I'd like to introduce "What We're Reading," a new series here on Comcast Voices where we ask a Comcaster to talk about an idea, article or book that's piqued his or her interest to talk about how it influences their work here at Comcast. Our first submission comes from Arpit Mathur, Lead Software Engineer, working at Comcast Innovation Labs.
As books go digital, I find myself reading more and more, since I'm almost always close enough to my entire virtual library via my many digital devices. I tend to read multiple books at the same time, and surprisingly I have a decent track record of finishing them. The two books I am reading these days are "Linked: The New Science of Networks" and "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us"
"Linked" is a fascinating book and probably the best one I have read in the last year. It's a little dated since it was published in 2002, but is a gripping read anyway. The author, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, a physicist, chronicles his search for a unified networks theory irrespective of the network itself. The book examines drastically different kinds of networks, ranging from neurons in the human brain all the way to the internet and shows how they obey the same rules and display similar patterns in growth and response to stimuli. The book is fascinating even if just for the extremely detailed history of what became the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" phenomenon. Contrary to popular belief, Kevin Bacon is actually one of the weaker nodes of the Hollywood network! It's just a fun read.
"Drive" is a book that I picked up after watching the author Dan Pink's talk at a TED event (embedded below). The premise of the book is simple, even if it seems counterintuitive at first: that carrot and stick incentives (or what the author refers to as extrinsic motivators) are less effective with respect to creative work. Most people strive for "autonomy, mastery and purpose." The book promotes the idea that allowing people to manage how they work themselves while giving them a greater purpose to work towards is the best way to build a motivated team.
The idea, which is reinforced throughout the book, actually reminds me of the preface in Linus Torvald's autobiography: "Just for fun" (which by the way, is another fantastic read!) where he mentions his theory on the "meaning of life:"
"There are three things that have meaning for life. They are the motivational forces for everything in your life --for anything that you do or any living thing does: The first is survival, the second is social order, and the third is entertainment. Everything in life progresses in that order."
The history of open source projects like Linux and Apache is a testament to the ideas of contained in "Drive," where virtual teams of developers came together to build world-class solutions while being paid nothing at all and driven purely by the three forces Dan Pink mentions in his book.
While less directly applicable to my day to day work, "Linked" definitely makes me look at the Internet in a fundamentally different way. As communications media goes, the Internet is still pretty young, but looking at the patterns in older, more studied networks and seeing how the Internet is also following the same patterns makes me really wonder how our own network will evolve as the Internet continues to grow.
On the flip side, I find myself using the concepts in "Drive" more directly. As a User Experience Technologist at Comcast Interactive Media and now as Software Engineer at Comcast Innovation Labs I have been pretty involved in creating prototypes and new experiences for Comcast subscribers. But in the last few months the book has changed my approach towards new projects from creating solutions to creating a vision that people can get excited about and get behind. It's amazing to see the kinds of projects small teams can complete this way. The prototypes that come out of CIM's quarterly Labweek event are a testament to that.