but not everything can be solved using them. If any one argues that they can get lots done just by intuition, analysis and net search then; why not we have technological marvels built by almost everyone.

We should not shy away from understanding the details or referring the manuals (It is not cool to act like James Bond). Only with a strong understanding of foundations we could go very far or tackle difficult situations with ease.

While travelling to office, I always take the inroads instead of the arterial ones to avoid the rush. Most of times, the travel is smooth but if there is one small break in the flow, then the narrow roads gets crowded and jammed in a matter of seconds. I observed the attitude among the bikers who want to keep moving at any cost, has contributed to the sudden jams. If all those on the road obeyed the rules and stayed on the left side of the road, then the chaos could be avoided or the traffic would not have jammed.

This behavior gets carried over to the workplace as well. When we are too concerned about our own learning and improvisation, without our knowledge we tend to create a situation like the traffic jam where the onus is on us individuals to pull ourselves up. Everything depends on the individual to claw her way up anywhere (school, workplace, even queues); doing something against the rules and getting an edge is considered to be great talent.

This creates an environment where team work is most likely to be division of labour and the learning is always an individual’s responsibility. Awards, recognitions follow for individual brilliance; but what is not realized is that sum of all individual efforts is always lesser than the collective output. One of my peers highlighted this very well by relating this to a story Birds that flock, seem to learn faster

We should realize that our own learning is dependent how much the peers also learn; individual learning and moving up the ladder is just an illusion or is beneficial only for the individual and that too it comes with a great cost.