Fostering Creativity

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At Redgate, we build and sell tools that help with database development and administration. We have quite a portfolio, and most products under active development, but we also try to foster creativity. We do this with Down Tools Week, which started out as Coding by the Sea, evolved into DTW, and I even had the chance to participate a few years ago.

Kendra did a podcast recently of her experience with down tools week and her team. She was on a team that was thinking about the future of database development, which was less product focused, but not any less work. The team focused on a few ideas and tried to flesh them out through debate. I followed along and enjoyed their presentation at the end of the week.

Maybe the more interesting thing is that we take a week from work and try to get people excited and interested in some project that might turn into something great, or might just solve some issue we never seem to fix.

Like many of you, we have no shortage of things that are broken or don't work well. We have internal things, processes our teams use, or more that we would like to improve, but we are constantly focused on more commercial tasks. It can be hard to get investment to try something out without some proof there is a good chance it will succeed.

Structuring a week, where teams can self organize (to a point), and ideas are submitted, voted on, and approved, can be exciting for developers. They can start thinking about the problem scope a few weeks ahead, and then in the pressure of a startup atmosphere, they can get to work Monday.

It's a long week, and I don't know that I, or even many of the developers, would like to feel this pressure every week, but the challenge to build something Monday through mid-day Friday is exhilarating. It's a break from the normal routine, and we've had some interesting things come out of the weeks. Including one process that streamlined how teams can get documentation submitted with their code and have it automatically update for customers. Fairly pedestrian, but incredibly helpful. It took more than a week, but a week showed it was work investment.

Even if we don't get code we can use, we do find that everyone has the chance to re-think how we approach problems. A lot of creativity is sparked from taking a week away from normal work. Atlassian did this with FedEx days, which have grown to many companies all over the world. We do this for a week every year, and I think it's a great use of our time and energy.

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