The environment in which you thrive

Do you know what it is?

Frankly, until yesterday, I didn’t. I had some sense of what it might be, but when reading Masters of DOOM the other day, I got a clear idea of what it is. For instance, John Carmack, the genius programmer of legendary video graphics engines of games like DOOM and QUAKE (and all the other stuff id software did), was at his best when being left alone. All he needed was a computer and sufficient supply of pizza and caffeinated diet soda pop (according to the book). The other John, John Romero, was quite the opposite, outgoing, loud, kinda rock star, you name it. He preferred distraction around him most of the time, until the other John would show him the results of his coding. Then he would completely freak out about what they could do with this new graphics engine, and he’d sit down and create level after level of a new game that would set new records in every aspect of video gaming.

And there’s a lot of examples, especially in popular culture, where two similar but completely different indivduals meet and get to work: John & Paul, the two Steves, the two Johns. They found someone with an innate understanding of what they were about. They could bounce ideas off each other, sometimes getting into a fight because each one was convinced his way was the way to do it, and in the end, they would not end up with a foul compromise, but a solution that mostly contained only the best parts of both sides.

For me, an environment like that is where I perform best too, when I have someone who I can bounce off ideas to without a lot of explaining, someone I share one or more passions with, but who can be completely different (which most humans are, despite common belief I have never come across anyone who was like me — everyone is special in their own way, which is great). This is where I thrive. In the place I currently work, there is no such environment. It’s more, sort of, indifferent, everyone’s tending to their own business. Which is okay, but over the past weeks I kept wondering why despite working massive hours and getting stuff done I didn’t feel that high you get when performing at your best.

Realizing this, I was bristling with energy this morning, I couldn’t contain myself. I got stuff done. I felt performance, though the environment hadn’t changed. It was just the insight: “I do best when it’s so-and-so. Ain’t got that now. Do it anyway.” And obviously, it didn’t last all day, but the overall effect was a good one. Today felt good.

So after all, I just wanted to point out that the environment is quite an important influence on your performance. This is not a new finding in general, I’m aware. But what is important is just how little it takes to make it so. It’s just, in David Kushner’s words, flipping a single bit —such as having the right opposite— that can change your personal experience. And if not, being aware of this may not improve it right away, but it may answer the why question if you’re not doing as well as you know you can. And then you move on.

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