Real-World Lesson #1 for Software Development Innovation

Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Virginia has a great backstory. They wanted to create a place where people could innovate and produce great work. I came away with one, unequivocal lesson.

It is not a lesson about how to write code or what code to write. It is a lesson about the conditions in which to write code. The lesson is as follows:

A person will innovate best, especially when it involves technology, science, or creativity, in an environment and conditions that nourishes both mind and body.

When you look at these major research facilities, they don’t just exist anywhere and they have a certain form to them. The people involved who work in those environments exist in a certain way of life both, professional and personal. The climate is idyllic. It nurtures them in ways that are useful to framing thoughts and pursuing innovation: creative, scientific, and technological.

That also says that innovation of the kind spoken of in the backstory above rarely surfaces in tough neighborhoods, tense environments with a common cadence of anxiety, or in conditions that undermine such innovation in favor of resolving more immediate challenges of existence. This insight, more than anything, may explain why some communities have a momentum in terms of innovation while others lack it. Exceptions do exist, but overall, good work comes from good all around living conditions.


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