One of my favorite topics when I was learning physics was about the discovery of the positron. Way back in 1928 Paul Dirac published a seminal paper where he introduced an equation unifying quantum mechanics, special relativity and the new property of electron spin. This equation would go on to named the Dirac Equation:
which has two mathematical solutions. I am reminded of the much simpler Pythagorean Theorem which has the following solutions:
I have always been taught to ignore the negative solution despite it being a perfect valid solution to the equation.
Thankfully Dirac did not ignore the negatively signed solution to his equation. Legend has it that Dirac was deeply troubled by the negative solution to his equation. He finally understood it by looking into a glass of beer (The Thirty Years That Shook Physics). Instead of focusing on the beer, he watched the bubbles as they rose to the top of the glass. He saw them as holes in the sea of beer and that led to more work in his interpretation of the mathematical result that allowed for an anti-electron of positive charge and negative energy.
Dirac’s work led to the discovery of the first form of anti-matter that would later be named the positron. I always found it interesting the physicists named it based off of particle’s charge property. They could have just as easily picked it’s energy property and called it a negatron which I find has more comic strip potential. They didn’t and the rest is history.
People and Team Dynamics
Why the history lesson on the positron you ask? I often hypothesize that my training as a physicist has helped me understand people. Physicists study the interaction of particles and I assert this training helps me observe and learn about people who are a part of a team.
We have all been members of teams at some point in our lives. Think back of all the teams you have been on for a moment. Ask yourself have you ever been on a team that has had a negative person? Yes, you have? Me too. In fact on many past teams I was that person. What characteristics do you least admire about that person?
This person undoubtedly carries a lot of negative energy around with them. Like the bubble in the beer swimming to the top they are noticeable. Good team members seamlessly fit into the shape of the bottle to form the ultimate drink. They are aligned with the mission and perform at a top level so the team is successful.
The negative team member is the bubble that ultimately gives us gas and indigestion. Read the list below and reflect on how much of the behavior below you have witnessed from people who have been a part of your team:
- Characterize everything as useless regardless of the real value
- Claim they can do the job better though they never actually offer to do it
- Show up late for or are noticeably absent from important team discussions
- Always deride decisions that were made in their absence and by others
- Repeatedly complain about the smallest problems the team is facing
- Are openly bitter they are never recognized for their contributions
- Constantly complaining about how everyone else’s code sucks
- Tone deaf to understanding how their decisions impact the team
- Privately deride other non-engineering members of the team
- Vocal the leadership around them are incapable and part of ineffective management
- Have a higher sense of entitlement compared to the rest of the team
- Always critical of every situation and fail to recognize the team’s success
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but we have all been around a few of these people during our careers. Now ask yourself some questions:
- Did you like working with the people who exhibited this behavior?
- What affect did they have on the team?
- What would it have been like if they were not part of the team?
My guess is no one liked working with these people despite how nice or cool they were as people. The affect on the team is the drag they introduced and how everyone else had to pick up the slack. It would have also been a lot better if they were not on the team. In short they are like the positron in that they contribute a significant amount of negative energy to the team.
From now I am calling these people negatrons. In short, don’t be one.
I recently joined GoPro and talked to my team about positive and negative personas. You can quickly tell which type of person you are by studying the words you choose to start a sentence in conversation.