Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's your project ritual?

From a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, a look at silly (and not so silly) rituals in the office:
Salo LLC, a financial and human-resources staffing company in Minneapolis, incorporates rituals throughout its work cycle. When customer requests come in, they are posted on a wall-size whiteboard, and can only be recorded, altered or erased by the salesperson who landed the client. "That's their graffiti, their mark. You wouldn't alter someone else's graffiti. It would be bad luck," says Salo Managing Director Gwen Martin.... 
[snip] Salo employees prod transactions along with another ritual: "When we are about to lock a deal down, it's bad luck to high-five each other, because you might jinx it," Ms. Martin says. "So you do a 'pinkie-five' instead," tapping pinkie fingers. 
Once a deal is done, the salesperson rings a big brass gong on a bank of files in the center of the office. "People get up and cheer and clap," says Kelly Weight, a business development director. Other teams in the company have their own celebration rituals, such as chest bumps or victory dances.
At a previous employer, I always liked it when the marketing guy would walk up to our whiteboard and write down an order from a customer -- by the end of campaign, it became a rather fun thing for him to walk up to the whiteboard, pick up the red pen and announce (via writing) another large order. I kept telling him that we needed a bell next to the whiteboard, but him picking up the pen was just as good, really.

Academic groups have their interesting rituals. I've heard of bottles of champagne for every synthesized natural product or (via a member of the Doyle group) a coffee mug per publication. I've even heard of a week off (or was it two weeks) per publication? (Boy, that would be a good motivator.)

I think the ritual that I could do without would be the 'project beard':
...To speed up work on a stalled music-website project, Tony Kimberly and Matt Bernier, co-founders of a Kansas City, Kan., Web-development company called Spotted Koi, cooked up a ritual—vowing not to shave or cut their hair until they finished. In the next 2½ months, Mr. Bernier, who usually wears his hair cut short, says "I looked like I had lived on the streets for a couple of years." 
He adds, "Friends said, 'Seriously, are you ever going to shave?'  
Mr. Kimberly says his project beard was "tremendously itchy" with a "strange-looking" combination of brown and red hair. A few weeks into the ritual, his girlfriend asked, "So, when is this over?" The social pressure and his dislike for his beard "gave us motivation," he says. They finished the project and later repeated the ritual on another new product.
Uhhh, no thanks. 


  1. The Aqueous LayerJuly 10, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    The Project Beard is preferable to Project Celibacy.

    If you believe you're synthesizing well because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you wear women's underwear, then you *are*! And you should know that!

    1. "Yields from previous publications have been unattainable due to some unknown within our reaction conditions. An unidentified contaminant from the starting materials could cause this decrease in efficiency, or perhaps the experimenter changed his underwear between compounds 8 and 9. Further investigations will attempt to isolate the so-called 'panty effect'".

  2. Reminds me of the SBIR board at my old company. My boss would write each submitted proposal on the board. As they were awarded or declined, they would be marked with the win or loss. At the conclusion of the round, the success rate of that round was calculated. As time went on, we (the PIs) would also place our guess at the W or L. When I left, the board represented the proposal hit rates for the group for almost three years. It was fun some days and horrible others. We often would sit around that board. Crack on each others ideas (or hit rates) but it was always a good reminder of the project pipeline . . .

  3. I guess Salo LLC doesn't have many Italian clients or ones of Italian ancestry.

  4. When I used to do a lot of DNA work, I would never EVER write out my amplification worksheet until I was done quantifying the amounts of DNA. If I did, well, that pretty guaranteed that my quant wouldn't work...

  5. All of my male grad-school friends went through a "Thesis-Beard" to a greater or lesser degree. When I was synthesizing new materials and checking the first X-ray diffraction patterns I left the room as soon as the scan began and didn't return until it had finished. This had no discernible effect on the results save that I didn't get frustrated in the middle of a run when a feature that I had been hoping to see didn't appear.

    1. Yeah, I've had a similar experience. In grad school I spent some time struggling with a reaction that was crosslinking my polymers. Watching and waiting for the size-exclusion chromatography data to slowly appear on screen was just too painful.

  6. A week off?

    My PI blew his top when I took a week off during my last summer as a grad student. It was the first time I had taken more than four days off in a row in five years, and the only thing you could honestly call a vacation. Note that in that same year, I had seperate stretches of 101 and 107 days where I worked at least six hours every day.

    I don't miss grad school at all.


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