By Brian Boyko
The greatest barrier to creativity is a lack of boundaries. Counter-intuitive – almost zen-like – but we’ve found it to be true.
And this is why people play Dungeons & Dragons (and similar games), and why network engineers often spend time putting out fires when they could be improving the network.
Allow me to explain.
Dungeons & Dragons, if you’re not familiar with it, is a game where people tell a story and when there’s a moment of indecision in the game, the players roll dice to determine what happens.
(And yes, I play these types of games, though my favorite is Hero. No, I haven’t had a date recently. What’s your point?).
As ridiculous as this may seem – and I’ll admit, it’s pretty darn ridiculous – the use of dice and placing artificial limitations on the characters are the way that people help to improve the story. Because it’s much harder for a group of people to get together and just tell the story without some sort of limitation.
Let’s try a little thought experiment.
Tell a story right now. It can be about or on anything. It doesn’t have to be a good story or even a long story. You don’t even have to write it down.
Okay. Try telling a story about a talking dog and a troll that live together in a cave.
That’s a little easier, isn’t it?
The more limitations that are given – boundaries or obstacles – the more the brain works to be creative. You look to make the most of your boundaries; you look for ways to surpass the obstacles.
So what does this have to do with network administration and network engineering?
Have you ever noticed that, in your job as a network engineer, you spend quite a lot of it putting out fires, as opposed to starting new initiatives? Those network emergencies are obstacles. You have defined parameters and you must overcome the obstacle. Engineers trained to find the best solutions to problems usually feel most in their element when solving a problem!
One of the things that challenge us at NetQoS is finding ways to help network engineers use our products as something more than diagnostic tools to solve a problem they’re currently having. That’s fine and good, but we believe that it’s important not just to fix the network but to improve it whenever possible. (That’s the whole “performance first” thing we keep talking about).
If people performed preventative maintenance and worked to improve their network, they’d have fewer problems to address in the first place. But because individual problems provide intellectual boundaries and present obstacles to overcome, it is simply a much, much easier task than trying to look at the vast possibilities inherent in the network and try to come up with a vision rather than a solution.
And while any engineer will tell you that they’d like to have more time to initiate projects instead of dealing with emergencies, more often than not, many engineers find that they gravitate to emergencies. Emergencies have boundaries. This is why network managers often go through a rigorous process of defining a problem – assigning it specific boundaries – before giving it to the network engineers to work on.
Knowing this axiom of human nature, network managers can manage their team more efficiently by challenging their network engineers with more specific forward-looking issues and, more importantly, making sure they’re spending an adequate amount of time focused on these initiatives. If a network manager only calls out the engineering team when there’s a problem, all that manager is doing is preserving the status quo, not improving.
Perhaps managers should consider taking business problems to the engineering teams, and asking them how the network infrastructure can be optimized to help solve those business problems. That gives engineers a set problem and set set limitations (i.e. budget, etc.) – something which is much easier to do than work from the tabula rasa.
In the meantime, we’ll try to get some ideas about some projects you can do on your network to improve performance rather than fix problems in the future on this blog.
Also, if anyone’s in the Austin area and up for a game of D&D, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Boyko is a Level 18 Editor of Network Performance Daily.