We have a monthly thing at work where someone picks a conference talk, we watch it together and then discuss. This month, we talked about Playing with Engineering by AnnMarie Thomas from this years Strange Loop. It was really good, and it’s definitely worth your time. While watching it, I realized that it’s a great summary of how I’ve treated work for the last two decades.

She spends some time at the beginning defining play:

  • Play is about process, not outcomes.
  • Play is joyful.
  • Play involves freedom of choice.
  • Play is social.

And near the end, she shares the rules for her lab:

  • Be kind.
  • Play well with others.
  • Clean up your messes.

Looking at my career, I could tell you the story of it as a series of failures or successes, and be talking about the exact same experiences. I’ve been a part of some spectacular failures, and most of them have had their share of pain, and I’ve felt a lot of guilt and some shame over them. At some point, though, I got tired of being angry and ashamed, and started processing them and realized that in all of them, there were successes I could take from them, even if they were just lessons to apply to future projects. I also realized that for most of them, the failure wasn’t all my fault (and in a lot of cases, there’s nothing I could have done to fix it).

I’ve also started my share of “trouble” in my career to push for culture or process changes. It didn’t take too many failures there to start treating them like playful experiments – because in an experiment, even a failure is a useful result.

It also turned out to be a lot easier to play along if I followed the rules above. If I’m playful about it, keep it light and make it seem like it’ll be fun – even if we’re just fixing tests or performance issues, people are more likely to join (this is also known as Tom Sawyer’s Fence). If I give people credit, cheer them on, encourage them and am kind how I treat them, they’re more likely to stick around and see it through. And, in the end, even if I’m playful and kind and no one joins, I feel a lot better about it.

There’s so much serious shit in the world all around us and all the time that we should be as playful as possible as much as we can. It makes the hard stuff easier, and easy stuff a lot of fun. And if we can bring kindness with us on the trip, then we’ll never regret it, no matter how whatever it is we’re doing turns out.

Oh look, I did day two of NaBloPoMo! I think I’ll do something a little more in depth about kindness tomorrow, because I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.

By Kevin Lawver

Web developer, Software Engineer @ Gusto, Co-founder @ TechSAV, husband, father, aspiring social capitalist and troublemaker.