Perspective

For the past four weeks, I’ve been doing a little experiment as part of a cohort in which I’m participating. Every week, I’ve set aside three hours to write about lessons I’ve learned from different people (Doug Engelbart, Jeff Conklin, Chris Dent, Gail and Matt Taylor, and Kristin Cobble) and projects. I’m doing it primarily as a bottoms-up exercise to surface the core principles of my work, but I’m also curious to see if the stories themselves help people better understand my own story — why I do the work that I do and the core principles underlying my practice.

It’s been challenging and fun. It’s definitely helped me get clear, and I’ve also gotten good feedback from peers. I’ve benefited from decently organized notes over the years, several of which I published on this blog.

At times, I find myself flummoxed by how long I’ve been doing this. I “officially” started focusing on collaboration in 2002 — 15 years ago! — and I started this blog the following year. I’ve been pulling up lots of posts that I wrote a decade ago or longer, and while it’s been fun to revisit work that I was doing and questions I was exploring, it also leaves me wondering where the years have gone.

Then I think about my mentors. Jeff had been doing this work for 20 years when I first met him, Matt and Gail for almost 30, and Doug for 50! One of the many things that all four of these good folks had in common was that they were still curious, still learning. They had strong points of view that they had earned through many years of real practice, but they never let that interfere with their hunger to learn more and from anyone, regardless of age or background.

Compared to my mentors, 15 years still squarely places me in the beginner category, which is good, because that’s about how I feel. Maybe I’m in second grade now. It’s firing me up for what I’ll learn in the next 15 years, at which point maybe I’ll graduate to third grade.

More importantly, it reminds me how lucky I’ve been to have important mentors in my life and how important it is for me to pay it forward.

Structures that Support Good Habits

Last week, Seb Paquet and I completed the third of our four-week experiment around regular conversations, including our regular “jazz hands moments” video (above). My “jazz hands moment” was the importance of self-care and how it applied to things as simple as determining whether or not to participate in a phone call.

However, upon reflecting on it some more this weekend, I wanted to highlight a different aside that came up in our conversation. At the beginning of our call, Seb complimented me for having our meeting notes prepared once again and said, “I’ve never met anyone as consistent about it as you.” It sounds like a little thing, but it was not only a nice acknowledgement, it was validation for the work I’ve put in around developing structures for supporting good habits.

One of the most important precepts of my work is good information hygiene. This is a concept coined by my friend and Blue Oxen cofounder, Chris Dent, almost a decade ago. I have long preached its importance, but in truth, I have not always been the best practitioner.

That is, until I started working with the team three years ago that would eventually evolve into Groupaya (which just celebrated its second anniversary yesterday). We agreed as a team on the importance of good information hygiene, some of our specific practices, and the basic roles that each of us would play. This included another principle to which I hold near and dear: Everybody works the line.

We developed a set of practices around project and meeting documentation, and we held each other accountable. I feel like we achieved about 80 percent of what I wanted us to be achieving, which was light years ahead of what I’ve seen anyone else — in our business or otherwise — do.

And, it was only the third best team I’ve been on when it comes to group information hygiene. Those distinctions go to my HyperScope team (seven years ago) and to my work with Chris (ten years ago). Both those teams had a higher overall literacy around information hygiene, which enabled us to distribute the roles more effectively.

However, what was different about the Groupaya experience was that I was much more intentional around building these practices into habits, and I walked away more disciplined about some of these practices than I ever had been before.

In addition to intention, the other key to my success in this case was my role as group “teacher.” In previous instances, we were all peers, equally committed and skilled. In the case of my Groupaya team, I played more of a “teacher” role, which gave me a heightened sense of accountability. I felt more pressure to model good practices.

I’m glad that I continue to model these practices, even after almost a year away from my old team. Information hygiene is a critical part of being a high-performance team, and I hope to continue to model these practices with every group with whom I work, regardless of the specific role I play.

Ten Years of Blogging

Today is my ten year blogiversary.  This is my 615th blog post.

In my first blog post, I wrote about the tools I used and wrote to support this blog. In my second blog post, I explained why I started blogging. I cited three reasons.

First, I wanted to understand the medium better, and I learn best by doing.

Second, I wanted a platform for carrying out some tool experiments.

Third — and this was the main reason — Chris Dent, my cofounder at Blue Oxen Associates, kept nagging me to do so. If you’re looking to blame someone for 615 posts worth of noise over ten years, blame Chris.

In that first post, I made light of people blogging about their cats and the things that they ate. My intention was to use this medium strictly as a place to share my thinking on collaboration. While I’ve continued to use it that way, I also drifted far away from that. It became much more of a personal sandbox, and yes, that has included many posts about things that I’ve eaten. Based on my analytics, people are much more interested in what I eat than they are about what I have to say about collaboration. So it goes.

In celebration of my blogiversary, I had hoped to do an extensive analysis of the things I’ve written over the past ten years. Then last week, my friend and mentor, Doug Engelbart, passed away.

I’ve been thinking a lot about him and about what he meant to my life and my career. That man literally changed my life. I wanted to write something special about him, but it’s been a hard process, and it will take me some time.

So in the spirit of old school blogging, I’ll point you to two things written about Doug by two friends: the aforementioned Chris Dent and Brad Neuberg, who worked with me on Doug’s HyperScope project in 2006.

Thank you to everyone who ever engaged with me on this blog, whether it was linking to a post, leaving a comment, or simply reading and thinking about what I had to say. The simple act of writing things down has helped me considerably, but I’ve also developed some amazing relationships with people through this blog, and that has meant the world to me. We’ll see if I can manage another ten years.

Leaving Trails and Serendipity

This morning, I’ve been doing some time travel. I’ve been doing a lot of writing and reflecting this weekend. Some of it has been for clients, some of it has been for this blog and the Groupaya blog, and some of it has been on internal wikis. I do a decent job of leaving trails, and tools like blogs and wikis have nice features that encourage serendipitous connections. That’s resulted in some interesting stuff I’ve written in the past rising to the surface.

Here are two previous blog posts that turned up serendipitously because of stuff that I wrote this weekend (including this post):

About five years ago, I wrote a post entitled, “Work Rhythms.” (This post turned up as a “Related post” under my previous blog post, since Nancy White is mentioned in both.) It talks a lot about the merits of slowing down, and it references influential interactions with folks such as Nancy, Chris Dent (my Blue Oxen Associates cofounder), and Howard Rheingold. It’s interesting to see how much I thought about this stuff five years ago, how much that thinking has stuck with me five years later, and how much I still struggle with this.

Here’s a nice historical piece about coworking, a blog post I wrote in 2005 entitled, “Coworking Open House, November 21.” (This post turned up because I was searching for stuff I had written previously about wikis encouraging serendipitous interactions. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, but I found this post instead.) It’s an invitation to an early event my friend, Brad Neuberg, threw to spread the gospel of coworking, a term that he coined. It’s awesome to read and remember this, knowing what a huge phenomenon coworking has become since. What’s even more interesting about that post is that I didn’t know Brad that well at the time, but I had clearly connected strongly with him. A few months later, I hired him to be the architect and chief developer for Doug Engelbart‘s HyperScope, a wild professional and personal experience that I still treasure today.

Online Tools As Space

It’s late, I’m tired, and I have a workshop I’m hosting tomorrow. But, I’ve got to get this off my chest now. You can thank my old partner in crime, Chris Dent, for initially instigating this with his blog post entitled, People in Social Software Systems.” What closed the deal for me was reading Wendy Seltzer‘s piece, “Facebook: Privacy versus cross-context aggregation.”    (MOZ)

I’ve been playing with this metaphor of Online Tools As Space for about a year now, and I’ve been threatening to write an essay on it for about as long. The premise is simple. We have a natural intuition for space and how it affects the way we work. Whether or not we leverage that intuition is another problem entirely, but the fact of the matter is, we do a better job of leveraging that intuition in meatspace than we do in online space. And we can leverage that intuition in online space.    (MP0)

Online space is mostly equivalent to physical space, except the physics are slightly different. The folks at Linden Lab have this saying about Second Life: “It’s just like real life, except you can fly.” That’s not quite what I mean when I say the physics of online space is different, and the statement itself is wrong in subtle, but important ways. (Yeah, yeah, I understand it’s a marketing slogan.)    (MP1)

Time is essentially equivalent in both online and physical space. What’s different are the notions of proximity and presence. There is still the notion of distance in online space, but it’s fungible. I can bridge gaps by modifying the presentation layer or by linking content, and suddenly, distances disappear. Moreover, we can take an existing online space and munge into something that looks entirely different. Since we don’t have the notion of physical presence, we have to create a digital representation — essentially Digital Identity.    (MP2)

What are the ramifications of all of this? First the good news. Once we get past the mental roadblock that technology seems to create in all of us, we can find that — for the most part — our intuitions about space applies both to physical and online spaces. I can identify a good intimate or public space just by looking at it, whether it’s a physical room or a web site. We just have to leverage this intuition.    (MP3)

Now the bad news. The fungibility of online space and Digital Identity creates social havoc, largely in the area of privacy. People’s blogs feel like private spaces, and so people treat them as such, but they’re not actually private. People make contributions to Wikipedia, not expecting these to reveal much about their identities, yet some researchers discover that if you aggregate all this data, you can create visualizations that reveal a startling amount about a person’s identity. And all of this stuff is easy to do.    (MP4)

I’ve got a lot more to say on all of this, and perhaps one day, I’ll be able to say it coherently. But now that I’ve gotten it off my chest, I’d love to hear people’s feedback.    (MP5)