A Brief Hiatus | Day 10

Rather than attending Bitmaker Labs at a normal time today, I had to endure the drudgery of a driving test in Oshawa. Thankfully, I passed it with just eleven days until the expiration of my G2 – with this hurdle out of the way I can now focus entirely on my coding. When I arrived downtown slightly after noon, I had missed the lecture of the day and attempted to catch up with the day’s assignment. We were to work with JSON and APIs, extracting information and then presenting it in HTML. Admittedly, this is an assignment that I will have to complete on the weekend; I was completely out of it today after the driving test. On that note, I believe it is worth reflecting on the importance of focus. Paul Graham has already written an excellent post on the topic and I’ll try to give my own take on it.

In any domain that requires creative problem solving, programming being a prime example, having large blocks of uninterrupted time is essential to one’s productivity. These kinds of tasks require the complete immersion of one’s mind, where the slightest distraction can completely derail the train of your thoughts. There is a fundamental lack of linearity in the problem solving process, where your solutions come from the most unexpected places. Personally, if I’m ever stuck on a problem I take a nap and wake up with an idea of how to solve the problem – this kind of behaviour can only emerge when the individual has the assurance that nobody will bother him for an extended duration. However, there is another important element to it regarding the quantity of problems that one is engaging with.

Singular focus on a single problem is really the only way to go about problem solving, effectively. When the mind must balance the weight of multiple problems, it is truly hard to tackle any of them. In short, he who is pulled in multiple directions finds himself going nowhere. For me today, although I described the driving test as drudgery, it was truly nerve-wracking as it was my second last shot to get my G before having to redo the multi-year process all over again. It is easy to say “just live in present” but so hard to put that catchphrase into action when one has a future-oriented mind that is ever aware of the potential negative outcomes. Nevertheless, that brings me to another key point: the problem solver needs to be focused on the immediate present.

The temporal aspect is often overlooked, as it is nested within the notion of having a singular focus, but it is still an element to consider in its own right. One could reasonably provide a programmer with a single problem and an uninterrupted period of six hours and still have him be ineffective if there are thoughts pulling him ever into the past and the future. Don’t we all experience that? A continual haunting of the past and dreading of the future that prevent us from embracing the present wholeheartedly? Debts to pay, mouths to feed, family to take care of – a whole gamut of non-work related problems that affect work performance. I suppose it can only be countered by higher pay and promoting work as a form of escapism, so to speak. The employee can find solace and meaning in his work as he avoids the troubles that await him on the commute home. Of course, this doesn’t help with his personal development – growth lies in the areas of greatest conflict – but at least it will allow him to enjoy his indentured servitude. I suppose one could say that the employer must succeed in creating an environment where employees want to escape to. It’s all a matter of perspective but I do believe the notion of escapism hits the nail on a head. The CEO is a systems designer who must construct a macro environment that retains his top talent. You need to provide top dollars (or at least enough so that money no longer becomes a problem), engaging problems, a ritualistic routine that separates home from work, cult-like adherence to a unifying company ideology, etc. However, the most important aspect is to appeal to their dormant ‘religious’ sentiments

Not every man may consider himself religious but he nevertheless endows certain aspects of his life with what can only be expressed as religious fanaticism. Whether it is some New Age spirituality, a sports team, veganism, a certain band, or even our conference-fueled cult of entrepreneurship, man has the capacity to worship something with mystical devotion. Mysticism, itself, is something that one escapes to – placing one’s faith in the inexpressible, the numinous. Your company must become the church that your employees worship and you must become their high priest.  Your words become the catechism and doctrine and they become the righteous believers of a new prophet. Your pitches are prophecies, your actions are miracles. In sum, you create an environment that is the complete antithesis to their mundane lives. As such there will be no need to command them as they will genuinely and willingly want to come to work. Why? Because in your church-mongering, in your appeal to their religious fervour, you have allowed them to glimpse the greatness that dwells within them, which they project onto you and your company. In time, they will recognize that it was always within them but, until then, they will happily build your company with you.

Well, that was a major tangent. Late nights bring out my inner Machiavelli. From driving tests, to problem solving, to the politics of company cult creation – non-sequiturs abound.  I suppose what I was intending to convey was that you need to be fully immersed in the present, without any distractions, to be an effective problem solver. In order to create an environment that facilitates an ideal state of mind for problem solving, the CEO must think on a macro-systems level in order to create an Elysium that his employees – his problem solvers – want to escape to. Oh, and one more thing: driving tests are pure drudgery. That is all.

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