I don’t know David, but his tweet made me want to know more about his yearly reflection process. Fortunately, he documented it on his blog. It’s smart and well worth reading. A few things jumped out at me:
His reflection starts with a review of his previous year’s goals
In addition to his yearly review, he does daily, weekly, and monthly reviews, and he takes notes for all of them
His planning naturally follows from his reflection
Even though he’s allocating a significant amount of time for end-of-year reflection and planning, his whole process is both integrated and iterative. As he explains:
There are a few interesting side-effects of the review process. First, they let me see the big picture across timespan we don’t normally have the time to think about. Big change takes time and we are often focused on very small time spans. The second side-effect is it let’s me see my accomplishments more clearly. I had a very good 2019, accomplishing a lot of my goals and pushing many things forward. It’s nice to pause to see the forest for the trees periodically. It also makes it easier to keep pressing forward on the hard things when I can see that I’ve made progress on them or similar hard things in the past.
His process nicely reiterates some things that I constantly find myself harping on.
First, planning and review / reflection are two sides of the same coin. Trying to do one without the other doesn’t work.
Second, long-term complements short-term reflection and planning, and vice-versa. There’s a school of thought that wants to claim that you shouldn’t plan long-term because the world is too dynamic and uncertain, as if everyday learning somehow conflicts with long-term goals, which is a fallacy. As David writes, when you do both, it helps you see both the forest and the trees.
I posted a blog post on Faster Than 20 today where I shared what I’ve learned so far from seven years of collaboration muscle-building experiments. I was trying to figure out what photo I could share with that post, and my sister suggested that I find a good photo of ants. It turns out I made a good photo of ants in Santa Fe in 2015, so I decided to use that.
Seeing that photo reminded me of the exercise that preceded it. I was in Santa Fe for a five-day National Geographic photography workshop in Santa Fe led by the amazing Lynn Johnson. That day, when we arrived at Ghost Ranch for a day of shooting, Lynn assigned each of us a 12-foot-by-12-foot plot, and said that we could take as many photos we wanted of whatever we wanted for the next hour, but that we had to stay within our squares.
We were surrounded by gorgeous landscapes, which turned out to distract more than help. You can only take so many landscape photos in a 12-by-12 square before exhausting all the possibilities. The real goldmine was right in front of all of us, but in order to see it, we had to slow down and pay attention to what was right in front of us.
It took me about 20 minutes before I realized there were several cow patties in my plot. Paying attention is hard, even when you’re trying!
I think about that exercise all the time. (I think about that workshop and the wonderful people I met there all the time. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.) I haven’t done it since. Maybe I should.
Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post over on Faster Than 20 entitled, “Made of Love.” All I wanted to do was to tell a brief story of a remarkable moment I experienced at a meeting I was shadowing and how that moment made me feel. It turned out to be more complicated than that. I wrote a long, confessional draft that made me feel raw and vulnerable, I asked people I trusted for feedback, then I sat on that feedback for a while, before finally deciding to revise and publish the post.
I’m really glad I did. I got a ton of thoughtful, moving responses from friends and colleagues, which has me thinking and wanting to share a lot more.
For the most part, I’m thrilled about everything I cut and rewrote. However, there’s one tiny story that I wanted to share here, because it’s a bit of a North Star for me.
There’s an episode of the PBS cooking documentary, Mind of a Chef, that follows Magnus Nilsson — considered one of the best chefs in the world — through the process of conceiving and creating a dish with a young protege. (You can watch the episode on Netflix if you’re a subscriber. Oh, how I wish for more open access, so I could easily share video clips. Another blog post for another time.) It’s mesmerizing to watch, partially because of the beautiful setting (a frozen lake in the Swedish countryside), partially because of the creativity and skill of execution.
Two things jumped out at me in particular. First was the delight that Nilsson expressed throughout the process, including when he tasted the final product. He clearly was not satisfied by it, and he methodically walked through how he wanted to make it better. But he still seemed really happy about what he had done. Second was the the relationship between Nilsson and his protege. The latter seemed nervous (perhaps more because he was on camera than because of his mentor), but he also seemed… safe? Excited? It’s hard to describe exactly, but it felt productive and loving.
That’s the balance I personally want to strike for when I create something. I actually think I’m a lot more joyful about iterations than others see, but I definitely could let myself appreciate and celebrate more. More importantly, I can let others see this appreciation and joy. I definitely hold back because I don’t want me or others to get complacent, but I think I can strike a better balance.
Here’s a rough approximation of my target audiences:
In general, I’m targeting “collaboration practitioners” — anyone who:
Thinks effective collaboration is productive and fulfilling
Is motivated to improve their group’s collaboration, regardless of their role
The vast majority of collaboration practitioners do not self-identify as such. It’s sometimes in their job descriptions — any leadership and management position, for example — but often is not. It often ends up being invisible work by people who do not necessarily have positional power and that others may or may not value or even see (and hence is often uncompensated), but is nevertheless critical. Much of my strategy is about helping people recognize that being a collaboration practitioner is indeed a thing, that a lot of others think and care about doing this well, and that a community for this exists if people want it.
Good collaboration practitioners care about performance. Great practitioners care about the intersection between performance and aliveness. Truly high-performance groups both perform and feel alive.
My sweet spot audience is the intersection of collaboration practitioners and changemakers — people who care about making change in their respective groups. Not all changemakers have a broader or explicit social mission (which is where my heart is, personally), but I suspect that most changemakers have this implicitly.
“Unemployables” is a cheeky category (coined by Gwen Gordon) that came up at a dinner party the other night to describe independents who probably will never (and perhaps can’t) work for another person’s organization. There could be many reasons for why one might be an “unemployable,” some not necessarily good, especially in the context of collaboration. But when I use it in this context, there’s an implied (admirable) quality of being very values- and systems-driven.
I included this category mainly as an observation, not as a particular focus area, although I definitely care about these folks and count myself among them. They tend to be radically motivated, the folks who are most likely to take my public domain material and use it to learn and practice on their own.
What do you think? Are the categories clear? Do they resonate?
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 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!