Practicing the Basics

It’s September 2013, nine months since my decision to leave a decade-long practice and identity to venture into the great unknown. It’s been far more of an emotional process than I had originally expected. Change is hard.

This past year, I’ve felt more compelled than usual to tell the story of my transition as it unfolds. It’s driven by my belief in the importance of working openly and leaving trails, but there’s something more driving me right now.

I’m lucky enough not to suffer from impostor syndrome. A lot of my amazing friends and colleagues do, and I go back-and-forth as to whether it drives them forward or holds them back. Personally, I’m humbled by the amazing opportunities I’ve had over the years, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and I have utter confidence in what I think I can achieve moving forward.

I’ve also failed more than I’ve succeeded. I’ve done my share of failing this past year. I’m wise enough to know that failure is part of the game, but I’m still struggling to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with it.

I want to share what I’ve learned from this process, and I also want others to know that this is normal, that everyone — even the most remarkable people — goes through it. The first rule of Changemaker Bootcamp is to be nice to yourself, but that can be an incredibly difficult rule to follow. Believe me, I know.

If I had to name one thing I’ve learned this past year, it is this: Being principled is easy. Living your principles is hard.

I’ve been trying to live some very basic principles, principles that I’ve advocated for years, principles that I’ve helped others try to live. It’s hard. I’d like to think that I’m better at it than average, but even if that were true, it’s not much consolation. If we were all a bit better at living our principles, the world would be a better place. In going through my own struggles, I’m also trying to create tools and structures that others can use as well. By elevating myself, I hope to elevate others.

One lesson I’m still learning is that focusing on the basics reaps the biggest rewards. In particular, I think the most important, basic practice is to be intentional, but hold it lightly. Simply starting with an intention is really hard, and I don’t know that many people who do it well. I’m placing a lot of emphasis on that for myself, and I hope that in sharing what I learn, I can help others with it as well.

“Jazz Hands” Insights on Open Collaboration

For the past several weeks, I’ve been having weekly video calls with Seb Paquet. Seb is someone I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. The first time we talked, we simply wanted to catch up, but each time we’ve talked, we’ve both felt the desire to keep talking. The conversations have been both fun and generative, and we’re both curious to see what might emerge. (You can see one of the outcomes of our previous talks: a brief video interview where Seb describes his Project Kitchen experiment.)

We decided to “formalize” our conversations by committing to four more over the next four weeks. The calls have a very light structure, and we don’t have any specific agenda. However, we’re committed to synthesizing our conversations into a joint blog post at the end of four weeks.

We also wanted to leave a trail at the end of each call, and so we’ll be recording quick (3-5 minute) videos, where we both share a “jazz hands” moment from the call. Today’s insights were about inclusiveness and the importance of being able to give negative feedback effectively in open collaboration:

Measuring Mindshare

My friend, Jerry Michalski, recently tweeted a question about collaboratively authoring documents using GitHub. I didn’t see his original tweet, but I saw a followup exchange between him and Howard Rheingold, and so I pointed both of them to Ward Cunningham’s Smallest Federated Wiki. I’ve seen some followup exchanges, and I’m happy that the pointer may have triggered something interesting.

I also realized that, despite admiring Ward’s project from afar for years now, I have never blogged or tweeted about it.  I’ve mentioned it to folks, but not to Ward directly, and I even wanted to incorporate it into a client project last year that I didn’t end up doing. I don’t know that Ward knows how interesting or important I think his explorations have been. Hopefully, he does now.

It got me thinking about how hard it is to measure mindshare, especially in this day and age. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in regard to my own work, recently. For the past few years, I haven’t spent much time thinking about who reads this blog or any of my other writings, but every once in a while, I’d get some signal that people are paying attention. Sometimes, it would be from people I knew, who would often allude to something I wrote face-to-face. Other times, it would be from completely random people.

I’m thinking more consciously about mindshare again, partially because I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do next, and I’m being a bit more transparent about it here than I’m probably comfortable. But I’m also doing it because I wonder how much of an impact my thinking and my writing is making in the world.

My numbers tell me that a tiny corner of the universe is paying attention. It’s smaller than when I first started the blog and when I last seriously paid attention to this sort of thing, but it’s still there. Still, it’s hard to really interpret what those numbers mean and what part of the story they’re not reflecting.

With Changemaker Bootcamp, I’ve gotten many more signals, and they’ve surprised, moved, and motivated me. When I started my first pilot five months ago, I posted a call of participants here, not expecting anyone to respond. Not only did a handful of people respond, they included some I hadn’t heard from in a long time, and two people I didn’t know at all, including Anna Castro, who became my first bootcamper.

My “official” launch a few weeks ago triggered more signals. I’ve heard directly from interesting folks I didn’t know before, and I’ve discovered a bunch of new folks from my newsletter signups.

Thinking back to my reflection about Ward, I’m now wondering what kind of mindshare I have beyond the signals I’ve received. I know that much of it is latent and invisible, but knowing that it’s out there is a source of encouragement.

One of the challenges with working online is our lack of literacy around feedback mechanisms. There are actually more feedback mechanisms online than there are face-to-face, but we don’t necessarily understand or pay attention to them. Regardless, it’s important to remember that those feedback mechanisms only tell part of the story, that mindshare is immeasurable, and that it’s important to keep sharing in ways that others can benefit.

It’s also a good reminder that we all have the ability to give feedback without requiring any special tools. It’s so simple, it’s easy to think it’s not important enough to do. That’s too bad. It can be very meaningful, and the world would be a better place if we all took the time to do it more often.

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.

Quick Thoughts on BarCampBlock

I emerged from my summer hermitdom to attend parts of BarCampBlock this past weekend. My favorite part of Bar Camp was actually something I missed because I overslept on Saturday morning: the unveiling of the original Bar Camp attendee list (photo by Chris Heuer):    (MJC)

https://i2.wp.com/farm2.static.flickr.com/1352/1176806198_263159d5ab.jpg?w=700    (MJD)

This is such a wonderful picture on so many levels. Seeing it brought back vivid memories of the first Bar Camp: the sense of excitement about what a few passionate folks had created in a ridiculously short amount of time, the forging of new friendships and the strengthening of old ones. This little touch created a strong sense of continuity between the first camp, this third year anniversary celebration, and everything in-between. It also demonstrated the subtle difference between holding space well and simply holding space. Masters of this art understand the importance of the artifact, of Leave A Trail.    (MJE)

I didn’t get to stay as long as I would have liked, but here are some quick thoughts on what I did see:    (MJF)

  • The organizers (Chris Messina, Tara Hunt, Ross Mayfield, Liz Henry, and Tantek Celik) and volunteers did an incredible job of making everything run smoothly. The hardest part of a collaborative event isn’t the process; it’s logistics. In this particular case, the organizers had to deal with a sudden spike in registrations — 900 to be exact — with no clue as to the actual number who would show up (564 on Saturday, 260 on Sunday) and a location literally spread out over 11 locations within a few square blocks. When I saw various organizers on Saturday morning, I noted with surprise how calm everything was, and everyone just looked at me and laughed. There’s a ton amount of behind-the-scenes hard work and stress required to make any event run smoothly. Kudos to all who contributed.    (MJG)
  • There were a ton of first-timers there. I saw several people I knew, and many more I didn’t. I like to see about 25 percent yield of repeat attendees at events like these, and this came close to that. I think that’s outstanding. The danger of events like these is that they become cliques. That wasn’t the case with this Bar Camp. In some ways, I think the oversaturation of networking events in the Bay Area — including many Bar Camp spin-offs — as well as the spirit of Bar Camp prevented this from happening.    (MJH)
  • I heard a few folks comment on the lack of depth in the sessions, and I experienced some of this myself firsthand. This is common at open, collaborative events, but most folks misunderstand what this means. Open Space-ish events are particularly conducive to building Shared Language among disparate folks. Deeper learning and collaboration often occur as a result, but it doesn’t necessarily happen at the event itself. You can facilitate this deeper learning at events by making them more intentional — Internet Identity Workshop is a great example of this — but Bar Camps are more meta than that.    (MJI)
  • I loved the Continuous Learning, not just from the Bar Camps that the organizers had played an active role in, but from the wider Bar Camp community. The demo party, for example, was an idea borrowed from Bar Camp Toronto, and while the execution needed tweaking, I loved the spirit of experimentation.    (MJN)

More good thoughts from Liz, Ross, and Tara.    (MJJ)