TITLE: Collaboration and Passion AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 01, 2004 8:15 AM DESC: Thinking about mid-life crises in hopes of avoiding them. ----- BODY: As many of you know, I turned forty last week. If you are the last to know, I apologize. You must not know Robert Duvall. If I should have suffered through a mid-life crisis by now, I am sorry to disappoint you. To be honest, I hope that I have not yet reached the middle of a long and productive life. I am not now in the midst of a crisis, but recent events bring such thoughts to mind. I spent last week at OOPSLA amidst the intellectual, professional and personal passion of folks like Brian Marick, David Ungar, and Alan Kay. Then, on the flight home, I finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell's article on group think, which describes the passion that often infuses groups of creative minds working in fertile intimacy. I certainly crave that sort of passion but often find it lacking in my daily life. Mid-life crises may well happen when people realize that they've lost their passion. Perhaps they come to fear that they've lost their capacity to feel passionately. The steady drip-drip-drip of real life has a way of wearing down our sharp edges, leaving us just tiredly waiting for tomorrow. One way to combat this erosion is to surround yourself with the right people. Gladwell reports (from the work of such folks as Randall Collins and Jenny Uglow) and OOPSLA reminds of the power -- and critical need -- of groups for nurturing passion and driving greatness. Many people, especially Americans, subscribe to the myth of the solitary genius, the lone pioneer. But history shows that nearly all of the great advances attributed to individuals grew out of remarkable circles of creative people pushing each other, driving and feeding off of each other's passion. For academics, large universities have an advantage over smaller skills like UNI when it comes to gathering the critical mass of the right people in the right place at the right time. Academic centers like Boston and technological centers like Silicon Valley offer the same possibilities. But such groups can form and grow over space and time, too, especially in this era of easy travel and electronic communication. For me, in the last decade the software community that grew out of the Hillside Group has played that role. So have amorphous groups of creative and ambitious software developers and educators in the OOPSLA and SIGCSE communities. These groups intersect in interesting ways, with enough folks outside the core to inject new ideas occasionally. Unconsciously, I drew my program committee for the recent OOPSLA Educators Symposium from these groups. Their ideas and passion helped me to shepherd the symposium to success. But sometimes the passion of distributed groups wilts in the heat of a long semester. At OOPSLA, a friend shared his recent bout with this malaise, and I know the feeling well. But it's good to know that making and maintaining connections with good people -- which I have been fortunate to do throughout my career -- is one way to keep passion within my reach. I need to work to develop and maintain relationships if I wish to develop and maintain passion. -----