Saturday, January 14, 2006

Encouraging Change

There is this PBEM game that I pave played for years (even before the "E" in "PBEM"). In this game you control an empire in the middle ages, and your goal is to have your nation survive and prosper. A big part of surviving is keeping up with the Joneses. One attribute of your nation that can be changed is your society type, or if you will culture. Changing your culture isn't without cost, and can often lead to a civil war. On the other hand, if your change is successful, then you reap the benefits of your upgraded society.

So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, in my profession culture can be an important aspect in the work place. For example, lets take a quick look at Google. According to a book about Google, it is said that programmers are to spend 1/5th of their work week on whatever they want (I may be paraphrasing a bit). This "idle" time is used for experimentation, and often leads to new products and services from Google. Now, what would happen if the employees where you work were told that they could do whatever they wanted one day a week? Would they even show up for work? :)

It is the culture at Google that empowers them. The programmers want to experiment. They want to build cool things. All Google has done is let them. This is also the case at Sun and other companies, where the culture took up blogging in a really big way, so much so that even the CEO of Sun has his own blog.

So how do you change the cuture from have to do to want to do?

The Pragmatic Programmer says that you should be a catalyst for change, but they don't tell you how, other than that you need to make some stone soup. How do you change people that might not want to change? How do you make people want to change? If you read the stone soup story, it is about using a little social hacking to instigate change. Do I really need to trick someone to want to do better in their profession?

I have been thinking about this topic on and off for a few years now, and don't have a real answer. I seems that it is fairly easy to instigate a change, but if is difficult to keep it sustained.

If you have read this far and you are expecting the answer to my dilemma, I am sorry to say that I don't have one. ...At least not yet. I am going to continue my fight for change, and if I come up with any revelations I will post them here. In the mean time, if you know of a book, an article, or any other good source for encouraging change, I would be interested to hear about it.

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