Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Systematic Amateurism

Occasionally somebody from outside of my project stumbles upon notes I have written from a retrospective or other meeting. They generally hone in on comments like, "Dave needs more tattoos." or "We liked the Mexican music theme in the last meeting." While seemingly unprofessional, these comments signify a happy and productive team. They are meant to be somewhat hokey and playful. As a project manager I can use them as a gauge to know how gelled the team is and where to focus my attention during the next iteration. Another advantage of them is that they pull people out of the "worker bee" mind and into a more useful and productive state of mind. If there are none of these types of comments for a few iterations, the team is either struggling or taking themselves too seriously. Either situation requires some attention. I always had a hard time articulating this concept until I was reading the January 2009, "The Year in Science" edition of DISCOVER magazine, I came across this quote by Robert Proctor:

Something is lost when people specialize. I like to see things like an amateur. The word amateur is literally "lover," it's from amore. Professionalism is often the death of intellectual inquiry. So I think there's a kind of virtue in systematic amateurism that really needs to be rekindled. If you don't love and hate and play and joke with your objects of study, then you're really not treating them properly. I tell my students if you're not angry and excited and enthralled by your topic, you should choose a different one.

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