“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” – Joseph Chilton Pearce
Over the course of my career so far, I’ve had the opportunity to work at a number of different places and with many different people. With each change, and my new start at Neya Systems, I’ve thought a lot about what is most important to me in terms of happiness with a job. What makes me want to come to work every day? The type of work and its technical challenges? The salary and benefits? The zegarki watch I get when I do a good job? The occasional birthday cake? I’ve come to realize that what I find most appealing about a work environment is what I call the “creative energy” of the people there. Although it’s hard to quantify, you can almost feel it in the air sometimes, especially when being around really smart and creative people talking about really smart and creative things. Creative energy breeds creative thought and ideas. It’s the spirit of thinking about new ideas and new approaches to solve difficult technical problems. Simply put, creative people create a great working environment.
I think there are two causes of this creative energy: 1) a desire to never stop learning, and 2) not being afraid to think outside the box. To the first point, I want to learn something new every day I come to work. It doesn’t matter if it’s large and small; whether it’s learning how to change the input feed on a 3D printer or grasping the complicated mathematics behind the image segmentation algorithm that I am using. Great work environments should always encourage their employees to learn something new and provide them with opportunities to learn.
As to the second point, I like puzzles. All types of puzzles. Crossword puzzles, word puzzles, MIT Mystery-Hunt-level puzzles. I think trying and solving puzzles helps to make me a better researcher and engineer. The solution to a well-constructed puzzle often requires a new way of thinking – a different approach, a completely outside-the-box mindset. People in creative working environments are not afraid to offer an idea for how to solve a problem. Yes there are plenty of bad ideas too, but sometimes even a bad idea can spark a brilliant idea. People in a creative working environment should be appreciated and praised for offering new ideas, new ways of doing things or new approaches, not discouraged. Of course, it is still important to maintain focus – the company shouldn’t drop everything and go after the latest shiny object that catches their eye – but within certain boundaries, creativity can thrive.
Creative energy can suffer from “inside-the-box” thinking. I can see where this type of thinking comes from. Some people fear change and new things. People like that want to know right away “will it work?” and force you to provide complete justification. They don’t want to be wrong. You have to prove it will work before you can prove it will work. But that’s why we do research, to find out if it will work. You don’t know if it’s going to work, but you shouldn’t be afraid to try. I never want to work in an environment where I run away from the hard problem. I want to try and solve the hard problem.
Sometimes I’m asked, why not go to work at a university? There you can find some of the most creative people around. I have thought about that too, and I have worked at a university during my professional career, but universities can still impose a “big company culture.” I prefer, and have preferred, being part of a small company environment like Neya. I want to help chart the course of my working environment, not just be a passenger along for the ride.
So as I continue to move along the arc of my career, one thing I have learned is that I don’t know everything. True success in a challenging technical field like robotics requires a team of creative people working together and supporting one another. That’s why I decided to join Neya. It is where I have felt the “creative energy” and look forward to helping to grow that energy even more and solve those hard problems.
“Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, ‘We’ve always done it that way.’ I try to fight that.” – Grace Hopper
“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci