My life has two major occupations: developing computer software and writing books. Both of them require creativity, discipline, and concentrated effort and thought. They require freedom from interruption and a quiet atmosphere.
Yeah…ain’t gonna happen.
Corporate America and the Agile revolution that has swept up nearly every IT shop in the nation are both completely enamored with the concepts of brainstorming, groupthink, and open office layouts. “Fewer walls! More ideas!” they proclaim.
The problem is, these ideas don’t work. Study after study, we’ve seen these bastions of corporate culture debunked.
- Brainstorming does not generate more ideas. Creativity is fostered when individuals think separately. Yes, collaboration does have its uses; it can be especially effective when dealing with complex problems, and is an excellent way to debate various solutions and winnow the wheat from the chaff. But this work is best done after individuals sit and think about the problem on their own.
- Open office floorplans actually detract from productivity. Solitude allows concentrated, focused, uninterrupted work, while open floorplans create a noisy, distraction-filled atmosphere. Employees in a bullpen environment are less happy, have more colds/flus, have higher stress levels, and are more apt to leave the company. More importantly (to the corporate value system), software developers who work in open office environments work slower, and produce lower-grade work.
The studies disproving these long-established myths are decades old, but still Corporate Culture marches toward an ever-more open and generic work environment.
I can’t control what my company does regarding the floorplan for my office. Who am I, after all? I’m just the worker who knows how to do the job, not the suit with the MBA. So, I make do, and find ways to block out the noise and chatter and limit the interruptions.
When I write, I also need solitude. I need my quiet time. I need isolation. I get all Greta Garbo when I’m writing.
Franz Kafka explained it well when he said,
“That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.”
With writing, I have a little more control over my environment, but even in a household of two, it’s sometimes difficult to be “alone enough.”
Thankfully, some of the techniques I use at the office also help at home.
- Silence the phones
- Turn on the music or an environmental soundtrack
- Don’t even try to work in a room where the television is on
- Work to a schedule that capitalizes on times when others are away, asleep, or busy with quiet tasks
I don’t find quiet time to write. I have to make quiet time.