Why You Can’t Have It All

Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a wonderful essay in this month’s Atlantic Monthly entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It’s directed toward women, but it’s really for everyone who cares about work-life balance in his or her own life and in society as a whole. Her basic premise is that “having it all,” while possible, is predicated on a series of half-truths:

  • It’s possible if you’re just committed enough
  • It’s possible if you marry the right person
  • It’s possible if you sequence it right

To change this, we need to:

  • Change the culture of face time
  • Revalue family values
  • Redefine the arc of a successful career
  • Rediscover the pursuit of happiness
  • Enlist men

Slaughter’s essay struck me on two levels. First, the lack of women in positions of structural power does not reflect an “insufficient commitment.” Slaughter writes:

To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen. Consider the number of women recently in the top ranks in Washington—Susan Rice, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Michelle Gavin, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle—who are Rhodes Scholars. Samantha Power, another senior White House official, won a Pulitzer Prize at age 32. Or consider [Sheryl] Sandberg herself, who graduated with the prize given to Harvard’s top student of economics. These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.

While these “superwomen” are trailblazers, we cannot view the existence of these kinds of women as a measuring stick for a more equitable society. I recently had a Facebook exchange with Tara Hunt about some of the systemic challenges that women in technology face. I referenced Janice Madden’s study of African-American coaches in the NFL and wrote:

I think the problem is that if you’re a woman in tech, you have to stand out in order to make it. We’ll know that real progress has been made when there are just as many crappy female programmers or entrepreneurs as there are male.

Second, we have to reevaluate how we define success for ourselves and for society as a whole. If success is solely about rising to the top of our professions, then the vast majority of us our failures. When did balance, happiness, and family fall out of that equation? And if they haven’t, if we all truly value those things, what kind of structural shifts do we need to make to support them?

At the beginning of the year, I blogged about Groupaya’s three goals for 2012. One of our goals is, “Space for renewal, learning, and play.” I noted:

This is my favorite goal, and it will be the hardest one for us to achieve successfully. When you’re action-oriented, it’s very easy to spend all of your time, well, doing stuff. But it’s not necessarily healthy nor good for business nor good for the world.

When I said, “it will be the hardest one for us to achieve successfully,” what I really meant was that it would be the hardest one for me.

I go out of my way to emphasize to my peers how important I think this goal is. I am constantly reminding my business partner, Kristin, never to apologize for her lack of scheduling flexibility due to her 10-year old son. (The fact that she often does speaks to the unfortunate societal mindsets around work and family to which Slaughter alludes and that we all unconsciously perpetuate.) I am constantly discouraging my colleagues from working on weekends. I go out of my way not to overallocate people’s times.

While my colleagues will credit me for all of these things, they will also (un)happily point out that I am terrible at modeling them and that it sends a very mixed message. Earlier this year, I was complaining to Kristin and my other colleague, Rebecca, about a client who was having trouble respecting boundaries. I observed how often this client emailed or called “after hours,” then admitted that it was more the symbolism than the logistics of this that bothered me, because in reality, I kept similar hours.

“You mean you both work late into the night and start work early in the morning,” responded Rebecca in exasperation. She then told Kristin about an epic email exchange that she was copied on between this client and me that had started after she had gone to bed and that had continued before she had woken up.

I have realized for some time that the sheer numbers of hours that I work along with the lack of clear start and stop times create stress for my colleagues and undermine our collective goal for space and work-life balance. On the one hand, I resent this. I’m not asking others to be like me. Why should I be punished for my persistence and commitment? Why should I hold back if I feel passionate about what I’m doing and compelled to keep doing it?

On the other hand, it’s not about either-or. It’s about finding the balance. The truth is, I’m not happy about where the balance lies for me right now. Adjusting how often and when I work won’t just help others, it will also help me.

Moreover, when I dig deeper into why I work the hours that I do, it’s not all about passion and drive and all that rah-rah stuff that I like to pat myself on the back about. There’s a dark part of me that doesn’t truly believe that we can be “successful” (whatever that means) if I don’t “work my ass off” (whatever that means).

The rational part of me understands the hidden traps of this kind of thinking. The rational part of me understands that space and balance means that I’m more creative, I’m more effective, and I’m more pleasant to be around. I know from experience that slowing down can mean going faster. I know all of these things, but I’m worried that my dark, hidden beliefs undermine my attempt to achieve balance. Even worse, I’m worried that they undermine my attempt to support my colleagues in living this balance.

Finding this balance takes work and discipline, but it also requires reexamining the structures around you. We’re experimenting with a lot of things at Groupaya right now. We have tools that help manage our information flow so that we’re not disturbed after hours. We all track our time, and I’m trying to figure out how we might reward people for working smarter, fewer hours.

It’s not easy, and we don’t have the answers yet, but it’s a necessary exploration. If your structures don’t reinforce your beliefs, then neither will your behaviors. This is true for individuals, for organizations, and for society as a whole.

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)

Networked Tools and the Email Bottleneck

My friend and colleague, Tony Christopher, recently wrote a wonderful paper entitled, “Tools for Teams: Beyond the Email Bottleneck.” There are two things I really like about the paper, and there’s one thing I want to nitpick here.    (MDS)

First, the good stuff. Tony introduces a new term, “networked tools,” to connote tools that are on the network. These include shared calendars, file repositories, and so forth. Why is this useful? For starters, most people have no idea what a collaborative tool is, and that includes many folks who are ostensibly in the business.    (MDT)

What is a collaborative tool? It’s a tool that facilitates collaboration. Certainly, a shared authoring tool like a Wiki has affordances that facilitate collaboration. But a plain old text editor is just as legitimately a collaboration tool, because it can also be used to facilitate collaboration (for example, when used on a Shared Display).    (MDU)

When most people talk about collaborative tools, what they’re really talking about are networked tools, which is why I think Tony’s term is much more apt.    (MDV)

The main point of Tony’s paper is not to invent a new term, but to shift the focus away from the tool and onto an organization’s needs and processes. His specific advice is a bit oriented towards larger organizations, but the essence of his argument is true for everyone.    (MDW)

My only nitpick with Tony’s paper is that he chooses to pick on email, a favorite practice of another person I like to nitpick on this point, Ross Mayfield. (In fairness to Ross, he’s clearly being a troublemaker — or a good CEO — when he declares email dead, as he’s also written clearly about using email effectively in the context of collaboration. And he’s spot on about occupational spam.) Tony writes:    (MDX)

Email undermines the centralized accumulation of knowledge that could benefit the organization both during the project and long after it’s over. Organizations that have not evolved from email to a broader set of networked tools face lost oportunities and hidden costs.    (MDY)

It’s a bit of a red herring to blame email, because email is a Swiss Army knife. You can do a bunch of things with it, but you’ve got to figure out how to take advantage of this flexibility. This is even more difficult with groups, because if some folks are using their email differently from others, its effectiveness as a collaboration tool drops.    (MDZ)

I suspect that most organizations would see orders of magnitude improvements in how they collaborated if they went through the steps that Tony suggested, then reexamined how they could use email more effectively.    (ME0)

A very simple example of what I mean came out of a conversation with Tara Hunt earlier this week. I was talking to Tara and Chris Messina about their work to move the Freecycle community to something more appropriate to their needs. I observed that while Freecycle could definitely use a better support tool, it’s a great example of how you can leverage a simple mailing list to do amazing collaborative work.    (ME1)

Tara noted that there are 3.5 million people currently on Freecycle, which is amazing. She also observed, “Imagine how many people they would have if the tool were better.” A fair point indeed. When you’ve thought carefully about your patterns and you’ve reached the limit of your tools, the next step for coevolution is to improve your tools. Freecycle — currently serving 3.5 million people effectively — is definitely at that point. Most organizations are not.    (ME2)

Blue Oxen’s 4th Anniversary

A few weeks ago, about 50 friends and colleagues — including co-founder Chris Dent, visiting from Seattle — joined us at Chris Messina and Tara Hunt‘s gorgeous new office in San Francisco, Citizen Space, to help celebrate Blue Oxen Associates‘ 4th anniversary. Thanks to all who came and to all who sent well-wishes. Thanks especially to Chris and Tara for being such great, generous hosts, and thanks to Tara Anderson for handling all of the logistics. Pictures are up on Flickr, and there’s a funny video of some late night, after-party silliness as well.    (LLX)

Of course, being a Blue Oxen event, there had to be a “group exercise.” This year, Kaliya Hamlin led us through an incredibly moving one. She asked all of us to take a moment and write down a meaningful thing that happened to us this past year. She then asked us to write down something we hope will happen next year. Everyone then posted them on the whiteboard for all to see and share.    (LLY)

A few people signed their notes, but most of them left theirs anonymous. Some notes were easy to identify, but most still leave me wondering who wrote them. Some notes were business-related. Many were deeply personal. Some notes were knee slappers. Others were heart-wrenching. People wrote about relationships, both good and bad. They wrote about losing family members and about surviving cancer. They expressed both despair and hope.    (LLZ)

What the exercise did was raise the group consciousness. I knew almost everyone in the room, most of them well, and over the past year, I interacted regularly with many of them. Yet this simple exercise surfaced many things about the people in my community I didn’t know. It changed the way I looked at everyone in the room, and it reminded all of us of our humanity.    (LM0)

Great group exercises not only surface interesting content, but also elicit surprising behavior. Jonas Luster started the process by drawing connections between cards of people he thought should connect. I don’t know how many people connected through the wall, but I know some did.    (LM1)

Due to the hustle and bustle of being the host of the party, I didn’t have a chance to contribute my own meaningful moments to the wall, so I thought I’d rectify that here. My list is long. Most of my moments consist of late-night conversations with friends and colleagues over dinner, over drinks, and over the phone, covering everything from concrete topical challenges to philosophical ramblings to general silliness. Just thinking about many of these moments brings a smile to my face.    (LM2)

If I had to sum up all of the meaningful moments from the past year into one sentence, it would be this:    (LM3)

I’m grateful that my relationships with many of my work colleagues have evolved into true friendships.    (LM4)

I’m a firm believer in professionalism, which often translates into a wall between myself and my colleagues. It’s my personal manifestation of the Intimacy Gradient, and my wall is probably a bit higher than others. Nevertheless, I do let down my guard over time. It’s never planned. It’s just something that happens organically over time, a natural deepening of trust past a personal threshold. When it happens, it’s always incredibly enriching. It happened a lot this past year.    (LM5)

I am so grateful to have such high-quality and supportive people in my life. It makes me all the more motivated to chase my dreams, to continue to learn and improve, and to contribute as much as I can to this world. I’ve discovered something that’s special and important, and I’m not even close to fully understanding it. I’m going to work my butt off until I do, and I’m going to share what I learn as widely as possible.    (LM6)

WikiMania 2006, Day One

Day one is over. Brain is overloaded. Very tired. Attending conference during day/evening, then working late into night — bad. Law school dorms with no air conditioning in Cambridge in August — also bad.    (KWO)

Still, much to share. And amazingly enough, I will — at least a bit. There’s something about this conference that actually gets me to blog, rather than simply promising I will. Besides, I’m going to set a new record for responsiveness to Tom Maddox, even if it is via blog.    (KWP)

It is incredibly surreal to be back at my alma mater surrounded by post-college friends and colleagues. What makes it even more surreal is that folks from all facets of my professional life seem to be here, not just Wiki folks. I mentioned having my fingers in a lot of pies, right? Well, all those pies are unexpectedly well represented this weekend. It started yesterday when I discovered that Chris Messina and Tara Hunt were on the same flight to Boston, and culminated at dinner with Greg Elin (whom I first met at the FLOSS Usability Sprint, and who invited me to join him for dinner), Daniel Perry (a lawyer who’s been an important contributor to recent Identity Commons discussions), Tom Munnecke (first introduced to me by Jack Park when I was just starting Blue Oxen Associates), and Doc Searls (who needs no introduction). Also at the dinner: Ellen Miller, Micah Sifry, David Isenberg, Britt Blaser, and Yochai Benkler. Quite a contrast from last year, when I was hanging with grassroots Wiki peeps every night. I’m not complaining, though. The conversation was fascinating, even if we didn’t talk much about Wikis.    (KWQ)

Keeping with this theme, I didn’t hear much about Wikis today, other than my interview with Ward Cunningham. I kept my questions pretty basic, as a lot of folks there had never heard him speak, but I managed to slip in a few probing questions for myself. I asked Ward about the evolution of Wiki culture, and I specifically mentioned the culture of anonymity that he strongly encouraged in the early days, but that seems mostly absent in today’s Wikis. Ward seemed resignedly ambivalent. I asked him about what makes a Wiki a Wiki, and he was decidedly agnostic in his response: anything that facilitates a permissive spirit and mode of collaboration. I’m not sure whether he was being political or whether he truly feels this way. My guess is a bit of both, but I’ll press him on this if I get a chance later this weekend.    (KWR)

I showed up late to Larry Lessig‘s keynote, but I was unconcerned, as I had heard him give his Free Culture speech before. It’s excellent, but he recycles it often. Sure enough, he was doing the same speech, and I started tuning out. Fortunately, my brain was paying partial attention, or I would have missed what may end up being the most intriguing development of the conference.    (KWS)

Larry started talking about the interoperability of licenses, and how it was silly that the FDL and Creative Commons BY-SA licenses could not be relicensed interchangeably, even though the two licenses were equivalent in spirit and intent. He then proposed an interoperability clause as well as a neutral organization whose purpose would be to classify equivalent licenses. His talk was followed by a really good panel discussion between him and Eben Moglen. This stuff is really complicated and important, but it looks like Larry and Eben are serious about working together towards a common solution. Apparently, Jimbo Wales deserves a lot of credit for getting these two to cooperate. Did I mention that I love this community?    (KWT)

Quick hits:    (KWU)

  • I shared a flight and T ride here with Chris Messina aned Tara Hunt. (Chris was presenting on Bar Camp.) Chris extolled the virtues of Voodoo Pad, which apparently has autolinking features a la my Markup Free Auto Linking Wiki idea.    (KWV)
  • Was excited to see two of my roommates from last year: Kurt Jansson, a German doctoral student and president of the German chapter of Wikimedia Foundation, and Juan David Ruiz, a Chilean lawyer.    (KWW)
  • Saw Erik Zachte in the morning, who does awesome Wikipedia work. Erik immediately told me about two cool projects I had never heard of: FON and Wikimapia.    (KWX)
  • Caught up with Rory O’Connor after my session with Ward. Rory’s a filmmaker who came to last year’s Wikimania to make a documentary on Wikipedia. What I didn’t know was that he was so inspired by the proceedings, he decided to release all 13 hours of his footage under a Creative Commons license to encourage folks to mix their own documentaries from the event. Check it out, and mix away! There’s some interview footage of me somewhere in there, and I make a cameo in Rory’s 11-minute rough cut, in the background of Jimbo’s interviews yukking it up with John Breslin.    (KWY)
  • Somehow, I got recruited by multiple Wikipedians to help with the lightning talks due to my process expertise. My expert advice: “Move those chairs into a circle, and be firm with the time limit.” Yes folks, this is why I get paid the big bucks.    (KWZ)
  • Briefly got a chance to chat with Tim Starling about the OpenID integration in Mediawiki. Tim explained that they’re going to unify the user databases across all the different Wikimedia properties. This was further validation that Yoke‘s identity proxy approach is useful. Of course, one of these days, I’m going to have to actually write down what that approach is, so that I can convince people of its utility.    (KX0)