For several years I have been driving a very comfortable red car that
has been baptised in my household Wasabi. Besides being red which
happens to be my favorite colour, Wasabi has all kinds of features: an
excellent sound isolation, a great audio system, cameras to help park,
a blind spot detector, and all kinds of things that increase the sense
In the past weeks, I drove a different older grey car that has none of
the features mentioned above. At first, I didn’t really mind driving
the grey car, ultimately they both fulfilled their primary purpose:
take me from point A to point B.
After a few rides with the grey car, I noticed that my shoulders were
often more tense. Naturally they were more tense, I had to be
constantly more vigilant about my surroundings. I realised also that
the music and podcasts that I used to really enjoy with Wasabi were
not as fun. Both were blending in with the surrounding noises and I
could not really appreciate the bass in a Bach concerto nor register
as well some argument made in a podcast. In fact even the quality of
the silence that allowed me to think, plan and prepare when needed was
not there either. The whole experience was not only less enjoyable,
but it also impacted the potency and the benefits of the commute.
Everyone who knows me for more than two minutes knows that I adore a
good analogy. You may have figured out already where I am driving you?
When chatting with my family I find it sometimes not easy to explain
what it’s like to work in a large collaboration, a collaboration that
has both clearly written rules and unspoken ones. What’s interesting
and what makes a High Energy Physics collaboration different from a
company even if the number of people is considerable (1500 in the case
of the LHCb collaboration) is that we are all employed by different
universities or institutes. I wondered for a long time what made these
collaborations survive despite their increase in size and the scarcity
of the job market. The only explanation I could come up with was
perhaps a deep sense of respect towards one another.
Working and being supported by a respectful, healthy and functioning
team within a collaboration is like driving Wasabi. You trust your
people to protect and support you, to filter what is not necessary, to
free up the space that one needs to think, read, care, prepare and
If one is working in, let’s call it generically, an unhealthy
environment then yes sure the work gets done, the tasks get completed,
the deadlines are met. However the cost is that no bandwidth is left
for anything else.
Having to be constantly vigilant or said differently not trusting your
team eats up the energy that you need to see beyond the day to day
work, tasks and deadlines.
We don’t always have the luxury to pick a red or a grey car. However
if offered the chance, then I wish you to drive whatever is for
you the equivalent of Wasabi and not just go from point A to point B.