Although the old Greeks didn’t practice writing computer code, they have already discovered a basic truth about your productivity as a coder.
If you fundamentally understand this truth, you’ll go farther and you’ll be more successful than you’ve ever imagined. If you disobey it, your life will be lonely and full of struggle.
The thing is: if I tell you the truth right away, you are not going to apply it in your life because it seems so simple and you think you already know it.
Yet, the great truths are simple.
As I am writing this, I am reading Harry Potter with my daughter every day.
While reading through the books, I was always stunned how Harry Potter managed to escape from these dangerous situations. Every single time.
Harry is not an overwhelmingly skillful Wizard (e.g. compared to his enemy Lord V). There are more dedicated Wizards (e.g. Hermine), more charismatic Wizards (e.g. Cedric Diggory), more ambitious Wizards (e.g. Malfoy), and more experienced Wizards (e.g. Dumbledore).
So why is Harry one of the most successful Wizards in his world?
Although Harry does not seem to know the basic truth consciously, he exploits it masterfully.
Luck aside, Harry is one of the most successful characters in the book because of SYNERGY:
Synergy means “working together” (literally).
Harry’s strongest weapon is the universally known “image of Harry Potter”. Everybody knows his story. This makes it easy for Harry to form teams that push towards a common goal. For Harry, it is easy to tap into collective intelligence.
The creation of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In a well-functioning team, every team member can play their strengths. When the strengths are non-overlapping, chances are that every team member’s weaknesses are compensated by another team member’s strengths.
From the outside, a well-functioning “team” forms a highly intelligent “meta-organism” that solves problems extremely efficiently and promptly.
If you work alone, you miss out on this critical element: synergy.
So how do you create a well-functioning team?
Google actually did some research about the reasons why some teams are synergetic while others are not. The following five insights are based on a rigorous study on the performance of hundreds of small teams at Google (from Charles Duhigg):
- Teams need to believe that their work is important.
- Teams need to feel their work is personally meaningful.
- Teams need clear goals and defined roles.
- Team members need to know that they can depend on one another.
- Most importantly: Teams need to feel psychological safety (e.g. everybody feels safe to contribute ideas).
Note that if the last point is not met — e.g. the super intelligent dominating leader psychologically punishes the team members for contributing bad ideas — the performance of the team basically drops to the performance of the most productive team member. In this case, there are NO synergy effects.
But the collective IQ of a well-functioning team of average team members is always much greater than any individual’s IQ.
So the key takeaway of this article is that:
- even as a nerd, you should seek to work in teams above anything else, and
- make your teams more efficient by creating a culture of openness and psychological safety.
If you work as a software developer, one of your most important team skills is understanding object orientation. That’s the basis of any large code project with real-world impact.
To help you develop your skills, I have just finished my course “Object-Oriented Python” on the Finxter Computer Science Academy. Check it out!