This past July, shortly after Doug Engelbartpassed away, his friends organized a moving memorial for him. There were many wonderful tributes, and a television journalist also did some short video interviews with people who knew him well. If you’re interested in getting a tiny taste of who Doug was, the videos — especially the tributes — are a great source for that.
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.
Doug Engelbart’s passing earlier this summer has me reflecting a lot on our friendship, the work we did together, the influence he had on my life and my career, and also larger issues around connecting past and present. Talking with my former HyperScope teammates reminded me of how much fun we had together. I’m proud of what we did, but I’m even prouder of how we did it.
We worked in two ways that were particularly innovative. First, we were an open project. Anyone could participate in any of our meetings, including the face-to-face ones. We even provided food.
Several people (but not Doug) were nervous when I first proposed doing this. They were concerned about people disrupting the process. I wasn’t worried about disruption, because we had a strong core team, and I knew how to facilitate an open process. In particular, “open” does not mean everyone is equal. As I explained to everyone who joined us, I invited everyone to speak up, but we had a task we needed to complete, and I reserved the right to direct the conversation and kick people out if they didn’t respect the ground rules.
I had to assert that right a few times, but otherwise, the openness overwhelming improved the project. We had a number of people make really valuable contributions, and Craig Latta in particular came out of nowhere to become an important part of our core team.
Second, I proactively invited members of Doug’s original lab to join us. I wanted the team to learn everything we could from the people who had done it before us, and I also wanted these folks to understand how much we valued them. The whole team agreed that this was one of the best parts of the experience. Not only did we learn a ton, but we felt like an extended family.
I’m constantly amazed how rarely this occurs. People don’t think to reach out to their forebears, and they miss out on a huge learning opportunity. The HyperScope project was an unusual situation (although Silicon Valley is rife with these opportunities, given how compressed the history of our industry is), but these opportunities also apply to projects where people have recently left.
I think that most of the time, it simply doesn’t occur to people. Sometimes, there are tricky politics and emotions involved. Often, it’s because we don’t value the hard-earned knowledge that we can learn from those who came before us. This is why so many companies often lay people off without taking into account the loss of institutional knowledge.
Regardless of the reasons, I think it’s unfortunate that connecting the old with the new is such a rarity, and I’d love to see this shift.
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.
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.