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Posted on: Friday, 18 September 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Building Stuff Is Hard

Virtually every veteran builder that you talk to; tells you the same things about building remarkable stuff. Building stuff is hard; building stuff takes time; building anything means you face a lot of criticism and building stuff requires something that is much more important than just raw talent --- it requires patience and consistency.

Bottom line; you keep jabbing; keep shipping; and keep firing; till the time you cross the dip and hop over the thin line that separates a young and budding armature from a mature veteran.

If building stuff that is truly remarkable is that hard and usually happens after multiple encounters with failure; the question that really kept bothering me; as I worked on this book; dear reader; was that; apart from the Hollywood-Appeal-Factor is there anything else that attracts, nudges and pushes genuine builders around the world to keep building stuff.

The answer as it turns out is --- passion and flow.

Flow

The more builders around the world; I observe; the more I am leaning to believe that passion for what you do and flow are two most important reasons which makes builders put in the tremendous amount of patience, slogging and consistency it takes to make the dents in the universe; that they are trying to make in the first place. 

Wikipedia defines being in the flow as:

The mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following nine factors as accompanying an experience of flow:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

Not all are needed for flow to be experienced.

The software development world as I know it; dear reader; is composed to only two kinds of human beings --- first kind includes one who have experienced the feeling of being in the flow; other includes those who have not.

If you work with me, know me or read this blog regularly, you may have heard or read me describe my first encounter with my first desktop as - love at first sight with no looking back since then.

During those days; picking up a random problem like creating a shooting game with quick-basic and spending hours at it; day after day; without having the need to concern myself with mundane details regarding like if I was going to paid for what was being built; was a relatively easy way to truly enjoy the journey of building stuff and experiencing flow --- without even knowing what flow was.

Then it disappeared as I tried to 'grow up' as a programmer.

It took more than ten years of programming to get a little bit of that same childishness back into my life and to brush against experiencing flow once again.

Today; as someone who toils and labors with his insanely mulish attempts at writing code; posts or anything that is supposed to make really small dents in my very own little universe; dear reader; even I; dear reader; have brushed against the feeling of being in the flow more than once.

If you have; too; dear reader; you know exactly why it makes builders around the world keep craving for more.

If you have not; chances are; that; if keep doing what you absolutely love doing; you will and when you do; you will know exactly what it is all about.

After you have experienced what it feels like to be in the flow for a few times; there is very little you can do; other than fall in love with what you do and continue doing it; day after day.

What are you experiences with getting in the flow?

Does being in the flow frequently make your overall life much more productive and happier?

Do you actually crave the experience every time sit in front of a monitor; dear reader?

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.