The Real Work: A Poem by Wendell Berry

A weekend gift from a chain of friends: Nancy White, who saw it from Jerry Michalski. This poem, “The Real Work,” is by Wendell Berry:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

A Day In A Networked Life

I live a networked life, but there was something about yesterday that made me fully appreciate how lucky I am and how amazing this world is. Here’s yesterday’s rundown:

6am — Up early. Long day of work ahead of me.

7:30amAsaf Bartov (currently in Israel, soon to be in San Francisco) and Moushira Elamrawy, newly hired global community reps at the Wikimedia Foundation, are holding IRC office hours. Decide to listen in. Happy to see several old friends from around the world there. It’s just text scrolling on the screen, but it almost feels like we’re in the same room together. Moushira lives in Egypt, which was serendipitous, because while we chat, something cool happens there. Again, networks.

8:30am — A colleague of mine in North Carolina passes along an unusual request from a colleague of hers in Belgium. She wants to use a YouTube video of a Korean rap song for a workshop, and she wants to make sure the lyrics aren’t offensive. I’m amused, but my Korean isn’t good enough to help her. I ping a friend from Korea on Facebook, whom I met at a conference here in San Francisco last summer.

9am — Take a peek on Twitter, and see my friend, Nancy White (based in Seattle), asking for stories about social media in public health education. I don’t know any off the top of my head, and I could easily have retweeted Nancy’s request and left it at that. But I immediately think of two friends on Twitter who could help — Steve Downs (based in NYC) and Susannah Fox (based in D.C.) — and I decide to introduce the three of them instead, in public and over Twitter. Total time spent on this: About a minute.

I had met Steve in person almost a year ago. I discovered Susannah accidentally through an article that evoked a blog post here. I still haven’t met her in person, but I’ve enjoyed all of our interactions since. Steve and Susannah immediately get to work, retweeting the request to specific people and supplying a stream of great stories to Nancy. I check in a few hours later, and I’m blown away by the response.

9:30am — Plotting a surprise for a dear friend. Can’t share the details here in case said friend reads this blog post. I’m in the early stages of scheming, and after talking to a few people, I decide to set up a Facebook group. A few hours later, 30 people are on the group and work is happening. Many of those folks are friends I haven’t seen or talked to in a long time.

Throughout the day — Lots of work, and I need to focus. I have calls for four different projects. On three of them, we use Google Docs for collective, real-time synthesis. How were we ever productive before real-time, collaborative editing?!

I end up working until 7pm, then settle in for the evening. I disconnect, cook dinner, chat with a friend, do some reading, then go to bed early.

This morning — I wake up before 6am, refreshed. My friend from Korea has responded. Not only does she verify that the lyrics are indeed not offensive, but she sends me a transcription of the entire song! I thank her, and forward the news to my friend in North Carolina.

Later in the morning, I ponder all that happened in the past 24 hours, and I sit to write this blog post. As I write, Travis Kriplean IMs me from Seattle. He pings me about some great news, and we end up having a great, thought-provoking conversation about tools for engagement. My mind is racing again, and now I have to go read one of Travis’s papers.

Israel, Egypt, Belgium, Korea, and all throughout the U.S.: Over a 24-hour period, I interacted with friends and colleagues from all over the world, including one in Egypt while incredible things are happening there.

I spent about 20 of those minutes on my computer in my office here in San Francisco connecting people to others, creating online spaces, and walking away. Amazing stuff magically happened.

While all this was happening, I focused and worked productively, again from the comfort of my home office, using tools that have only recently become widely available.

What an amazing, wonderful world we live in, where possibility is reality.

Work Rhythms

I’ve been absent from this blog for almost a month, which is unusual for me. It started with my trip to Baltimore last month for Creating Space, the Leadership Learning Community‘s annual conference, and it ended with the Compendium Institute workshop last week here in the Bay Area. In the middle, I cranked away on my projects and spent some quality time with friends and family. I didn’t get much reading done, but I got a whole lot of good thinking done.    (M7Z)

Nancy White recently wrote of the challenge of balancing work and life, of the nitty gritty and the big picture:    (M80)

Because I fear that if I allow myself to be consumed by work, I will not achieve what I aspire from my work: to add value to the world. Work with a capital W. Some days lately I feel I’m tottering on a “check the box” mode of working. That is when learning stops and, to me, my ability to add value stops. It is a fuzzy line and easy to miss. It is when the quality of attention shifts. Diminishes.    (M81)

I want the shift to always be towards the side of learning, not just getting things done. Of attention and reflection, not forgetting.    (M82)

Her words resonated with me (as they often do). Last year was ground-breaking for me in this regard. For the first time since founding Blue Oxen Associates, I started to build in time for deep reflection about what I was doing and why, and about whether I was accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish.    (M83)

When I was in college, I used to lift weights with a buddy of mine who was an ex-football player. We were both intense guys, and when I’d get in one of my workout grooves (not that often), we’d lift almost two hours a day, five days a week. I got much stronger pretty quickly, but I also peaked quickly as well. I blamed it on the irregularity of these workout grooves.    (M84)

My junior year of college, I started lifting with a neighbor of mine, a big guy who was fanatic about fitness. In one of our early workouts, I complained that I never seemed to get any stronger. “How often do you lift?” he asked. Upon hearing my response, he told me to shorten my workouts — three days a week, no more than 45 minutes a day. I was extremely skeptical, but I tried it, and to my surprise, it worked amazingly well.    (M85)

I’ve written previously about the cycle of thinking and doing. When you’re designing for collaboration, you need to take these natural cycles into account. Doing so usually requires a lot of discipline, especially because it requires fighting workaholic instincts.    (M86)

One of my epiphanies last year was that I wasn’t doing a good job of practicing what I preached, of living what I knew. In particular, I was getting too caught up in the nitty gritty and not spending enough time reflecting. I was getting too deeply involved in too many things, and I was overscheduling and overcommitting.    (M87)

I decided to make four major changes. First, I was going to cut down on the number of projects I would take on simultaneously. That meant saying no more often, and fighting the instinct to get deeply involved in everything I did.    (M88)

Second, I was going to cut down on the number of events I attended, especially those that required travel. Because most of the events I participate in are intense experiences (I rarely participate in networking events), I decided that I would schedule an equal amount of time for reflection. In other words, for every three day workshop, I would need to schedule three days for reflection and processing.    (M89)

Third, I was going to go on more walks. Not only is this a great way to get exercise and think, it’s a great way to think with others. It’s no coincidence that Aristotle and his followers were known as Peripatetics. Instead of constantly meeting folks in coffee shops, I started telling people to join me on walks instead, a trick I picked up from Howard Rheingold. Fortunately, San Francisco has a number of gorgeous places for short, casual hikes.    (M8A)

Fourth, I was going to spend more meaningful time with people. This nicely aligned with my walking edict, but it also meant interacting with less people overall.    (M8B)

I’ve been good about doing all four of these things. Not great, but good. As with the weightlifting, doing less still feels counterintuitive. And just as with the weightlifting, doing less has generated the desired results. This has manifested itself in a number of ways. I’ve only gone on one work trip so far this year, whereas last year, I averaged a trip a month. I’ve blogged more consistently. I feel more connected with colleages and with friends. I’ve had time to really develop ideas and projects that are core to my mission. Most importantly, I feel Less Dumb, which is one of the main tenets of The Blue Oxen Way.    (M8C)

Nexus For Change Observations

I’m about to comment on a conference that I reluctantly didn’t attend: Nexus For Change. Sure, I’ve read rumblings from the conference site as well as the blogosphere and Flickr, and I’m sure there’s more to come as folks recover from what was undoubtedly a mind-blowing two days. I’ll also happily use my absence as an excuse to touch base with friends and colleagues who did attend.    (M1G)

Despite my lack of complete information, what’s compelling me to comment is this picture that Nancy White took:    (M1H)    (M1I)

I love the elephants that were identified. But the thing that really jumped out at me was the elephant on the upper right: “No youth present.” Disappointing, but not surprising. And frankly, probably a good thing… this year. This convening was already a coup, and it takes baby steps to make big changes in the world. But it will be a horrible thing if it becomes a trend.    (M1J)

About a month ago, there was a thread in Chris Messina‘s Flickr stream about the need for a book on unconferences. I commented:    (M1K)

There’s already an excellent book like this. It’s called The Change Handbook, and it documents a ton of great thinking and experience on group process and catalyzing transformation.    (M1L)

The Bar Camp phenomenon adds something new and vibrant to all of this, and is not represented in the book (AFAIK — I haven’t seen the second edition yet). So there’s still a need for that knowledge to be integrated into the larger body of practice.    (M1M)

This is a classic case of two communities with similar values and different demographics not talking to each other and certainly not collaborating. How do you get these communities to collaborate? You either wait for it to happen on its own, or you catalyze it.    (M1N)

At the Blue Oxen Associates 4th anniversary party last December, I said that I’d have some exciting things to announce this year. I was being dramatic then, and I’ll probably be dramatic again in a few months when I announce some new initiatives. In short, I’ll be describing a concrete plan for catalyzing collaboration between these communities. I’ve been preparing for months now, and I’ve still got a few more to go, but I’m already giddy. This has been the vision behind Blue Oxen Associates from day one. When I started the company, I had a five year plan for achieving this vision. It’s a good thing, too, because I’ve needed each and every one of the past four years to reach a point where I felt like I could make a significant difference. I’ve still got a ton to learn, but I also feel incredibly empowered, and I can’t wait to share and apply what I know with the rest of the world.    (M1O)

Nancy White on Joy

As I’ve said before, I bookmark a lot of Nancy White‘s blog entries. She’s one of the most insightful thinkers and practitioners on collaboration I know. This morning, she posted a wonderful piece (and picture) on joy:    (L65)

You see, I have been working really hard the last few months, in a time of year when many of us think of vacation, I have been focused on my to do list. This type of workload and mindframe can be exhausting. When I let it, it becomes stress. It keeps me awake at night. I’m certainly less fun to be around for my family.    (L66)

But my work is joy. Keeping that thought alive with each thought, each keystroke, even when I have to battle my computer for 4 hours because of something stupid I did (which is what I did last night!) is important. Essential. Taking joy in the companionship and ideas of my colleagues spread around the world is joy. Figuring something out is joy. Ending the day with a quiet mind is joy.    (L67)

I had the pleasure of working with Nancy at the Collaborative Technologies Conference this past June and the pleasure of having dinner with her and her family when I visited Seattle earlier this year, so I have the necessary experience to say this. It’s a joy to work with Nancy. It’s a joy just to be around Nancy.    (L68)