Big names like Google, Facebook, Uber and so on take napping seriously and they talk endlessly about the effect of napping on the company’s health and productivity. I personally experienced that in an office where I expected the least.
Power Nap in Saigon
I was visiting Vietnam as tourist where I was offered a 3 weeks contract in Saigon. It was a pleasant experience to work with a group of young, motivated and talented developers. The only frustration was language barrier. Apart from the CEO – who took me in and disappeared since day one – nobody could speak English and our programming language was the only common language. But I experienced and learnt one extraordinary lesson over there.
The first time that I went to work, I immediately picked up an unusual calmness in that office. When you work in IT industry, there is always something that needs urgent attention. You know things like a missing deadline, a broken deploy, a faulty code/server/database etc, there is often something that keeps you on your feet.
The Saigon job was no exception, but the way they handled their challenges was interesting. I don’t understand Vietnamese, but by listening to their conversation I have noticed that:
- Everyone was very calm.
- Everyone knew when to join the conversation and there was a gap between talks (a moment of silence if you like) which seemed like they are inviting and waiting for the next person who can add some insight/value to the discussion and lead it to an optimum solution.
- Surprisingly the solution sometimes came from a member of neighbor teams. (It was an open space office with 45 developers sitting next to each other with no meeting room).
It felt like there is an invisible ball passing through team members, picking some frequencies and make that person share something valuable. Or simply pass the ball to the next person if he/she has nothing to say.
For me who used to work in the fast paced environments with nervous managers who love to micro manage every move, that was like watching the sunset on the beach. I took a note on that and was looking forward to ask the CEO about it. A few days later, I witnessed the answer. One day I skipped the lunch time to fix a couple of server configurations. Then I noticed actually nobody is leaving for lunch. A few minutes later, they drew the curtains, turned off the lights, put some relaxing music on (which later I realized it was actually Delta frequencies hidden inside a relaxing music), then everyone laid down on the floor and started taking a nap.
The Company Culture
That was weird. I wish I had a bit detailed orientation about the company’s culture. I couldn’t continue my work because the keyboard’s ugly clanky sound was making a deafening contrast in that ambient space. So I stopped, hibernated my box and looked around to see if I can leave without disturbing the on going tranquility. Impossible! The path to my shoes (It was compulsory to take off your shoes before entering the office) was blocked by an army of sleeping beauties.
I sat there in the dark, completely hopeless, thinking it will be over soon and we will back to business in a few minutes. A few minutes later I felt like an idiot. My mind was racing and thoughts like: “Hey! they are staring at you in the dark.” or “You know you are the only person who is sitting in the chair everyone else is down on the floor. ” was going through my head. So I decided to join. Well their napping pod wasn’t as posh as Google. It was more like this:
Kidding. But I thought who cares, I’m up for weird experiences. If I traveled that far, why napping next to strangers should be a big deal. When I laid down next to them, for the first time I noticed that beautiful, animated – bluish – Mandala on the ceiling. (How did I miss that before?) The patterns and shapes in the mandala blending through each other and it seemed like they dance with music beats. It was raining outside and the white noise caused by rain drops combined with the mesmerizing indoor music did the trick. Before I knew it I was in deep sleep.
Napping Away From Problem to The Solution
I don’t remember how long I was out, but it felt like a good night sleep. Surprisingly, I stopped the whole server configuration thing after I woke up and asked to see the code instead. Did I have any idea what I was looking for? No. But in the back of my head I could see vividly that changing the server will not fix the problem. Instead there is a chance that I can find the root cause of the problem and the solution inside the code itself. I didn’t even know which part of the code I should check first. It wasn’t me who created it. I just had a general idea about how it was organised.
All I knew was it causes the server to crash. It did not slow down the server, it just crash it instantly. Like a sudden death. So solutions like caching, or increasing buffer memory or other resources were not the answer.
I opened the first source code file and there it was the problem: A long multi-part sql command which caused slow queries. When slow queries piled up, they filled the database buffer and eventually – since server couldn’t serve the database requests – it crashed. The solution was easy and we did it in one afternoon by changing the data model and rewriting some queries and after that everything worked like a charm.
Original estimation to fix the problem: 1 week.
Real time spent on the solution: 3 hours.
How Napping Works?
After Vietnam, I did the napping experience a few times when I was facing a tough/impossible challenge. It doesn’t work every time, and didn’t always lead me to the solution (I would say the success rate is around %20 to %30) but it definitely makes me feel rested and energized. Sometime it gave me the courage to try even new tech solutions.
Being a skeptic person as I am – who likes to measure things and prefers a scietific approach to every problem – I was always interested to find out about the mechanics of power naps. Yes we know that napping gives the brain cells a chance to recharge and sometimes it creates new nuro-pathways which leads to practical and sometimes creative solutions. But the question remains. How? And is there any way to measure/control/improve it?
This afternoon I was reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle when he said:
“So I would say that the simple reason that the majority of scientists are not creative is not because they don’t know how to think but because they don’t know how to stop thinking.”
Wow! That was like an electric shock. So basically it means we are the only obstacle who blocks our way to solutions for our problems, and – in my opinion – maybe what napping does is more than charging the brain cells. I like to think, napping quiets our minds for a moment, give us a chance to SEE the right solution, instead of FORCING the wrong one.
I get it know. I understood the necessity of those quiet moments between Saigon team members-when they paused for the next person to chip in the right insight into the discussion.
This does not stop here. I would like to think about possibility of using Machine Learning algorithms on brain wave data streams and find (unsupervised) patterns before and after taking a nap. If I found something, I will share it here.
Thanks for reading.