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A zen monk was watering a plant, a follower was puzzled as the monk was watering the plant which was full of thorns, people have been injured regularly from the pricks. The disciple went to the monk and quizzed about why a plant which harms others is being nurtured. The monk replied, I am watering the plants for the beautiful roses that will bloom, it is the roses I care for and nurture it.

As many of us are not monks, I think most of the rules and regulations are centered around preventing something from happening than making things easy. It is evident in the corporate world, in simple things like office libraries. It defeats the purpose of having a library if a user cannot browse through books. I had a habit of going to the library after lunch and browse through a few books, if interested read for 15-20 minutes and then get back to work.

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I was able to read a lot of books during my breaks, it is when I changed jobs and went to a new office that I realised people can lock libraries. We had to stir up a movement to get the administration to open up the library for casual reading instead of lending only policy which was put in place to prevent book theft.

Most of the systems are designed to be like this, in order to reduce the undesirable activity by a small margin, we tend to impact good behaviour on a larger scale. It is also the result of measuring the wrong things, like an admin being measured on reducing bad debts. There are some initiatives of coming up with designs that promote good behaviour like smart speed bumps but it does not gain traction as people in charge don’t have any incentive to design it that way. So everyone of us will have to go over that nasty speed bump in the neighbourhood for years to come because some random idiot will speed through.

Would we still have aeroplanes if Wright brothers were not able to invent it? The answer is yes, someone else would have made the breakthrough may be months or a few years later. It is applicable for most of the inventions. The end result for the general public will more or less be the same; even if there was no Marconi, JL Baird we will still be having radio and TV. Things will happen and breakthroughs will be made, some winner may take it all, but inventions would keep happening irrespective of those individuals doing it or not.

Who creates and invents things? Is it the individual? No, it is the environment. If we look through the history, inventions mostly come from places where lower hierarchy of needs are taken care and people are able to concentrate on more complex things to solve problems. To learn well & build upon previous inventions requires a certain level of development and surplus of food, skills and mind space (to mind one’s own business).

Many organisations that I have visited or interacted with the people who work there are doing something the opposite. They are grooming individualistic culture of heroism and rockstars. Some of them have gotten into rewards and recognitions on a big scale to the point of very small achievements are rewarded well. A few lucky individuals who get noticed end up getting a lot of support and becomes a showcase for self fulfilling prophecy and others have to be motivated a lot to do their day to day things that they sign up for.

Workplace has to be an engine of producing high quality people who go on to bring results instead of focusing on identifying high quality people and giving them the upper hand. Workplace should encourage people who are inclined to continuously learn and work well with each other, build on top of existing advancements. It is too easy to focus on top performers but that tilts the balance further out of aspirants.

I have heard from my fellow programmers about cooking, the more they are able to handle abstract problems at work, the better they are at cooking. Cooking here in the context is not just about making a tasty dish, but cooking a meal that is tasty, healthy in the long run and maintaining the kitchen well to keep it ready for subsequent meals.

A majority of the us just concentrate on a single (or two or three) nice meal in the taste and quantity aspect as great cooking, but do not see it as a sustainable thing that we will do it on and on. Why I drew parallels with programming is what I learnt at work while coding that was applicable in the kitchen, following are a few.

  • Always leave the code better than how you found it, (Campsite rule).
    • Leave the kitchen in a condition that you can cook your next meal immediately. Don’t leave it in a mess for someone else to cleanup.
  • Abstractions help you to concentrate on things as a whole, instead of the simple sum of the parts. You know how things work at ground level as well as how it looks when seen from high above.
    • This concept is key to mix and match, new recipes can be born and improvisations based on the abstract taste. Substituting Almonds for coconut, ripe tomato for tamarind. Understanding how things blend with each other makes a good cook.
  • Lessening feedback time, fail fast.
    • Taste well if possible involve another person when trying new dishes. This will help to avoid throwing away a dish cooked for two hours.
  • Use of automations for mundane repeatable things.
    • Use electronic devices with timers for mundane activities like boiling milk, water, rice cooking, grilling, baking, roasting, washing so that mind is free to concentrate on things that need attention. Cleaning spilt hot milk due to forgetfulness sometimes takes as much time as cooking a meal.
  • Acknowledge when you don’t know and reach out for expert opinion even if the manual says it to do obvious things.
    • Whatever we read about cooking and then scientifically do it, there are still many artistic aspects that needs to be done to be a good cook. Listen to people who cook well and do it as they say.
  • There is a routine that helps, keep it sustainable so that you will come back next day with enough energy to go through that day again and again.
    • You can plan a great feast, but then you should give a break to recover to your normal rhythm of running the kitchen. Over time you will learn to cook a lot in a less amount of time.
  • Shortcuts give you that edge, but that is an easy way out that will lead you back into mess again.
    • It is very tempting to use taste enhancers, chemical preservatives etc to get most out of our cooking but it will be damaging in the longer run to our health

The reverse also is true, those who manage to cook well, will be good programmers.