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Practise pair picking

Imagine that you are totally entrained in what you are doing: focused, dedicated, and productive. If you’ve lost track of time, you are probably feeling flow (sedimentologists might specify laminar, rather than turbulent, flow). It’s an awesome experience for an individual, but imagine the potential when a team feels it. Because there are so many interruptions that can cause turbulence, you are going to need some tricks. Seismic interpreters can seek out flow by partnering up and practising pair picking.

Having a partner in the passenger seat is not only ideal for training, but it is an effective way to get real work done. In other industries, pairing up has become routine because it works. Software developers sometimes code in pairs, and airline pilots share control of an aircraft. In both cases, one person is at the controls, the other is monitoring, reviewing, and navigating. One person for tactical jobs, one for strategic surveillance.

Here are some reasons to try pair picking:

Solve problems efficiently. If you routinely have an affiliate, you will have someone to talk to when you run into a challenging problem. Sticky workarounds become less tenuous when you have a partner. You’ll adopt more robust solutions and be less prone to one-off hacks you can’t remember a week later.

Integrate smoothly. There’s a time for handover, and there will be times when you must use other people’s work to get your job done. ‘No! Don’t use Evan_Top_Cretaceous_final, use EB1_K_temp_DELETE-ME.’ Pairing with the predecessors and successors of your interpretation will get you better-aligned.

Minimize interruptionitis. If you have to run to a meeting, or the phone rings, your partner can keep plugging away. When you return you will quickly rejoin. It is best to get into a visualization room, or some other distraction-free room with a large screen, so as to keep your attention and minimize the effect of interruptions.

Mutual accountability. Build allies based on science, technology, and critical thinking. Your team will have a clearer group understanding of your work, and you’ll feel more connected around the office. Is knowledge hoarded and privileged or is it open and shared? If you pick in pairs, there is always someone who can vouch for your actions.

Mentoring and training. By pair picking, newcomers quickly get to watch the flow of work, not just a schematic and idealized flow-chart. Instead of just an end product, they see the clicks, the indecision, the iteration, and the pace at which tasks unfold.

Practising pair picking is not just about sharing tasks, it is about channelling our natural social energies in the pursuit of excellence. It may not be practical all of the time, and it may make you feel vulnerable, but pairing up for seismic interpretation might bring more flow to your workflow.

This essay first appeared as a blog post in June 2011,

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