Recurse Center Social Rules

Title: Recurse Center Social Rules
Date: 2017-06-17T16:47:52
Tags: Recurse Center

On a rainy Saturday morning in New York City I reflected on my Recurse Center experience so far and some of what I will take away from it.

Recurse Center is an experimental community for computer programmers. It provides an environment for people to expand and deepen their knowledge without prescribing how to go about doing so. In terms of what to work on, approaches and tools, there’s not really any boundaries. It’s up to the individual to find their own way.

A cornerstone of the RC community is four social rules. Their purpose is to help maintain an environment that promotes learning and experimenting and tries to reduce hang ups that get in the way. The rules don’t say anything about how to behave, they just try to prevent annoyances that disrupt learning, and provide a remedy when disruptions arise.

The protocol is, if you feel you’ve been infringed upon, name the rule, and the infringer apologies. That’s all there is to it.

The rules amount to “don’t be annoying”. Specifically they are:

  1. No feigning surprise
  2. No “Well-actuallys”
  3. No backseat driving
  4. No subtle-isms

A discussion of them can be found on the RC website

In my experience, the rules were not called on more than a couple of times in several weeks. Get called out, apologize, that is that. The rules work well in that a minor annoyance can be resolved immediately, defusing the possibility of lingering feelings.

For me the big idea in the social rules is that the rules aren’t just there to be external impositions on people. They are applied and practiced by people too. They are empowering.

The other big idea in the social rules is that they essentially involve an act of forgiveness. Well, I would say the world could do with more forgiveness. Plenty of influential people have said a lot about that.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude. Martin Luther King

Anyway, back to the purpose behind why these rules are useful. It’s so that we can be productive and happily get work done together.

As self-directed learners at Recurse Center we are responsible for our own education, and being successful in this community involves minimizing various fears that are social - like fear of looking stupid, being putting down etc. The social rules mean for example we do not waste time on diversions like splitting hairs unnecessarily.

Whatever prevents you from doing your work has become your work. Albert Camus

Traditionally the Information Technology industry has suffered a lack of diversity. Hopefully concepts like the social rules will have an impact on making IT more accessible to everyone.

The social rules are a pretty good example of the first value in the Agile Manifesto: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. I think this value is still really underserved in 2017, particularly where organizations are trying really hard to make frameworks and processes like for example SCRUM work for them. When I’ve asked people what Agile means to them they talk about activities like stand ups and retros. When I think of this particular value I associate it with ideas like “seek first to understand then to be understood”. The social rules are complimentary to that kind of idea. They are about how to work not what work is.

For me, the social rules of Recurse Center have been useful helping me reflect on myself as well as helping me work with other Recursers.