Resolutions that Stick, Session 2: The Nitty Gritty

This is the second Session of three that will help you make resolutions that stick. If you are just jumping-in, go here for a start and then Session 1 before tackling Session 2. Where Session 1 of Resolutions that Stick dives deep and comes at the bigger picture, Session 2 gets a little more detailed and comes at the nitty gritty day-to-day. Where Session 1 could actually be scheduled into your calendar as a kind of vision quest, Session 2 will take multiple shorter sessions, spread-out over days and weeks. There’s just so much detail that gets uncovered here, that you will want to break-up the work: trying to define and refine your buckets, projects, actions, and when you are closest to them (i.e. planning and thinking about family matters during the weekend, work matters during the work week, and side projects during the early-morning or evening hours).

Onward!

Part 4: What are your Buckets?

As I’ve said before, the only certainty that we have is that death can come swiftly, and unexpectedly. That death is rarely planned, and so on. For those who don’t plan and contemplate their suicide, the closest we may get to a plan is a gloomy prognosis from a doctor.

As a result, you don’t know if your purposeful work on this earth will be stopped short. Ultimately some of your buckets will be filled with work that will remain unfinished when you die.

Because of this, I think that the term “bucket list” is wrongly used. Because we don’t know when we will die, every list of projects (part 5) and actions (part 6) that we need or want to finish, is part of a bucket list (i.e. as in “before ‘I kick the bucket'”). The list of grand adventures, vacations, and accomplishments (what we commonly refer to as the bucket list) actually belongs with your visions and dreams back in Session 1.

So, I use the word “buckets” instead of containers or themes or “areas of focus and responsibility” (as David Allen does), because I want the sense of urgency to be palpable: everything category of projects and actions that you need or want to do, must happen before you die.

David Allen barely gets at this existential anxiety when he defines “areas of focus and responsibility” as:

“Important spheres of work and life to be maintained at standards to ‘keep the engines running.'” (David Allen, Making it All Work, 298)

This is confusing because the only thing “keeping the engines running” is our continued existence, not our “areas of focus and responsibility”. Everything else is the work, creation, effort, and so on, that we want to complete before we stop existing–before we “kick the bucket”.

Further still, by thinking of the good work that you need and want to do in terms of fuel–the implicit gasoline metaphor behind “keep the engines running”–your work is framed as feedstock that continuously powers an engine. There is no prioritization of what needs to be done. Just feed the engine with a steady supply of busywork and go.

If instead you think of these spheres as bucket lists, then this will help you better prioritize what goes into them, when, how and why. You can never fully escape busywork, but you can be smart about how much of your precious time you spend doing, delegating, deferring or deleting busywork.

By thinking of the spheres of your work and life as something that can and will end, you will invariably seek to find your greater purpose in all that you do, AKA the meaning of your life:

“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. Sometimes the situation in which a man finds himself may require him to shape his own fate by action. At other times it is more advantageous for him to make use of an opportunity for contemplation and to realize assets in this way. Sometimes man may be required simply to accept fate, to bear his cross. Every situation is distinguished by its uniqueness, and there is always one right answer to the problem posed by the situation at hand.” (Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, pp. 98-99)

So, with Frankl’s fine words in mind, some questions:

  • “What are the important spheres of my work and life that I am currently focused on?”
  • “How is my destiny differentiated from where I stand today?” (Depending on where you are at in life, you might have so many things to do under one bucket that you should split a bucket into two or three. At other times, it might be better not to define a bucket at all. Life is always changing. So too are one’s priorities, constraints and opportunities. How you compartmentalize and prioritize your work will change over time.)
  • “What are some common themes that I notice in my work?” (If you are having trouble defining your buckets, you can start with projects (part 5) and actions (part 6) below. Or you can go back to your goals, objectives and fears (part 3 in Session 1). You can be sure that whatever your buckets look like, they will have goals associated with them and projects and actions within them.)
  • You might also identify some major buckets in your life that have no goals associated with them, but a lot of ongoing actions. This is OK. It means that you are content with where you are at! If you aren’t content, ask yourself: “What do I wish to change? What do I need to do? When do I want to start and end this good work?” You might want to change something, but are comfortable deferring this work for some time. That’s fine, but don’t leave it for too long!

Part 5: What are your Projects?

These are the outcomes that have to happen to achieve your goals, but they require a bunch of different actions (usually phased over a span of time). Project Management International’s (PMI) definition of a project is helpful here: “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.” And they go on: 

“A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.”

Many of us are familiar with projects. But to give you an example, I could have a project in my “podcast” bucket, for instance, that is geared towards finding and working with a co-curator to develop a season of podcast episodes on a certain topic. Projects take a specific amount of time and coordination, and there’s a bunch of different actions associated with them.

For the kind of planning work that we are doing in these posts, I would suggest avoiding using actual project management tools. Save it for later if you need to. Instead, as a loose start I would mind-map some of my projects in a notebook using some questions from David Allen’s Natural Planning Model. Even if you don’t actually mind map this, you usually either consciously or unconsciously consider:

  • The purpose. “Why is this being done?”
  • The future. “What would it be like if we were totally successful? How would I know?”
  • Your ideas. “What are all the things that occur to me about this? What is the current reality? What do I know? What do I not know? What ought I consider? What haven’t I considered? etc.”
  • How to organize everything. “What needs to happen to make this whole thing happen?”
  • What you are going to do next. “What should be done next and who will do it?”

Part 6: What do you have to do? What are the actions that need to happen?

This is your to-do list. Some of these actions are associated with a project, others are stand-alone. This is what you can do, right now, to get something done. To be sure that you’ve thought something through sufficiently enough to act on it, David Allen argues that you need to be able to answer these three questions:

“What has to happen first?

What does doing look like?

Where does it happen?” (Allen, 174)

If you can’t answer this, you have to rethink your work. David Allen is at his best when it comes to the concept of Next Actions:

“Identifying the next action runs neck and neck with defining the desired outcome in terms of generating value in a given situation. But if I had to choose between those two questions that would be the most effective in increasing productivity [‘what’s the next action vs. what’s the desired outcome?’], I’d unhesitatingly pick “What’s the next action?”

Why? Because I’ve seen too many people come up with a confident response to what they’re trying to achieve, but have the whole effort falter because of a lack of clarity in what, specifically, to do about it. When. on the other hand, someone takes the responsibility to determine the next action a project, he will almost without fail begin to bump his focus upward and integrate that thinking into the higher levels of his commitments. Whats the next step? Yeah, but in order to do that, we need to decide if… Oh yeah, that brings up the key issue about whether we’re actually going to… and so on.

… Grappling with the answer to that question occasionally surfaces very fertile issues at higher horizons that often need to be dealt with, and often that’s the only way we can actually start to identify and confront them.” (Allen, pp. 174-175)

It seems that iteration is built into this process, for once we arrive at the finest level of detail, we find ourselves going back to Session 1 to refine and clarify further.

So, since it bears repeating, the question to ask yourself here is:

  • “What’s the next action?”

If you’ve come this far, you may find yourself saying “this is all well and good, Mr. Morales, but it seems like a lot of work. How am I supposed to make any of this actually stick? How am I supposed to execute all this… especially when I am at my worst?”

Stay tuned to Session 3, where we tackle these questions. Because for all the well intentioned planning, and personal organizing, the rubber hits the road in that moment when, after a heavy lunch, you sleepily stare at your computer screen and (if you’re lucky) ask yourself “should I check my Facebook notifications, or should I do what I know needs to be done?” If you’re unlucky? You don’t even think about your choice: you just find yourself on the other end of a distraction timewarp wondering how you got to 4PM.

Resolutions that Stick, Session 1: The Deep Dive

If you are just jumping-in, go here for a starter. This is the first session of three that will help you make resolutions that stick.

Part 1: Why are you Here?

Let’s be honest. Wading through productivity books like David Allen’s Getting Things Done is boring. Better stated, it feels like an incredibly adult thing to do. If you don’t normally read these kind of books, you might find yourself thinking “Look at me reading about getting my shit together! I’m being so responsible right now!” Whether its imposter syndrome, or just your inner child trying to give you a few slaps across the face, I agree with David Whyte when he calls this sentiment “false maturity”:

“In my early teens, I had looked around at the strange world of adults and saw with a kind of horror that almost all of them seemed to be preoccupied with the details of life in such a way that they had lost sight of the greater picture. Adults seemed to have forgotten basic elemental and joyful relationships with clouds or horizons or grass that seemed necessary to be a full participant in the creation I saw around me. This form of false maturity, this slow forgetting, was late in coming to me but I had fallen for it at last and it was now beginning to smother me.

…In fact my whole approach to work had become commoditized. No longer a pursuit but a kind of defensive stasis, things bargained back and forth at the outer edge with very little transacting at the center.

In my reverie over the page, I remembered the years of hard slog in sciences that got me to the Galapagos, and in particular I remembered a marine zoology professor at Bangor University in Wales who had looked at me in horror when I told him I had taken up diving. He thought it quite touching but almost unsporting to actually go down there and see the living versions of things he saw mostly under a microscope. I had walked away shaking my head; laughing to myself; but in my recent approach to work I was fast becoming a newly minted version of him.” (David Whyte, The Three Marriages, pp. 130-131)

In this moment, David was struggling to rediscover the very reason for why he became a marine zoologist:

“…I started to get close to something at the very heart of what had brought me into the field in the first place, something that had been of overwhelming importance to me as a young boy: a visceral sense of empathy with creatures and worlds that were not my own.” (Whyte, 129)

Getting clear on your purpose, and your core values and principles is impeded by your false maturity. Unfortunately, the well-meaning work of productivity authors like David Allen reinforces this mentality of false maturity.

So, like David Whyte, uncovering and clarifying one’s purpose requires you to dive deep. You have to do this kind of work before you can appreciate the meaning of the bench top work you will later do with finer instruments and dead specimens. This kind of work requires your childhood wonder and naive purpose. Psychedelics help for much of what will go on in this first session, but if you’re in your dad years like me, the occasional dérive or flânerie works too (aided, of course, by a few drams of whiskey and a good companion)!

Here are some basic questions to start you off:

  • “Why am I here?”
  • “What are the values and principles of my work?”
  • “Why am I doing what I am doing?”
  • “What was I put on this earth to do?” (You’ve only got one shot, so what is it? Well? Come on!)
  • “In what way am I living in alignment with my values and principles? How am I unaligned? How long can I go on without bringing these elements of my life and work back into alignment?” And so on.

Walk, journal, repeat.

Part 2: Where are you Headed?

Imagine a future where you are living and working in alignment with your purpose and your core values and beliefs. Continuing on the psychedelic theme, think of this as a vision quest: all of your senses should be employed. Remember, you are looking for a future where things transact at your center… your heart. Don’t just write it down. Close your eyes and imagine it. What does it taste like… feel like… look like… sound like? Go to a place that shares an affinity with this vision, immerse yourself in it (see dérive or flânerie above).

Here are some more questions you can ask yourself:

  • “What is my vision for the future? What does this future look and feel like?”
  • “What does successful implementation look like?”
  • “What is my ideal work/life scenario?” and so on.

In the 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss writes about “Dreamlining” and he has some helpful templates online to help you do it (an example of a Dreamline can be found here). You can drill down and determine your “Target Monthly Income” (TMI) for your dreams in part 3 below. For now, stay high level with some of his prompts for envisioning your dreams:

“What would you do if there were no way you could fail? If you were 10 times smarter than the rest of the world?…What are the four dreams that would change it all?”

Part 3: What am I Trying to Achieve? What am I Trying to Avoid?

Goals describe the destination, objectives are a measure of the progress needed to get there (this distinction is important). Also, don’t focus on too many goals! Keep the number of your current “working goals” small, and try framing them in a “Positive, Immediate, Concrete, Specific (PICS)” format:

  • Positive refers to motivation–your goal should be something you move toward, not away from. Goals like “I don’t want to be fat anymore” are a recipe for threat lockdown–you’re reinforcing the negative instead of using reinterpretation to change your mind’s prediction to get excited about improving. For best results, eliminate conflicts first, then move toward what you want to achieve.
  • Immediate refers to time scale: your goals should be things that you decide to make progress on now, not “someday” or “eventually.” If you don’t want to commit to working on a particular goal now , put it on your someday/maybe list.
  • Concrete means you’re able to see the results in the real world. Goals are achievements–you should know when you’ve accomplished what you set out to achieve. Setting goals like “I want to be happy” won’t work because they’re not concrete–how would you know when you’re done? When you reach the top of mount Everest, you’ve achieved something concrete in the real world–that’s concrete.
  • Specific means you’re able to define exactly what, when, and where you’re going to achieve your goal. Climbing Mount Everest on a certain date in the near future is specific, which makes it easy for your mind to plan exactly how you’ll go about accomplishing it (Josh Kaufman, The Personal MBA, pp. 263-264).

Finally, set some fears. Watch this quick clip of Tim Ferriss describing how to do this:

“Fear setting” is an important counterbalance to goal setting, because let’s face it: we can be as positive as we want with our PICS goals, beneath our conscious rationalization of all things happy is a deep and murky sea of fear.

As I recall from my post-structuralist studies of Deleuze and Guattari, and training in Vippassana meditation, desire is a two-way street: there’s your desire to attain what you want, and there’s your desire to avoid what you don’t. The latter desire is often so potent that we “don’t even want to go there” and never actually go deep on our fears. If you are afraid to even “go there”, you could start by asking yourself: “what’s the worst that can happen if I go deep on my fears?” (and you will have already started!)

Again with the questions!

  • “What do you want and need to accomplish within the next six months, the next year (or two… or three) to achieve your vision?”
  • “What concrete or specific achievement are you trying to move toward?”
  • “What does failure look like and taste like? How bad can it be?” and so on.

Now, move onto Session 2… where we’ll get closer to the everyday matters of “buckets”, projects, and actions.

How do you make Resolutions that Stick?

Do you ever go through a burst of inspiration and motivation, where everything seems to ‘click’ and you see exactly what you need to do to attain your goals?

You sit down, crack open your journal, put everything together and write out your game plan. With your intentions set and your plan sketched out, you confidently venture forth into the future! Then, a few months later, after you’ve accomplished your biggest goals, you live the dream!

Right?

Not so much.

A couple of weeks after that burst of motivation (maybe a month later if you’re lucky), you start to falter. If there was a daily routine involved (and there usually is) you might miss a day here or there at first. Eventually a few missed days morph into a week… and then a month! Slowly but surely you get completely derailed from your original plan.

Sound familiar?

Every year during the week between Christmas and New Years, I find myself reflecting on the past year and planning the next one. Inspiration and motivation seems to be in the air. I crack the journal, set some solid intentions and venture forth into my new bright future (supposedly).

Lo and behold, a few weeks later (maybe a month or two if I’m lucky), I find myself completely off track.

And then I find myself asking questions: what happened to my motivation? Why can’t I achieve my goals? How do I firmly establish new habits and routines to take the actions I know I need to take? How do I become more self-disciplined?

Over the years I’ve experimented with a number of approaches to this conundrum, and today I’d like to put them all together for you into a “system” you can try out when the motivation strikes you, and in the days that follow from this flash of insight. Whether that time is at the start of the new year, your birthday, at a major life transition, or whatever. I, for one, aim to crack the spine on these pages of my journal every quarter: it keeps my thinking fresh and more adaptive to life’s varied circumstances. That being said, some of the exercises below are special and shouldn’t be repeated mechanically.

But why do all of this? It seems very self-centred. How does this tie-in with the challenges of working together and solving problems with groups of people? Well, aside from your own mental clarity that comes with the work of reflection and planning, there is also power:

“If you don’t have a plan, your actions will be determined by someone else. By refusing to make the effort to move in the direction you think is best, you’re ceding Power to those who do have plans.” (Josh Kaufman, The Personal MBA, 309 and in part, here).

Having a plan doesn’t mean that you are calculated and manipulative, but it does mean that you are venturing forth into your day from a place of power. Just like Carlos Castaneda described his tortured experiences finding his “spot” on Don Juan’s porch at the start of his initiation, the sessions below help you work outwards from a place of power and strength. Which is another way of saying from a place where you are not weak and fatigued. Coming at your life and work from a neutral or strong position gives you calm and purposeful strategy and tactics, as opposed to stressful and chaotic “hair on fire” busywork.

Let’s begin with a few suggestions/ground rules:

  • First off, I structure these reflection/visioning sessions along the lines of David Allen’s Horizons of Focus, so readers familiar with his approach will see an affinity. Readers unfamiliar with this should have a look and compare.
  • Second, try not to do all the sessions at once. If you can spread it out over a few days that’s best. By sleeping on it, you gain more insight into your work.

Now, go forth, dear reader!

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Humanity’s Celebration of Renewal: the “Sun Stands Still” and We Party

As part of my ongoing quest to defamiliarize the everyday, I would like to present a short Christmas “story”.

This is a special little post to remind us of the historical depth of social innovation, or put another way, of our social inventiveness.

I believe that social innovation is older than we think. In fact, it’s ancient, and we have about 12,017 years of global human history (if not more) of humans coming up with new social practices to deal with all manner of problems and opportunities.

To wit, if you haven’t seen this video yet, it’s worth checking out. It will defamiliarize the calendar for you:

But I digress (just a bit).

To the Christmas “story”!

As we’ve experienced in the northern hemisphere, since June, the sun’s arc across the sky has been steadily dropping lower and becoming shorter. The reverse has been happening in the southern hemisphere. On December 22nd, the sun reached its lowest possible arc (as far as we northern moderns are concerned).

In fact, the sun gets so low that in the few days surrounding the solstice it appears to rise and set in the same place. This is why etymologically, the origin of the word solstice comes from Latin phrasing, meaning “sun stands still” or “sun stand.”

By Mark Grant - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2126211
By Mark Grant – Own work, CC BY 2.5

For our ancestors, either using the naked eye, or ancient astronomical instruments (like the one pictured above at Stonehenge) the solstice would go on for more than a day. This is why the festival of Saturnalia, for instance, would go on for about a week during winter solstice.

While we don’t know with absolute certainty the origin of the diverse and myriad winter solstice celebrations around the globe (in some cases, like the Saturnalia, our ancestors celebrated hard), we can surmise their importance:

People were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months”. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time.

Feast before famine. Empty your stores to show your appreciation for the renewal of the year. Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.

While we don’t know for sure, we can imagine that these celebrations had their origin in a shared anxiety. There must have been some uncertainty as to whether or not our days were going to continue to shorten, and for how long. An ancient fear, perhaps, that the sun would continue to fall, never to return unless we humans intervened with “anxious vigil or antic celebration.”

How we dealt with this anxiety was through the celebration. Our ancestors’ social inventiveness lay in their ability to come together and have a good party.

Today, we know that every year the sun will come back (unless the earth is knocked off of it’s current axial tilt or orbit!). But the celebration remains.

For our modern capitalist version, we’ve intensified the “feast” and extended it well-beyond the agricultural ambit. We give all sorts of gifts, spending our money and supposedly stimulating the economy through our intensified exchange. This is the economic inventiveness that has sprung up around the winter solstice.

But instead of the fever pitch of shopping, what better time to really show your support for the sun and all that it does for our lowly little planet, than by having your own little Saturnalia? Let us re-invent our traditions, come together, and have a good time!

Happy Holidays!

-=-

PS. I was first exposed to some of the ancient astronomical origins of Christmas in a fascinating “Physics for Non-Physics Students” class that I took in university many years ago–taught by Arif Babul.

TWTP #2: Anne Cooper on Innovative Early Years Programming, Setting Unrealistic Goals and How to Build Partnerships

revelstokebc
“Destination360 Revelstoke BC” www.destination360.com/north-america/canada/british-columbia/revelstoke-canada

I talk with Anne Cooper, who told me the story behind Revelstoke’s extraordinary success with early childhood programming, which has transformed elementary, middle and high-school literacy and drop-out rates for the better. We talked about the importance of unrealistic goals, and how to successfully develop partnerships across diverse organizations. Anne is the retired superintendent of School District No. 19 in Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada.

When Anne arrived in 1999 in Revelstoke, BC, the community was concerned about the quality of secondary school education: 64% of children were graduating from high-school, and many children were dropping-out in grade 10 (primarily because of reading and behavioural issues). Anne, along with others in the education community, started a literacy committee to try to solve the problem. And in 2002, the community started piloting the Early Development Instrument (EDI) and began work on the “Success by 6” program. It was at this point that two parallel tracks met: the literacy committee, struggling to understand how to send more capable children into high school (starting in Kindergarten), and Success By 6 and the EDI, supporting families and children from birth through to kindergarten.

Today, the community of Revelstoke is guided by a Children’s Charter and an Early Childhood Dev. Strategic Plan with an inspiring guiding vision, where “Revelstoke envisions a caring community that acknowledges, values and supports the shared responsibility of investing in young children so that they may live, learn, play and dream in safe and healthy surroundings.”

Anne has been an instrumental force in the establishment of Revelstoke as the most successful school district in the Province of BC… and she continues to strive to make Revelstoke a truly family friendly city. As Anne puts it “if you are looking out for your children, living in Revelstoke will make a difference for your children, there’s no doubt.”


Some big ideas exchanged:

  • The literacy committee was guided by the notion of “going upstream”: if grade 8 kids can’t read at high school levels, let’s not have the high school shoulder all the blame. What led to these children arriving in grade 8 with poor literacy skills? (How many problems do we try to solve at the wrong end? Looking at the history of a process and how we arrived at “today”, is just as important as looking at the present barriers and opportunities.)
  • How do we send more capable and successful children into high school? Rather than play the blame game, Anne and her colleagues asked “What, as a system, can we do differently?” (Move beyond the blame game, accept responsibility for a piece of the problem, and look at the entire system, together. You can think of a visual here: instead of fingers pointing angrily at one another, think of fingers pointing outward from the group, with curiosity, at the bigger system that your problem is a part of.)
  • Changing the frame: instead of thinking of supporting “early years programming”, think of supporting a “family friendly environment”. (This reminded me of Murray Bowen’s work on the family as a system, and John Bradshaw’s work on how dysfunctional family systems “function”. When you think about it, it makes sense! School and community programming represent only a small percentage of the spaces where children are cared for. The majority of a child’s day is spent at home–especially pre-Kindergarten children.)
  • The sensitive periods of early brain development for vision and hearing development, for habitual ways of responding, for language, for emotion, for peer social skills, and more–most of these are in place prior to five years of age. (For theses core developmental milestones, you really need to have more taxpayer-supported programming for the early years. In the meantime, if you have kids, seriously consider investing in early childhood education like Montessori or Reggio, as opposed to college. AND it needs to be said: this doesn’t just benefit parents, the broader societal effects of focusing on early years programming has been thoroughly studied by economist James Heckman–and he even won a Nobel Prize for his work!)
  • And more!

References, allusions, and mentions implied:

People mentioned:

Credit where credit is due:

The Working Together Podcast, Episode #1: David Leach on the Kibbutz, “Communities of Coexistence”, “Third Places” and more!

kibbutz

Earlier this year I spoke with author David Leach and learned some fascinating lessons from the complex history of the Kibbutz–lessons that really pushed me to rethink what community and coexistence can mean.

David Leach is the author of Chasing Utopia: the Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel and chair of the University of Victoria writing department. During our conversation we explored David’s experiences on Kibbutz Shamir, where he volunteered in the late 1980s, and where he returned in the late 2000s to discover that the entire communal movement in Israel—and the nation itself—had radically transformed. Our conversation touched on urban design, gender and equality, Zionism, tea kettles, and I learned that “to be a good kibbutznik, you have to be a good ‘kibitzer’”.

David’s humour articles, profiles, reviews, investigative journalism, columns, memoirs and travelogues have appeared in national and international publications, including The Globe & Mail, The National Post, TIME Canada, Reader’s Digest, THIS Magazine, Canadian Geographic, Today’s Parent and Communities. Along with Chasing Utopia: the Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel, David has also written Fatal Tide: When the Race of a Lifetime Goes Wrong


Some big ideas exchanged:

  • The noble modernism of “homo kibbutznik”, i.e. the idea that the kibbutz would experiment with secular communalism and inspire the world to pursue the same course. (Today, “changemakers” are way less idealistic about the “ripple effect” of their actions.)
  • How do you de-familiarize social relations to transform the conditions of possibility for people to come together? (A live question for the future: how can we quickly experiment with new social relations and configurations? How can we come together differently without waiting for the revolution?)
  • What builds community? What strengthens a community so that it can face difficult decisions without falling apart? How do you build a living utopia? (These are pretty essential questions, and the certainly aren’t new.)
  • The debate about the tea kettle! What if one’s entitlement to a kettle in one’s private space had to be debated by members of your community? After all, if your private space is more comfortable than the communal kitchen, won’t you end up hanging out there more often, and not with everyone else in the dining hall? (We take privacy and personal space for granted, and yet we strive for connection and community every day. What if it were the other way around? What if friendship and camaraderie were built into the fabric of the everyday, but your desire to have a kettle in your private space had to be debated by the group?)
  • The problem of the nuclear family was apparent to the early kibbutznik: how would the community be affected if the mother and father were focused inward with their children? (Family is a side-note to community life… Although shocking to outsiders, family is a side-note to economic life in much of the western world: after 8-10 hours at the office and on the commute, we return to our families to have dinner and go to bed!)
  • A kitchen and a dining hall is a very radical and heartwarming thing indeed. (Cooking and feasting together are at the heart of communal living on and off the Kibbutz. Let’s have more breakfasts, potlucks and “shitty dinner parties” together. The best social change comes at the tip of a fork.)

References, allusions, and mentions implied:

People mentioned:

Credit where credit is due:

Beyond Post-it Note Chic

Photo from brakingboundaries.org
Photo from brakingboundaries.org

Over the next few posts, I’m going to make some distinctions between a few basic approaches to design. You can think of these approaches as dispositions or attitudes that one can take to problem solving. These are meant to be really simple distinctions to help organize one’s thinking, and they’re spurred from Ezio Manzini’s new book, Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation. In a way, these little reflections are meant to explore what the meaning of co-design is and whether or not this notion needs to be pushed further, or discarded in favour of something else.

What is the role of the designer in relation to complex problems? What entails good design work? Good design action?

From Big-Ego Design to…

Big-ego design is what we usually think of when we think of a designer or an architect: a highly regarded name and a highly regarded artifact.The gifted designer imprints his or her signature and stamp onto a unique artifact, multiplying its value beyond a comparable mass-produced object. Whether the outcome is functional or purely expressive, the signature of the creative genius creates a universe of meaning and value surrounding the end result, the work. Manzini rightly points out that this type of design becomes very dangerous when applied to complex problems. Complex problems will entail messy efforts to work together on a shared understanding of the problem and a vision for what the solutions might be. This is the opposite of the singular vision of an auteur.

Opposite big-ego design is what Manzini calls “post-it design”. It’s the kind of design work that you see in stock image photography of anonymous facilitators at work in anonymous team meetings. To wit, I bring you the perfectly titled stock photo “Portrait of creative professionals looking over a post-it note wall and brainstorming. Young man and women standing at the office behind glass wall with sticky notes”:

Portrait of creative professionals looking over a postit note wall and brainstorming. Young man and women standing at the office behind glass wall with sticky notes.

The post-it note is the penultimate symbol of this type of design work, and it shows up whenever you google: “teams brainstorming”, “design thinking”, “team problem solving” and so on… That and teams of faceless suits holding puzzle pieces (and on that note, I bring you the also perfectly titled stock photo “business team solving problem in the office”, because problems are usually as simple as a four-piece puzzle).

stock-photo-business-team-solving-a-problem-in-the-office-280397273

(The pieces don’t even fit together! But maybe they’re realizing that they’re missing pieces? or have the wrong pieces? Maybe the problem is the puzzle pieces! What does it mean!?)

But I digress.

…Post-it Design

Post-it design could be seen as a reaction to big-ego design: instead of a visionary designer leading the charge towards the solution, we have a designer asking the opinions and wishes of users, customers, citizens, etc., capturing their answers and clarifying them. Instead of a studio or a drafting table, or a desk and a personal library, any smooth surface can be turned into a space for thinking in diagrams (a lil’ nod to Deleuze and Guattari). The post-it note can be used wherever its adhesive will stick, making many spaces potential work spaces and stirring up stagnant office meetings with colour, movement and plasticity… transforming office space into AirSpace (more on this later).

The post-it note can track the best bits of a conversation and capture essential learnings, immediately broadcasting them to others in the room. Everyone can scribe their ideas, making everyone an instant contributor without the need for a moderator. The post-it note organizes our thinking, and enables the creation of a good first draft. The post-it note decrees: no idea is precious, no idea is stupid, jot it down and “put it out there.” Where the creative moment of big-ego design is singular, cloistered, focused, silent, etc. the creative moment of post-it design is singular or multiple, silent or cacophonous, but always modular, diagrammatic, plastic, open, unfinished.

“Post-it design is a way of seeing the design process that emerges from the positive idea of considering all the social actors, ordinary citizens included, as potential resources for the solution to a given problem: as people with something significant to bring to the design process.”

For Manzini the problem with post-it design is that in trying to counter big-ego design, it ends up “transforming design experts into administrative actors, with no specific contributions to bring, other than aiding the process with their post-its (and at the end, maybe, with some pleasing visualizations),” reducing the design process to “a polite conversation around a table of some participatory design exercise” (Design, When Everybody Designs, 66).

Designers need to be more aware of their unique role in a collaborative problem solving setting. Rather than fade into the background, the designer should develop their judgement to know when to come forward and lead, and when to hold back and let a process unfold. During a group’s efforts to creatively solve a problem, it is the designer’s ability to strategically switch between leading and following that will determine whether or not a process is just being facilitated, or if there is a measure of politic involved (We will explore politic in its relationship to co-design in the next post).

While it is possible that we can all be designers through post-it design and co-design, we cannot all be strategic designers (much of that hinges on whether or not one is mindfully being politic). What skills and tools can we practice to become more politic? How can group problem solving move from the work of sifting and sorting ethnographic data, to the action of making something happen?

 

Utopias Involve a lot of Being Together

Utopias often involve a lot of being together. What’s funny about this, is that to get to utopia we have to work together. Working together has a totally different attitude and vibe towards that public good of togetherness, as opposed to the public good that emerges from being together (also, see the last post).

Those who really believe that utopia is possible, will never truly be satisfied with being together after working together (i.e. going out for drinks). For those who believe in utopia, these moments of reprieve are but way stations along an impossible journey.

Those that don’t believe in utopia, are also never satisfied with being together after working together, because they either see it as a distraction from the hustle, or they see it as a vice that they are unworthy of. They are either a committed capitalist or a sad protestant-capitalist worker bee.

To wit, a thesis…

Therefore, both a marxist and a capitalist will be unsatisfying drinking partners, for they are both committed to a kind of game. One is simply taking a rest between matches, while the other is resigned to the exhaustion of the long-distance runner (I’m still not sure who is whom). The tired worker bee, who feels guilty for simply being together, is the saddest drinking partner of all. None of these characters actually taste the wine.

How can we resolve these attitudes towards working and being? Should we resolve that when working together, we also strive to be together and when being together, we also strive to work together? Is this what “work-life integration” would entail?

There are very few people and organizations asking these questions, but I believe that those that are, are on the cutting edge of social innovation as it applies to the question of how to find meaning and purpose in work, labour and life, solve problems, and taste the wine.

So, how can we find joy in tackling a problem as a group, especially when the going gets tough?

Working Together and Being Together

Everything we do when we are working together feeds into the creation of an institution.

When we work together we need to trust in everyone else enough to be able to think and act freely (i.e. to do what we need to do without worry), and to establish this trust we have to agree on some rules. A meeting is an institution, albeit very weak, hung together by an agenda and a request or requirement to be there together. A large bureaucracy is an institution, hung together by strict process requirements and standards.

I would argue that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to find an institution that does not have some rules written down, or tacitly accepted by everyone about how the whole arrangement of people and things should work best. In this sense, working together starts at its most basic level with an agreement about rules:

I’m going to do this, and you’re going to do that, and when we meet again, we’ll see how far we’ve come and adjust if we need to.

If we break the agreement and the rules too often then we might return with the courage to say:

This isn’t really working.

Or, if we are bound by power to continue to work together, then we may shrug our shoulders in resignation and make do:

Meh.

Working together creates, or adds to an institution. Working together creates a public good through this process: the trust in each other to come together and make something happen.

Working together is very different from being together. Being together is loose, quotidian. It is time poached from work and labor. Being together is enjoyable, pure free time, etc.:

I am. You are. We are both. You are here, I am here, we are both here with each other…

And so on. Being together can clearly be an institution too, but it has a much different attitude towards the shared good that emerges from the togetherness. This attitude can be more like:

Paaaartyyyyy!

Or more subdued, like:

So how have you been? …I heard the other day about this interesting new theory about… Did you see so-and-so? Etc.

There can be humour, fun, and play in the attitude we take towards being together. Same with working together… though eventually the sleeves will be rolled-up, and so it’s attitude is always a little hard-nosed and pragmatic. Working together can be serious, critical, agonistic, analytic, frank, business-minded, and is more like:

How could we better do X and Y to get to Z faster.

And so on.

Obvs. I’m interested in mixing this up.

 

Journey of Discovery: Bootstrapping Working Together

Mountains

This is me, journaling my “Journey of Discovery” with developing an online business on the side, while working full-time. A business I’ve called, for better or worse, Working Together, and which is currently nothing more than a blog (and therefore just a hobby).

Yes, for the few Working Together regulars (whoever you may be) there is more to Working Together than just the writing! For one, there are bigger plans for an eCourse on design thinking tools and methodologies, as well as plans for a podcast and YouTube channel to share content faster and more “off-the-cuff” than the writing allows (I love to write and edit, but oh… is it ever so painfully slow). Hopefully there will be some honest insights in here that will help others in a similar situation.  What follows was also posted to medium in two parts: here and here. Also, what follows is really long, but I promise there are some gems in here.

Let’s begin with a bit of background colour: I am trying to establish Working Together while also working a full-time, professional job and being a loving husband and father who is committed to quality family time. As a result, Working Together is pushed to the margins of my day. Basically, I have early mornings if I manage to go to bed early, or evenings if I manage to resist the exhaustion that washes over me while I rock snuggly babies to sleep next to our white noise machine. Sometimes, I also have lunch hour, but it’s not a guarantee. And that’s it!

It feels like everyone in the world has an unfair advantage over me, but I follow my intuition which tells me to channel my inner tortoise: slow and steady wins the race.

Because of my limited time, from the start, I’ve believed that my business model for Working Together should be simple and effective. My tendency is to gravitate towards the opposite… and then to overthink things… into oblivion. So, as soon as I started to turn my mind towards business, I knew I would have to constrain myself with a few founding principles. Here are a few that this post has forced me to articulate:

Simple and effective, as opposed to complicated and clunky.

Small, yet scalable online, as opposed to ornate and overly dependent on a bricks and mortar space.

Oriented towards creating value for a defined customer, as opposed to working in generalities.

Geared towards the intuitive and spontaneous, the messy and the experimental, AKA the authentic… as opposed to the intentional and planned, the overwrought and strategized, AKA the perfect.

Some of these come from having an idea about who I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are, etc. When things are simple, I find that I act. When things are complicated, I find that I theorize.

So, I’ve made a commitment to spend at least one hour per day on Working Together, and so far, I’ve done pretty good since I started in earnest five months ago. On my worst days I put in less than an hour. On my best days I get a few uninterrupted chunks of time to do the work, and I come out the other end with some real progress. But since I’ve started, I never spend no time on Working Together. Everyday there’s always something small that can be done, and there’s always lots of thinking and planning to do while in transit.

So, what have I been doing (aside from writing blog posts)? Well, over the past two months, I’ve been:

…interviewing potential customers and drafting some early value proposition designs;

…working to create a loose team of friends and family around me to act as a bit of a sounding board, to give my ideas the oxygen they need to survive and become actions;

…pivoting the online course concept to other audiences;

…slowly building and practicing a media production strategy that is appropriate to my needs: one that allows both flexibility and creativity.

On top of all this, I’ve also been: purchasing the necessary supplies for my podcasting rig and lining up the first five interviews; drafting some early concepts for an eCourse and an eBook; exploring cheap lighting options for video; taking online courses on personal branding and eCourse creation; researching and reading-up on all manner of business development literature, plus all sorts of other logistical things. I am endlessly surprised by how exciting business can be, and am fascinated by how the internet has changed the game.

“…interviewing potential customers and drafting some early value proposition designs.”

I had started the Working Together blog with a broad and expansive notion of what I was interested in: social innovation and how groups of people can be brought together to make some magic happen. Knowing my tendency to gravitate towards generality, I niched down into a group that I had a little bit of experience working with through my wife’s business Connect-The-Dots: home learning families. This was a group of folks that I would one day join (since our plan has always been to “road school” our children). They were inspiring to me, and I wanted to learn more from them. Most importantly, they were a group of people I wanted to serve: I wanted to build awesome online learning experiences for home learning families. In particular, I wanted to work with teens in those communities.

So, pushing myself in the direction of action as opposed to theory, I had a few meetings with home learning families I had worked with in the past to ask them some questions. Before the meetings, I did my homework and read the first few chapters of Value Proposition Design, by Alex Osterwalder and others, and came armed with some good questions to ask. After three meetings, I organized my interview notes into a Value Proposition Canvas, and started thinking about ways that I could offer something of value to these families.

I couldn’t believe how productive the Value Proposition Design (VPD) process was! From three short meetings I had a fountain of ideas about potential products and services that I could provide this group of folks. However, a lot of these weren’t online courses… I wasn’t getting validation for my original idea of creating an online learning experience for my target audience.

I also learned of a few significant difficulties that I needed to consider. For one, my potential market was motivated towards a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to education. They were also committed to providing immersive, face-to-face experiences for their children. This was what attracted Heather and I to home learning too: creating a learning atmosphere more akin to a field trip than a classroom. Providing an online course to these families would be a challenge, as it seemed that many home learners were being actively directed away from screens and towards face-to-face interactions with fellow learners and teachers.

In addition, because of the fact that these families were usually single income (with one parent staying at home to facilitate DIY learning experiences), my ability to charge premium rates would be limited… unless I wanted to pivot to kids enrolled in private school, and present the course as an extra-curricular prep-school that would give kids a competitive edge…but I felt that this group of kids didn’t need what I could offer. And besides, this wasn’t my original intent.

Finally, I realized I would be marketing on two fronts: on one, the parents; on the other, the teens. Two entirely different conversations, two entirely different social media marketing strategies. I needed to be competent with one group, and cool with another. Trust would be tough to build. A classic “war on two fronts” quagmire. Cue sweat.

“…working to create a loose team of friends and family around me to act as a bit of a sounding board to give my ideas the oxygen they need to survive and become actions.”

Another thing that I’ve been up to is creating coaching and accountability networks around me — something that I get a lot of value from in my day-job (for more on that see here). So, along with my friends Matthew Lehner and Chris Naismith, we started a small mastermind group with a really simple structure: meet every two weeks for one hour, each give a ten-minute update on what we’ve accomplished and what are challenges are, then for the last thirty minutes, one of us gets to benefit from group coaching on one of our key challenges. Matthew and I have met a number of times already, and Chris will join us when he returns from his stay in Greece. We will be running full barrel by September, and possibly also have a fourth member by then too.

My wife, Heather, has also been a sounding board for ideas, learnings, frustrations, and so on. When we get the opportunity to talk one-on-one (usually when the kids are asleep or being babysat), I manage to squeeze some Working Together into the conversation, and benefit from her incredibly sage advice. She knows my strengths and weaknesses best, and helps me see the ways in which I might be hiding something from myself. Alas, the advice of a spouse is never disinterested! The history of our relationship gets woven into the history of Working Together. Things become loaded. Things have to be talked through. Ongoing conversation is a requirement.

To take a quote from a Metropolis screenshot:

MediatorBetweenHead&Hands

I think that this quote captures a big part of the business development narrative that is often missed: the relationships that you have when you start, and the relationships that you build as you go. Not to mention the role the heart plays in the film: bridging the gap between the thinkers (the head) and the workers (the hand) as if class struggle could be so easily subsumed!!

Starting something new that you are passionate about, that you were put on this earth to do — whether it’s a business, or a non-profit, or a creative endeavour, etc. — does not occur in a social and emotional vacuum… especially if you are in a loving relationship(s)! And thinking that it does, feeds this masculine fantasy of a single male, striking out on his own to create his vision, a la Howard Roark of The Fountainhead. So much of the media around entrepreneurship tends to be about head, hands and the visionary singular genius.

This is not to say that vision is always compromised. It is to say that vision is always emotionally loaded. As it should be. This is, after all, what you were put on this earth to do. What could be more emotionally loaded than balancing your commitment to your creative work with your commitment to your friendships and your loves?

“…pivoting the online course concept to other audiences.”

As I mentioned above, while talking with potential customers around the first product idea, I learned a ton. I validated some ideas I had, but I also didn’t validate others. This is to be expected.

I also started to consider the fact that the market I was focusing on was actually two: the parents (who also teach and facilitate learning experiences for their teens) and the teens. I had started with the notion that working with teens would be fun, and so I would get a break from the seriousness that permeates the work I do in my day job. But as I interviewed, and thought on the matter further, I realized that I would have to keep two totally different audiences happy and engaged! And as for any social media strategy, I would likely need to have an active presence on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram (for the parents, largely) and on emerging platforms like Musical.ly, Snapchat, Peach, etc. (for the teens). Not that engaging in social media isn’t fun — it is a part of my media production strategy (more on that below). But, engaging two different audiences, with two different conceptions of what a good product or service might be, seemed like a lot of work. However “fun” it might be, I had to think back to my starting principle — simple and effective — and ask myself: “Do I really have the time and energy to keep two target audiences engaged on multiple platforms?”

So, during one of our Mastermind sessions, I spoke to my VPD work and to some of my learnings and newfound apprehensions. Matthew dug further, asked some powerful questions, and held me accountable to come back with an answer at the next meeting. He understood the problem of a “war on two fronts” and agreed that the approach didn’t jive well with my principle of simple and effective. I also pulled a reference from episode three of Seth Godin’s short Startup School podcast, which I will quote here in full:

“The point right now isn’t to answer the question, “what problem is my customer waking up with?” The point now is to know the question is essential. That’s what I want you to be thinking about. You can change [your business] to anything you want and if you want to, you can open a kayaking school. That’s how early in the deal it is. What do you want to change it into so that you’re not always climbing uphill, so there’s something in it that the wind is at your back?”

Since I was just starting, and since the principle of simple and effective was guiding my work, what could I change my business idea into to ensure that the wind was at my back? I didn’t have the time, or the energy to start with a difficult scenario. So, Matthew and I agreed that I would come back next time with an answer to the question: who did I want to work with?

Basically, since I would be designing a valuable solution for a group of people, WHO did I want to be working with through that process of design? WHO did I want to work with after the product was designed, when it would need to be marketed? WHO would be buying my product? WHO would I be serving with my product? Indeed, the business’ namesake ‘Working Together’ takes on a whole new meaning in this light: the process of creating value for the world is very much a process of working together with others, especially those ‘others’ who will eventually pay you money for what you’ve created.

As I had learned from my VPD work with home learners, an essential starting point for your business is a WHO. Nothing is for everybody. You need a niche. Once you have a WHO, you have a way to find out an answer to the question “what problem is my customer waking up with?” The VPD work reveals all sorts of problems that can be solved through products and services, and you can organize the severity of these problems and align your offering with them. Having a WHO also allows you to identify where to focus your marketing efforts, both online and offline. A WHO is as essential as a WHAT, and a WHY.

So I went away and struggled with pivoting the concept. I felt lost and set adrift for a few weeks, I went back and looked through old notes, read a few old books that were impactful to me, reflected on the work that Heather and I did through The Wayward School, and selectively dipped into my small collection of business books to find some guidance. I also posted some epiphanies on Snapchat:

But, I’ll be honest, when I came back to Matthew with an answer it wasn’t quite what he was looking for (and now follows a dramatization, with limited bearing on the actual words spoken, and hands wrung):

Me (excitedly): “I realized that who I want to work with, is people like me: professionals who are interested in innovating through their work and solving problems creatively, whatever that work might be!”

Matthew: “Yea, but that’s pretty broad. Is there a group of people within ‘professionals’ who you want to work with?”

Me (anxiously): “Hmm. Yes, I see what you mean… I know that I want to work with people who are trying to learn new ways to solve problems… new ways to work in teams to design solutions… This is pretty broad… hmm…”

Matthew: “OK, you need to niche it down further… I want you to come back next time and tell me what niche you want to focus on within your new target of “professionals”, and I also want you to tell me what these folks will get when they are done taking your course.”

So, back to the drawing board, up to the present moment and toe to toe with a fancy new word: “psychographics” (aka the “new demographics” I mention in my snaps above). Psychographics, sez Wikipedia, is “the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research.”

I had been stuck in an old paradigm about who my WHO should be: teens in home learning families (and indirectly, their parents). I was limiting myself to certain age groups within a broader psychographic of home learners. By being home learners, they shared the emotional commitment and belief in the idea that the whole family should actively learn together. Perhaps, for instance, it could be said that these families were united in their mutual distrust of the education system — there’s another shared feeling.

By pivoting to “professionals” I was getting caught up in generality. I needed to zero-in on what people within this group might share in terms of wants, values, beliefs, attitudes, etc. But how to do this? After a few more days of feeling lost and cast adrift, enter Heather (during a conversation one evening that happened to gravitate towards Working Together) (a dramatization, again with no bearing on the actual words spoken):

Me (anxiously): “I’m just so confused by this pivot that I’ve made… Basically, I want to work with folks like me… but I don’t know what to do with that… Matthew is right, it’s too general… what is it about this course that will align with this broader group of folks?”

Heather (matter-of-factly): “Well, that might not be the best question to ask. What is it that you have struggled with in relation to everything that you’re interested in? Surely there’s a reason why you feel the need to focus Working Together on social innovation and design thinking tools, facilitation stuff, and so on. Why are you pursuing this stuff in your free time? What’s driving you? Why are you fixated on it? Most importantly, what do you see missing or inadequate in the online courses and other facilitation tools you have learned about? Why would you need to make more of, or different?”

Me (with slowly dawning epiphany): “Well, my struggle with using those tools is never feeling like I’m practiced enough to whip them out in a project or a meeting, or whatever. I love to learn about design thinking and other new approaches to problem solving in groups, and it’s exciting to hear about people trying new things in innovative organizations, but it’s hard to put this stuff into action… The challenge that I have is that it feels like so much is at stake in any given meeting, or any given project… trying something new is the last thing that anyone wants to do… everything is so serious… and yet every meeting I am in is in some way part of an extended problem solving and solution designing exercise…”

Heather: “so, you need practice.”

Slam dunk.

Me (with conclusive epiphany): “Yes! There is also so little time to practice, let alone experiment with a new approach… What I feel I need is the ability to practice with like-minded folks, who are also interested in these tools, and feel more competent and comfortable using them. I also feel like I need strategies and tricks that would help me integrate these new approaches into the work that I do… and strategies for getting buy-in from colleagues and bosses on new approaches.”

Heather (with searching glare): “do you think other people you’ve worked with feel the same way? Or is it just you?”

Me (feeling validated): “I think that a lot of other folks, no matter their professional background, probably feel the same way… at once interested and wanting to learn more, but feeling like they aren’t practiced enough to integrate it into their work… or feeling like they need strategies for integrating this work into more conservative environments…”

Heather: “You have your target audience.”

So without further ado, my WHO (as of July 2016): working professionals, interested in innovative new approaches to management, team building, and general awesomeness delivery, who are keen to learn design thinking and other Social Innovation methods like that, but feel as if they have no opportunity to practice these new approaches and skills. They also feel that they don’t have the permission to try it out in their workplaces and would really like some strategies for integrating these tools into work.

What will the WHO get from taking my course? They would leave the course having learned new approaches to their work (design thinking tools, etc.), practiced and been coached with a community of fellow students, and been given strategies for incorporating these tools into their everyday work worlds. Basically, they would come out feeling like confident practitioners, able to utilize new approaches to their work without fear leading them towards the same old business-as-usual practices for chairing meetings, building teams, managing projects, leading, delivering deliverables, etc. They would learn to be creative within the constraints of work.

The best part about this pivot? I get to “stack the functions” while at work. Let me explain: to stack functions is to get two or more functions from a single element within a system. It’s a concept that comes from permaculture design (specifically from the principle to “integrate rather than segregate”) and “permies” use it to design gardens and farms so that different elements within a food production system can be stacked together to create multipliers of mutual benefit. For more on its application to check out this great little piece.

So, how does this apply here? Well, because my target audience is fellow professionals, whenever a colleague asks what Working Together is about, I get a chance to test and refine my copy about the course I’m building. On top of that, any insight I get from folks inside and outside of work feeds into the VPD I’m building in the background. It’s like market research on the fly, and all of this feeds into building the course.

And so… work on the course has begun again in earnest!

…slowly building and practicing a media production strategy that is appropriate to my needs: one that allows both flexibility and creativity.

This is perhaps the hardest part, as it requires daily engagement. It requires me to be an active consumer and producer of information and ideas, with regularity, on social media channels where my target audience is directing its attention. It requires me to show up, even on days when I don’t feel like it.

Sure, there are elements to producing media online that can be automated and scheduled, but I’m with Gary Vaynerchuck on the matter: this stuff should be as authentic as possible. Using tools like Meet Edgar and over-scheduling your posts doesn’t seem genuine to me. Not that I won’t turn to Hootsuite and focus some of my social media making into chunks of time every week, but I don’t think this should be the only approach.

I’m also with Gary on the question of quality or quantity. It’s not a choice between producing a lot of lesser quality content, or small amounts of high-quality content, it’s about hitting both quantity and quality. There is no choice between the two, because choosing either leads you down the wrong path, and away from authenticity. To wit…

If we focus on quality, we slow creative production down, and with that slowdown, we create an entry point into our work for our fears, anxieties, uncertainties, etc., to pour into our creative process. We might spend too long developing something, missing the deadline we made for ourselves, or deciding to abandon our creation after “careful” consideration of its merits to the rest of the world.

Quality is guarded and overly concerned with being perfect… and guarded and perfect isn’t honest, vulnerable and real.

On the other hand, if we focus on quantity, the reverse happens, we find ourselves trying to flood our social media channels with “content”, whatever it may be, and the best part about the job of pursuing your passions and interests online becomes work.

Quantity is spammy and overly concerned with being loud… and spammy and loud leave no invitation to conversation and being social.

I believe that the phrase “putting yourself out there” captures the essence of creative work using online social media platforms. And in this setting, “media” is a better term to use than “content” (though I will tend to be messy and use both in conversation). This is because whatever we are on social media is an unreal representation of ourselves. You can’t physically put yourself out there, after all. Whether a curated log of your tastes in opinion and interest a la Twitter, or your aesthetic tastes a la Instagram and Tumblr; whether a rolling “story” of the high-points, epiphanies, and interesting tidbits of the last 24 hours a la Snapchat, or the random “sharesies” of politics, feelings, debate, pets, cuteness, etc. a la Facebook. Whoever we actually are in real life is ultimately mediated by the different social media channels and their unique conventions and vernacular. Every time we hit record, type a thought, post an article, and so on, we are “putting” the media of ourselves out there and onto a platform… but it is not us. We are mediated by the media we create.

I know, this is major “captain obvious” stuff, but I think it’s necessary to go here to defamiliarize the experience of using social media, and recognize how radical these playgrounds are.

Social media transforms the space you inhabit into a studio, a stage, a newsreel, a community board. If we understand what kind of space we are producing for, we’ve done half the battle. The other half then becomes: are you being real in what you are putting out there? After these two halves, anything more than the act of swiftly producing and “putting” can easily become overwrought.

So, two basic questions are at the foundation of media production online:

What platform is it?

Am I being real?

The first will tell you what your creative studio and toolkit will consist of, and how to interject into the conversation. The second will — literally — keep you honest… and honest is fast.

So the “media production strategy”, in a nutshell, is this: produce on the fly as much as possible and be real.

Fully elaborated, it is this:

Being real is being conversant… you know, like if you were really talking to somebody…

…social media is a social space, and depending on which platform you are in, you will have to practice and test what is and isn’t a conversation starter.

Be playful, but don’t forget about your core message…

…show motion and diversity in what you create, mix it up with your family and friends (if you’re cool with that), but don’t forget that you need lively content that connects to what your business is all about… if your business is bricks and mortar, and you’re bringing it online, then you have a huge advantage… if you have no bricks and mortar, think about creative ways that you can stage what your business is about, in-person. (Please-oh-please don’t let your social media channels just be quotes over stock photography! Do stuff. In-person. Record it. Then share it on social media. Why? Because it shows you and your business “in motion”. Motion and play need to be built off of some real, demonstrated work.)

Be messy, uncut, unpracticed, etc…

…don’t worry about messy, messy is real, and real is fast… you can’t figure out the conventions and vernacular in these spaces from the outside, you have to practice your engagement to see what lands and how… then adjust accordingly.

Practice the three R’s when creating media: reduce, reuse, recycle…

…be proud of what you’ve made and share it again, remixed and renewed, on different channels, or on the same again… producing media doesn’t always have to mean producing new media. Reduce the amount of time you spend on new things, reuse old things that are still relevant to your audience and your business, recycle what you’ve made into new mixes.

The long-form is not social media, it’s loner media… and that’s not a bad thing, it’s a great thing…

…the “long-form” (the blog, the long Facebook post, the Medium post, etc.) is a sandbox and a place to really think something through, ruminate, meditate — if you feel you need to consistently produce media at this level, be prepared to lean heavily on the three R’s above to be able to produce on a weekly schedule.

Stacking functions…

…stack everything onto your most important works… whether a long-form post, an e-book, an e-course, podcast interviews, and so on… the big things that you create are the nursery logs for your forest: they are the substrate that the little things can grow on and be nourished by.

-=-

So, to conclude? No! To continue the conversation and the experimenting!

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