Bringing Performance to Light

March 27, 2010

In the Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell talks about a phenomenon called Fundamental Attribution Error. Basically, FAE is attributing success to the wrong things. His point was that we often fail to take context into account when making judgments. He gave an example of a study where subjects were asked to judge the performance of two basketball teams, one playing in a darkened auditorium and the other under normal lighting conditions. The subjects were asked, which team is better? The answer: the team in the well lit auditorium of course.

The only difference between the two teams was the context (lit vs. unlit). Both teams were equally skilled, but the team playing in the dark missed many more shots. That led me to ask myself, “Is my team playing in the dark?”

The context that software development teams work in has a profound affect on how they perform. I’m not just talking about physical context, but also the culture, the technology, and even their social context. I suspect that there are many fantastic teams that are working “in the dark”. It’s our job to turn on the lights.