Patents were introduced to encourage inventors to come out in public and get the due credit for the invention. It also granted exclusive rights to the inventor for a certain period to enjoy the fruits of the invention. Though patents are a great way to protect inventor’s effort the laws and enforcements are generally tricky. Some countries have chosen to ignore the Pharma company patents to protect the health of the public as patents were monopolizing life saving drugs.
Paul Graham mentions in his book Hackers and Painters about the copyrights & patents in software and how the laws enforcing them are beginning to threaten intellectual freedom in the field of computers. Laws can be so tight that it can prevent an individual from dismantling something and looking at how it was built. Many people I have met are of the opinion that patents do not have a place in software.
Assume that we work hard and create something, secure it with a patent and prevent a large corporation from copying it. They can still ignore the patent go ahead with money power to face the lawsuit. So patents for inventors might not guarantee immunity. Then how can we be sure that someone cannot copy our work?
Paul Graham’s answer is to run up the stairs. His analogy was interesting, assume in the computing world the giants are usually large, burly people and startups or individuals are slim and agile; if they are trying to chase us out of existence then it is fairly easy when running downstairs or on the corridors but it is extremely difficult for them to chase when we run upstairs.
The examples are in the profession of sports, arts and music. What a top musician does is so easy to imitate, but she/he can keep coming in with more performances that others find it hard to emulate the success. Innovation is the key skill, the skill cannot be copied. What we need is to find what is tough for others to do and do exactly that. To run up the stairs we need to be strong and healthy, similarly to be ahead at work we need to be strong at what we do.
If we run upstairs chances are high that the competition is always left behind. Here is Paul Graham’s essay which covers the topic of running up the stairs.
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In the movie Soldier, the soldiers are humans selected at birth and conditioned to obey orders and win battles. The antagonist comes up with genetically engineered super soldiers who are better in every single metric like long runs, fast climbs, weight lifting and many more. As a final test the protagonist is put up for a fight against a genetically engineered soldier, loses the combat. He is thrown away into another planet along with the trash and two others who died in the combat against the mutant soldiers. He ends up in a new planet and gets taken care by the people there. The antagonist tests the mutants’ battle skills at the new planet, which brings them to fight against the hero who kills them all in a real battle field scenario and takes over the ship.
Metrics of software development and developers if not used at the right level, will start giving us an illusion on control. They are more like a guideline which can hint at the presence of a problem rather than an assertion of well being. In agile projects velocity is one metric which is very visible to the client, what was once to help in planning becomes an important metric in presentations; so are cycle times, bugs per story, lines of code etc. The illusion created by strictly following all metrics taking actions based only on that will lead to two problems.
- It will encourage work to be based on the metrics, like legally right but wrong in principle.
- It will shift focus away from mainstream work resulting in loss/delay of work.
As far as I have observed, when metrics are limited as tools for diagnoses and planning they have helped a lot improve the progress by allowing the individuals to reflect and retrospect; take small corrective steps. When a single person takes a strong corrective actions on the course of the project based on the metrics then success was a stretch goal.
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It was the eve of a festival and I was returning back home from another city. The gateway to my home town was choking with unusually high traffic with everyone trying to rush to meet their near and dear ones. A stretch of few kilometers took more than an hour. It is at this time I witnessed a miracle. There was a sound of an ambulance siren approaching, on hearing almost every one on the road made their best effort to make way for the ambulance. In such a dense choking traffic there was a pathway made under a minute good enough for the ambulance to pass through. The patient who must have survived her illness might not even realized how tons of strangers on the road help save her life.
We humans are altruistic by nature and some how from inside it makes us feel good when we help others. Reader’s digest also mentioned in one article that may be only humans who were helpful to each other survived droughts, war and other adversities so that trait is deeply ingrained within us. There are also some beliefs about collective intelligence being superior than the sum of all individual intelligence. This is very evident from team games like football where the understanding between the team members a mix of skills gets the team to win. I have observed the striker scores more goals than anyone else in the team and most of the times ends up being the most valuable player. In my opinion the striker who scores a goal is largely enabled by the other 10 in the team.
Workplaces are no different, at many workplaces team work always matters; and many of those workplaces have awards like employee of the month/quarter/year or super star awards. The awards definitely help a lot to life the spirits of those who win it but it also puts a dent in the rest of the team’s spirit as the winner is enabled by the team and hardly there is a credit to the team. It is better to do away with these kind of awards and much energy can be concentrated on removing negative influence in the team like someone who exploits the system and team setup. It takes only one selfish person to bring down the morale of a high performing team, we must make sure our workplace does not offer any dividends to someone who tries to exploit; instead make the workplace such a way that the more cohesive the team becomes the more rewarding and enjoyable it is to work.
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