Lessons Learned from 30 Days of Blogging

Last month, I decided to blog every day. As I explained earlier:

For whatever reason, I’ve found writing hard to do the past few years, and this year has been the hardest. I’ve also been disinclined to think out loud, even though I’ve had a lot I’ve wanted to say and share, both personally and professionally.

Mid-way through the experiment, I reported:

What it’s been doing is helping unlock whatever has been inside of me. I’ve been precious about sharing what I’ve been thinking, not wanting to say them unless I can say them well and feeling paralyzed as a result. I’ve also found it overwhelming at times to try to blog. I guess things are crazy in the world right now, and it’s not only affecting my mental health, it’s hard for me to make sense of it all.

Blogging as a practice has reminded me not to be too precious. The less I try to say, the less overwhelming I feel. The more frequently I share, the less I have to worry about saying it all in one piece, which makes it much easier to write. Plus, even though I don’t think I’ve shown it yet, I’m starting to remember what it feels like to write well. I’m rounding into shape again, which always feels good.

The biggest surprise has been that sharing regularly has helped me re-engage with my broader community. I didn’t think anyone really followed this blog anymore, and because I’m rarely on social media anymore, the algorithms seem to have decided I’m not worthy of most people’s feeds. Still, some people are paying attention to what I’m saying, and getting to hear from them has been a treat and is also motivating me to write more.

After having finished the experiment, I’m not sure I have anything different to report, other than to say that I don’t think I had any breakthroughs after 30 days, and I want to keep exercising this muscle. I thought seriously about extending my project through the end of the year, but I opted against it for a few reasons. Even though it wasn’t particularly stressful, it wasn’t stress-free either, and I don’t need the added pressure this month. It also tires out muscles that I’m using for work right now. I can focus on developing these muscles more when work settles down.

In the meantime, I think the exercise still is helping me share more than I was before. This is my third blog post in December. I think a good pace for me is to be blogging about once a week, especially when those posts are more or less organic.

Maybe the most interesting thing for me was seeing what I chose to blog about. This wasn’t just a writing exercise, it was a sharing exercise. I aggregated all of the tags from those 30 days of blog posts and ran them through WordClouds.com to see if I could detect any patterns.

Not surprisingly, I wrote a lot about COVID-19 and the elections. It was nice to see that I wrote quite a bit about collaboration. This wasn’t my goal, but I admit I was curious to see how often I felt compelled to write about “work stuff” — the original purpose of this blog — especially when I had so many other things on my mind. I loved that I wrote about a lot about making — food and art and photography and stories in general.

Finally, I was curious about the people and places I wrote about. Here were people I knew whom I mentioned in various posts (not including my partner and sister, whom I mentioned often and didn’t bother tagging):

I loved seeing this list. My interactions with others play such a huge role in what I think about and how I feel, and I love being able to share this space with the people in my life.

People I mentioned whom I don’t know:

Places I mentioned:

  • Africa
    • Nigeria
  • Alaska
  • California
    • Bay Area
      • Colma
      • Oakland
        • Joaquin Miller Park
        • Mountain View Cemetery
      • San Francisco
        • Fort Point
        • Golden Gate Bridge
    • Los Angeles
      • Forest Lawn
  • Cincinnati
  • Santa Fe
    • Ghost Ranch

The Current Lockdown, Security Theater, and Second-Order Effects

We’ve been under “full” lockdown here in the Bay Area for almost a week. The rules have been much more lax than they were when we first went into lockdown in March. Understandably so — we know a lot more about the virus now than we did when it started. However, the changes have barely been evident to me. All the retail stores are open, and people seem to be out and about just as much as they were two weeks ago.

Outdoor dining, however, isn’t allowed. This smells like security theater. If you can spend 30 minutes in a poorly ventilated store with others — admittedly, with everyone masked — is it really less safe to eat outdoors spaced from others?

I get that you have to do something different (3,000 people dying every day is absolutely horrific), that sometimes it’s the second- or third-order effects that result in the changes you want, not the first. But I feel for folks who are most impacted by these rules (such as restaurants) when it’s not clear that the rules are addressing what most needs to be addressed. It’s also just confusing for everybody, and you have to wonder if the confusion is undermining the point of the order in the first place.

Apparently, this past Thursday, San Francisco changed the rules again, now allowing people to meet with one person outside of their household for an outdoor, spaced and masked walk. Again, this feels safe, but if this is now allowed, what is the theory of change of this whole lockdown again?

It will be interesting to see which way the numbers are trending in a few weeks.

California’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing App Available Today

As of this morning, California finally has a COVID-19 contact tracing app! I installed it this morning, and I’d encourage fellow California residents to do the same. If you, like me, use Android, install the CA Notify app from the Google Play store. (You may have even gotten a notification this morning encouraging you to do it.) If you have an iPhone, you don’t even need to install anything. Just go into Settings, click on “Exposure Notification,” and go from there.

If you want to understand how a contact tracing app helps us keep the virus under control, how this implementation (which uses the Google and Apple APIs) works, and why it’s taken so long to get built and adopted in the U.S., this New York Times article has a pretty good summary. If you’re worried about privacy, The Markup was on this early, and they also published an informative followup article in August.

Permission to Dream

A few years ago, I started tinkering with a new toolkit, which I’m calling the Rubber Band Visioning Toolkit. I created it for a bunch of reasons.

First, I want to see consultants design and facilitate better visioning sessions. I often see visioning designed as a one-off. This is not only an ineffective way to do visioning (as I articulated in my blog post, “Rubber Bands and the Art of Visioning”), it can even cause harm by opening loops that won’t get closed. I also noticed that many consultants who facilitate these sessions don’t actually do their own visioning, not even in one-off form. My hypothesis was that, if consultants had the opportunity to do their own visioning, it would have a slew of benefits, including helping them get better at designing visioning for others.

Second, I want people to have widespread access to visioning. It’s a crazy thing to say, because visioning is simply about stretching your imagination, it’s about striving for something you really want. You don’t need any special tools or guides to do it. You definitely don’t need to hire a consultant for it. And yet, we rarely give ourselves permission to do this, much less the space and the time. That’s a huge loss. I think we all would be so much better off if we all had a clearer idea of what we wanted in the world.

As is always the case with my toolkits, I’ve been piloting it with a bunch of different folks, tweaking and evolving it along the way. I have another set of changes I want to make to it before publicly releasing it hopefully early next year, and I’m planning on making it part of an official offering as well. (As with all of my toolkits, it will be public domain.) While I figure all this stuff out, I’ve continued to pilot it with friends and colleagues. (If you’re interested in giving it a go, ping me.)

I love piloting all of my toolkits. I love designing and tweaking, and I love the excuse to engage with others with this stuff. But I especially love piloting the visioning toolkit. It is so stupidly simple, and yet the impact it has on folks is profound. It’s also incredibly intimate to silence your self-censors, if only for a moment, and then to share what you really want. How often do we really do that with even our closest friends and family?

I kicked off a new session earlier today with two new folks and an old friend and colleague, who had gone through the process once before earlier this year. It was 90 minutes at the end of a packed day, but it just re-energized me and made me very happy. I am so grateful to all of the people willing to give it a spin. I can’t wait to share it with more people, and I hope others will use the toolkit to facilitate sessions with people they care about.

Change Fatigue and Appreciating Local Restaurants in These Times

This morning, my sister and I dropped by one of our neighborhood favorites, Arsicault, to pick up some croissants. The line there was always long, even before COVID-19. Like many other businesses, Arsicault had markers drawn in chalk to make sure folks stayed socially distant while in line. Today, I noticed that the markers had gotten an upgrade:

Change is hard under normal circumstances, and these times are obviously far from normal. I’m moved and inspired by how quickly small businesses, especially food providers, have adapted to these challenging times. I’ve also watched with curiosity the journeys many restaurants have taken and the hard choices they’ve had to make, from adapting their menus to adopting online ordering software to building outdoor dining spaces to drawing socially distant line markers. How have they decided which changes to make, when to make them, and how far to take them? How have they dealt with change fatigue on top of struggling to survive?

I don’t know how Arsicault’s painted line markers came about, but as I pondered them, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my friends, Sarah and William, several years ago. I was explaining to them that much of my work boils down to helping groups navigate change fatigue. William listened quietly, nodding thoughtfully as I talked, then said, “I know how your clients feel. When we first moved into our house, I fixed everything I saw that was broken. After about a month, I stopped. It’s not that I thought I had fixed everything. I see the same broken things every day, and they bother me just as much as they did the first time I saw them. Real life just caught up to me — family, work. It’s just exhausting trying to keep up.”

His story resonated both personally and professionally. In my own life, I have a long list of things I know I need to do, but I can’t ever seem to muster the energy to do them. Similarly, many of the groups I work with know exactly what needs to change in their organization, but they’re so exhausted just keeping things up and running, even taking a small step seems daunting.

Maybe painting line markers will save the good folks at Arsicault time in the long run, since they won’t have to redraw their chalk markings regularly. Maybe they just wanted something that looked better. All I know is that simply painting those lines while trying to survive in these challenging times must have been exhausting. I appreciate them and all of the local businesses doing their best to stay alive while also trying to keep their customers safe.