Not letting our desks contain us

One of the things I like most about NPR is the diversity of interests my coworkers have. They like gourmet meals and food trucks. They make art and zines. They watch on-demand cycling and build fantasy football systems. They play in bands and look for birds. They blog and unplug.

Their dedication to their interests changes the way they work. They’re willing to approach complex problems by different routes, in solutions and, just as importantly, the processes of problem-solving. The picture below is a fantastic example of it. Out for drinks one night this month, colleague Wright mentioned a number of digital NPR staffers who did blogs outside of work, including colleague David G. Googling, I found David had blogged his whiteboarding of the toughest challenge our team encountered this fall — to match NPR Music data with workflow.

Music stories tied to music lists to items in music lists to songs (inside albums) to song rights, and I’m only giving you the simple version.

The lesson of the picture below has nothing to do with the solution to the problem, and it has everything to do with the process of problem-solving. Frustrated working at his machine, David stood up, grabbed a marker, took over a whiteboard on a nearby wall, sketched the flow’s data elements, and brought other developers to the board to discuss the issues. The sketch and conversations led to good answers. While the problem was virtual, the solution came largely by physical means.

work in progress

In coding, multiple inputs can be used to create multiple outputs. Life, the same. I find this picture of David’s inspirational that way. I got up from the conference tables in a couple meetings recently and used the whiteboards. I felt more like myself than I had at work in a long time. I used to whiteboard all the time but lost my touch while changing jobs and adding new tasks. One of my goals for 2011 is to get that creative outlet going again. Glad to have good people around to remind me.

Previously in the blog:
-June 2010: Habit fields
-December 2009: On a closed campus, facades don’t matter
-August 2008:  The stand-up desk experiment

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