Thursday, 26 April 2007

How to get male programmers to talk to each other using women, cricket and two kids

Walter Herriot OBE explained how he got a group of "shy and reticent" programmers and engineers to start talking to each other at the St John's Innovation Centre in Cambridge. The centre, which belongs to St John's College, was created in order to foster an atmosphere and environment that would stimulate creativity and "make lots of money for the college". When he arrived, Herriot said he found the centre "an extremely boring and dull place" dominated by men who seemed categorically unable to talk to one another.

So how to create a better atmosphere? Well, the first thing Herriot did was to break up the male-dominated environment by inviting a more diverse range of companies to join the centre, especally those from the media and public relations sectors so, as he put it, "we could legitimately get women in the building." This policy lightened the atmosphere of the centre immensely, but still the engineers and programmers were failing to talk to each other. Herriot next tried wine tasting (but everyone got plastered) and football matches (but that made everyone want to fight) and he was wracking his brains to find a solution. And then it came. Cricket. Not violent, not necessarily alcohol inducing and English enough so everyone could join in. But still the different companies were failing to talk. As a, perhaps, last desperate act, Herriot enlisted some specialists: his two kids who were paid a fiver each for each introduction. He hasn't looked back since and St John's has blossomed into the centre of creativity it was originally designed to be.

No comments: