So over a year on from leaving the world of computer games megacorporations and big budget movie special effects, it’s maybe time to be a bit less terse than usual and compare and contrast against life in the shadowy world of arts, academia and free software.
There are fairly obvious benefits of leaving the 9.00-6.30 if-your-lucky world, free to work from home, a shared “space” or a greasy cafe with stolen wifi and no set hours are great. No need to harp on about that. One of the best things I’ve noticed is that my life is now more varied socially, with different projects I’ve met and worked with people from disparate backgrounds in the last year. In a company it’s very easy to just mix with people with similar outlooks as yourself, and it’s generally simple to explain what you do. The world I’m in now is much more messy, more of a network than a hierarchy – and it’s challenging to fit into the often surprising situations that arise.
What I want to concentrate on however, is what I think both academia and arts could learn from the commercial world. It’s not something I hear much about, as it seems the unwritten agreement that it should always be the other way around.
It seems noticeable to me now that teamwork is more critical in a company than elsewhere. In fact the best people I have worked with have exhibited some degree of ego loss, sometimes an almost fanatical desire to make ‘the right decision’ for everyone – not because they will be praised for it, but just because it makes sense and to do otherwise would be abhorrent. In games or film companies, people like this are highly sought after, whereas my feeling is that people who shout a bit too loud or desire a bit too much recognition tend to get weeded out after a time. It seems to me that the worlds of academia and art seem to have their selection biased in the other direction – as they are based on highly individualistic metrics.
Focusing on academia, I’ve been surprised at how much the publication system forces a secretive, protective culture where exposure of material has to be sensitively stage managed. I can clearly see why this arises, but the culture it enforces (a default distrust of one’s peers) seems counter to the core business of what being a scientist should be about. Several projects I’ve been involved in have found it difficult to negotiate the methods of open source development because of this.
I think the assumption that individualism and the competitiveness that it fosters is the obvious way to achieve the best results needs to be reconsidered. It seems in some cases to be restricting us, and that perhaps (to paraphrase foam) these are the times in which we need more branching out, more interdisciplinary thinking which all requires more default trust between us individually, and our many tribes.
So this brings me back to free software. While it can hardly be credited for lacking people bordering on the egotistical, there is something about the openness, and the endless reports of mistakes you’ve made from complete strangers which I think encourages this more humble mentality.