Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Resolutions: develop autonomy and promote innovation

While I like being in control as much as the next person, I tend to function well working with people who are self motivated and autonomous and I have little patience for people who are not. So in thinking about models for running the lab, I was immediately drawn to the concept of ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). A ROWE is a company focused on results, not on workplace structure: you work when you want, you leave when you want, you organize your day as you want, all that matters is that you generate the results you need. The emphasis being on flexibility and results, with the idea of fostering "freedom and responsibility" (see this article about Netflix unlimited vacation policy). This is not that much of a stretch, since most labs are run this way anyways. I have always worked in a ROWE, it fits my personality and so far I found that I do like people to tell me when they're coming in or taking days off, but once they keep me in the loop, I'm fine with anything they want to do as long as they're productive.

Climbing on the Potomac
However, this does not work for everyone and I have seen several people flounder when given no structure. In addition as an academic I will have to learn how to motivate students and teach them how science can be rewarding even when it's hard. While taking this pictures, I remember thinking these people were crazy carrying their kayaks on their heads up the rocks to run the rapids again, but isn't this the perfect metaphor for science? Spending most of your time carrying a heavy load up a rock-wall to experience the short thrill of discovery. How do you teach people that the thrill is worth the wait? And how do you keep them focused when they are given freedom?

My New Year's resolutions for the lab are to develop autonomy and promote innovation, but this is no small feat. Postdocs may be more likely fully autonomous and motivated, but technicians and students which will abund in a small new lab will still be figuring themselves out. So here are some more specific resolutions:

1) for the ROWE to work, we'll need to have specific goals set for everyone with a precise timeline. I don't necessarily have to set the goals for them if they are self-directed, but I'm a good enforcer and scheduler, so I can help them keep track

2) I should help them develop their organizational skills, so that they can schedule their experiments efficiently and plan their days productively

3) I need to learn to give people freedom to think, sit back and set them back on track when needed. This may be the hardest because I tend to want to jump in and help/direct, but it would be a good learning experience to have them figure things out through trial and error and develop their own ideas.

4) I need to listen: listen to ideas, listen to feedback, listen to grievances.

I will follow up in the Captain's log about how it goes.

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