What is "learned helplessness," and what does it have to do with writing and software making? I'll leave the writing part to L.M., but I'd like to cover the software side briefly, before I send you off to read the essay, at:
L.M. quotes the Wikipedia definition, "Learned helplessness…means a condition of a human being or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected."
The essay was inspired by the reactions of some writers to the enormous technology-induced changes taking place in the publishing industry. (See, for example, my posts of Feb 27 and Feb 28, on this blog.) These writers had learned that the only real way to publish their books was the traditional way, as books printed on paper by a few large publishing companies. Mostly, they had put their entire business of writing in the hands of agents who dealt with these companies for them. Now, with e-publishing, they have an avenue for bypassing all those "helpers" (and their fat fees), but some of them, many of them, have learned to be helpless, and violently oppose the idea of standing on their own two feet as adults.
How does this relate to software professionals? If you really don't understand, I'm not sure I can explain it to you. To put it briefly and bluntly, have you ever allowed the "grown-ups" (the salespeople, the managers, the customers) to override your professional judgment because you felt helpless?
Did you ever agree to build some code in two months when you knew it would take at least five—and then silently take the blame when you made it in four?
Did you ever allow unqualified people to override your technical decisions, thinking you couldn't do anything about it?
Have you agreed to undertake testing software that was (to you) obviously unready for testing (or even patently untestable)?
Even if you've never experienced such events, have you ever watched others trapped by them, and not known how to help them?
If you know about such matters in your work, read L.M.'s essay about the psychology of learned helplessness, then come back here and be a voice in the conversation that follows.
And why here? LM explains:
"I keep my comments section off due to family and work commitments, but Dean Wesley Smith and Gerald M. Weinberg offered their blogs as sites where people could discuss this essay amongst themselves. I will be checking in as often as I can to both their websites over the next few days to answer any questions."
I think we should divide the labor, with the writers' comments going to Dean's site (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/) and the software people laying out their thoughts here. But you can choose where to hang out—both places, if you wish—and we'll see what comes of our sharing.
And, BTW, as you dig into this subject, you may want to try my ebook, Managing Yourself and Others,