Thinking Out Loud (and Iteratively) Is Hard

On January 2, I wrote:

Last year, I only wrote five posts on this blog, my fewest ever. It wasn’t for lack of material, and it wasn’t even because I didn’t have enough time. I did lots of journaling and drawing, I just did most of it in private.

I want to re-adjust…. I want to think out loud a lot more, especially about my work, while also still sharing the occasional personal tidbits.

Today is February 14. This is my seventh blog post of the year, which means that after 45 days, I have already published more than I did all of last year. I’m doing great! (I’m not just saying this. I truly feel this way.)

And, I’m struggling.

On the personal side (i.e. this blog), I have a bunch of half-written posts and notes. As far as I’m concerned, many of them are almost good enough to share, but that last bit of effort is still work, and I just haven’t been able to get there. I either need to make a tiny bit more space, or I need to re-frame my standards.

I’m really struggling on the professional side. I have some drafts that I’ve been working on for many months (in one case, for multiple years). I also have some posts that are almost ready to go. I co-wrote one of them with another person, which helped a lot. But I’m also trying to shave too many yaks, which is creating a bottleneck. I managed to force myself to publish something last week, which was not only relatively painless, but also got a nice response. However, I find myself stuck again.

I don’t want to overthink this. I’m doing great right now, and I’m probably not too far from getting over the hump. (Writing this is helping me.) But I’m realizing (to my surprise) that I’m suffering from a bit of performance anxiety. It’s all mindset. I wouldn’t say my audience today is much bigger than it was, say, 10 years ago. In fact, you could make a pretty good, data-driven case that it’s smaller. It’s less about size, more about self-perception, I think — vanity if I’m being honest. Somehow, it all feels higher stakes to me.

This is all good. It will help me be more empathetic when I’m helping others work more transparently and iteratively. And it’s a good reminder that it’s all about practice. Once I get some more reps in, I’m sure it will all get easier again. Let’s see.

On Blogging and Maintenance (and my Website Refresh)

I updated my website look-and-feel for the first time since 2010, which is when I migrated it from Blosxom (!) to WordPress. The overall architecture is the same. I just wanted to update the theme to something more modern — responsive on mobile, more photography-friendly, support for the latest WordPress features including the new Gutenberg editor, etc.

I built the new theme on top of CoBlocks, which saved me a ton of time, gave me a bunch of things for free, and will hopefully future-proof me a little bit better than last time. (My previous homegrown theme lasted over eight years, so it did well all things considered.)

Still, the update took a long time. I had to get clear about what I wanted and research the available themes. I had to experiment with different themes to see which ones worked best. I had to brush up on CSS and the wonders of responsive design so I could create a homepage that looked more or less how I wanted it. I had to go down many ratholes, because that’s just what I do.

My impetus for all of this was that I missed blogging, and I want to do more of it this year. Updating the site was akin to buying a new outfit — not strictly necessary, but feels pretty fresh.

What do I miss about blogging? Becoming less dumb by chewing on half-baked ideas and having others help bake them further.

When I first started in 2003, blogging was like exchanging letters out in the open. The act of writing things down (especially in public) forced me to slow down, reflect, and crystallize my thinking in whatever state it happened to be at the time. The act of curating links helped reinforce the lessons learned from others (and myself), while also giving me a chance to acknowledge them publicly. Doing this out in the open meant anyone could jump in, which helped me get out of my silo and discover wonderful new voices. All of this helped make the web a more useful, humane place.

I’ve done pretty well over the years, but the tenor of it all gradually changed. Social media has cannibalized a lot of people’s attention (including my own). Because it’s not a slow medium, the nature of how I engage with others (not just where I engage with them) has changed. It’s more frequent, but it’s also more shallow. That’s actually a nice complement when I have a face-to-face relationship with people, but it’s not generative otherwise.

Last year, I only wrote five posts on this blog, my fewest ever. It wasn’t for lack of material, and it wasn’t even because I didn’t have enough time. I did lots of journaling and drawing, I just did most of it in private.

Some of it was social media backlash. I was on social media a lot for my 365 photo project in 2015, and while the experience was overall positive, I think it burned me out on sharing so much of myself. I’ve been much less active on social media — and on the Internet generally — since.

Some of it was an unexpected professional side effect, one I’m actively trying to counter. Most of my current colleagues don’t blog, and when they do, it’s rarely half-baked. (I have lots more to say about this, which I’ll probably share on Faster Than 20 in the near future.) This had the effect of lowering the bar for me, which is not what I want. I want to raise the bar for others.

Because of how I blogged when I first got started, I have about eight years of archives of a lot of my early thinking about collaboration. It’s so valuable for me to be able both to mine and to share this with others. Unfortunately, that’s not true of a lot of what I’ve been working on and thinking about for the past eight years.

I want to re-adjust. I’m inspire by my friends, especially Alex Schroeder, who have kept it up consistently over the years. I want to think out loud a lot more, especially about my work, while also still sharing the occasional personal tidbits. I’ve worked hard to balance my life so that I have more reflection time, and I want to make better use of this time by sharing more. I’d also love to experiment more with mining and making what I’ve already written more visible.

I’m sure the experience won’t be the same as it was in the early days, but I’m going to keep at it. I’ll continue to share what I write on Twitter and maybe Facebook, but the better way to track is to subscribe to my feed via your favorite feed reader (I use Feedly) or via email below. As always, I welcome comments below (or on social media), but I’d especially encourage you to try commenting the old-fashioned blogger way — by responding in your own blog with a link to the original source. Either way, would love to hear from folks!

My Six Favorite Essays on the Groupaya Blog

A random interaction with an old friend earlier today caused me to search for something I wrote on the Groupaya blog a few years ago. That got me nostalgic, and I ended up reading every post on the blog.

It was great to revisit these, and it stirred up some useful, sometimes nostalgic memories. I’m proud of what I wrote in my time there (2011-2012), but I’m even prouder of what Kristin Cobble and Rebecca Petzel wrote. They shared some wonderful gems.

It’s unfortunate that the company no longer prioritizes real-time knowledge sharing, since there’s a lot of wisdom in that group from which the world could benefit. It’s understandable, though. Sharing what you learn openly and in real-time is challenging, even scary, and it’s not for everyone. You have to really value it to do it.

If you do, however, you’ll find that it’s not that hard to make it a habit. It’s also tremendously rewarding, as I’ve been rediscovering through my Faster Than 20 blog. The act of writing and sharing is valuable in and of itself. It helps you think, and it helps you find your people. I am constantly humbled by the people I meet and touch through my writing.

But the most valuable benefit of blogging this way is that your ideas become persistent. (This is also what scares a lot of people.) Others can discover what you write long after you’ve written it. That can lead to new connections and possibilities. “Others” sometimes even includes yourself! I find revisiting old thinking to be a hugely valuable learning process, if only to remind me of thoughts I once thought and have since forgotten.

Here, in no particular order, are my six favorite essays from the Groupaya blog that I wrote:

  1. What Does the Collaboration Field Look Like?
  2. Measuring Impact: How You Feel Also Matters
  3. The Illusion of Control
  4. Practicing for the Emergent
  5. The Skillful, Intentional Practitioner.
  6. The Secret to High-Performance: Constant Striving

Enjoy!

Faster Than 20: My New Website on High-Performance Collaboration

Last week, I quietly launched a new website called Faster Than 20. It’s a place where I can share stories more intentionally about high-performance collaboration. It’s also a place where I can share my tools, frameworks, and lessons from my experiments.

Why a new website? Isn’t that what this blog has been about?

Yes and no. I’ve written a lot here about my work over the past 10 years, and I will continue to do so. But the primary goal of this site was never to build an audience. It was to capture whatever happened to be clunking around in my head.

If I had a thought that I wanted to make sure I captured somewhere, I could blog about it here. Most of those thoughts were about my work, although I’ve diverged more and more from that over the years. I never worried about being coherent or concise. I never worried about blogging regularly (or too frequently). I never worried about staying “on topic.” I just wrote what was in my head.

It was a liberating way to frame this little experiment of mine, and it’s been incredibly generative. I’m proud of the good stuff I’ve written, and I don’t worry about the less good stuff. Perhaps the most surprising and delightful thing has been that I have unwittingly built an audience, despite my best intentions. It’s small, and it’s largely (but not entirely) built around existing relationships, but it’s wonderful, and it’s made the whole experience much more fulfilling.

Earlier this year, as I was ruminating about how I could be making a bigger impact, I started trying to find great, well-organized resources on the web for actionable, meaningful information on how to collaborate more effectively. I was shocked to realize that there really aren’t any. There are plenty of websites like this one, but you have to wade around to find the nuggets. That’s a problem, and it’s one that I feel like I’m capable of addressing. But I didn’t want to address that here. I like having a place where I can ramble about anything.

So I started Faster Than 20. It’s not a new company, just a home for my thinking, my experiments, and lots of stories about high-performance collaboration. I’m being very focused about my audience — practitioners wanting to learn more about collaboration — and about meeting their needs. That means making it easy to follow in terms of content, frequency, organization, and channels. I’ll also be exploring lots of different ways to share stories more effectively through visuals and other media.

If you’re a practitioner looking for a great resource on collaboration, I’d encourage you to follow Faster Than 20. You can subscribe via emailTwitter, or RSS. There are three blog posts right now, with many more to come:

I would especially love to hear what you would find valuable. Please share your ideas below in the comments.

Finally, I’ll continue to post rambling thoughts here, not just about collaboration but about all the other things I’m interested in. If you’re interested in that too (and I love you if you are), many thanks, and please keep coming back!