The Brink of Chaos

Technological Stockholm Syndrome

by on Jan.31, 2014, under Ambiguity, Leadership

kipnapped: still ] a hostageJust the other day, I had lunch with a friend who just started working as an engineer. I asked him whether he was enjoying his job. He said that it’s a bit different than he expected and that he’s spending a lot of time banging his head against the wall just to figure out how all the pieces work.  But now that he’s coming up to speed he said he thinks he’s starting to enjoy it and then added or maybe it’s just Stockholm Syndrome (wikipedia) which made me laugh.

What a great description for how we often feel while using technology that is more archaic than well designed.  At first, it abuses us and makes us feel stupid.  “Of course you need to type Meta-Cntrl-A F5 M to get it to do that function! Why wouldn’t you type that?!?”.  Then as we become more proficient in its arcane ways, we start feeling good about our ability to manipulate the tech to do what we want. That in turn makes us feel like we are wielding a really powerful piece of technology.  We start defending it, even thought it’s still not designed right because we suffer from something not altogether different than Stockholm Syndrome.

Recently, in a meeting I suggested changing a particular way that our tools were organized to make it easier for new people to come up to speed on how to use all of them.  This would make it much easier for new people, but require all those experienced to change their ways (slightly).  One engineer joked that this would disrupt the tradition of all the experienced people who have already learned the old way with much effort. I called this new engineer hazing — “It doesn’t have to be painful, but we all experienced the pain, so new engineer should too.  It builds solidarity”

We don’t need to be grateful that our technology doesn’t abuse us.  We don’t need to haze new engineers because it was hard for us.  We should each be working to simplify our tools and technology so that more people can use them successfully and give us a better foundation for building what’s next.

Picture Credit:  pedro veneroso


2 Comments for this entry

  • TN

    As the one being accused of hazing I feel I should reply. That decision had nothing to do with hazing, it had to do with ROI. Instead of scrubbing a working solution I decided to spend my efforts in training and support of these new engineers. I didn’t feel like I could justify spending my time moving files around (and all the overhead associated with that activity). You are free to take a stab at it if you think you can justify it to your manager. :-)

  • Matthew

    Yes, we like the complication that we know to the simplicity that we don’t. :)

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