Imagine this: you’re done with your lab work. You can go back to your cubicle/office/desk where co-workers can easily find you and distract (albeit, you can also probably have fun conversations) or you can stay in the quiet, isolated happiness of the lab and be super productive. What do you do?
I usually go for my cubicle. I have to admit, I am usually less productive in my cubicle. Mexicans tend to be noisy, nosy and easily distracted, meaning that being in my cubicle there’s a 99.9% chance that someone will interrupt me. On the other hand, just one of those distractions may end up being about something I didn’t know, a new idea, the birth of a project or a reminder of some task I forgot to do. My office works that way, our collaboration is high, mainly due to everyone being able to bother everyone else. It’s a wonderful cooking pot, an engineering stew, and I love it.
Except for the insanely brilliant and solitary minds, ideas are born this way. This is why I (mostly) always choose my cubicle. This has it’s downside, I’m so easily distracted that I usually have to make up for lost time after hours. It’s not a complaint, it’s just a fact, I prefer my work to happen this way. Why would I like to be an engineer in a stale environment without any idea exchange?
Of course I do sometimes need to be productive, after ideas are born someone has to turn them into a reality, that’s when I’ll take my headphones and isolate myself, either in my cubicle or in the lab. I also like that, to be so absorbed by something that it’s suddenly 7 in the evening and I didn’t even notice. I just can’t do it all the time, I’d probably wear my brain out.
My view is that collaboration is always better than brilliant over-productive single minds. An interesting mix of these two happens at Facebook. We’ve all seen it, either by seeing The Social Network movie (I do recommend it, by the way, great acting) or from the pictures in articles, the Facebook offices don’t even have cubicles, just desks, everyone can see everyone else. Even Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook creator) can be seen in one of those desks, coding away, instead of in some fancy corner office. But also, as can be seen at the beginning of the movie, Mark Zuckerberg is also a brilliant lonely coder. So it’s an interesting mixture, they hire brilliant minds but they enforce an environment in which collaboration is key, they even use modern practices like Xtreme Programming, where programmers pair up and work together (I’ve written some stuff on pair programming here).
So what are you? The isolated type or the collaborative type?