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!

If you are interested in my journey, please follow me here @ togetherworking.com, Medium, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube.

If you want to share your process and your epiphanies (and goof-off), please snap at me @ Snapchat.

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If you want to connect, please ask me @ LinkedIn, Facebook, & good ‘ol fashioned email @ stefan[at]togetherworking.com.

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5/10 – Coach and Be Coached

I swear by coaching. It’s one of the greatest tools for reflecting on your work and proactively progressing towards mastery, and through that process, alleviating stress. It came in handy during intense leadership roles, in lowly staff roles, and even in my relationships with my family and friends. I try to keep up my coaching practice to this day, and even use it in the development of the business side of Working Together. I’ve gotten a lot out of every coaching conversation I’ve had over the past 4 years of being coached, and nearly 2 years of trying to be a coach to others. The recipe can be very simple: active, global listening; powerful, open-ended questions; practicing giving and receiving feedback and acknowledgement.

Coaching goes against the grain of the old “command and control” management style within organizations and its implicit assumption that you can’t trust people to figure things out on their own. The old style says that there needs to be some sort of strong authority that commands staff and controls the journey towards the right outcome. The notion of the captain at the helm comes to mind. Coaching, on the other hand, starts with principles that fundamentally shift the approach:

  • People are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.
  • It’s not your problem to solve. Trust that they know what’s needed.
  • Hold the focus on the employee taking ownership.
  • It’s about potential and possibility.
  • Be fully present and available to the conversation.

During a recent course on coaching that I took, we went through these principles, and I realized that coaching is for organizations and the development of people and teams as the Montessori method is for schools and the development of children and classes—simply replace “people” and “employee” in the principles above, with “children”. Of course the two are not perfectly congruent (and my wife Heather who is training to become a Montessori teacher might cringe) I think that the parallels are interesting.

Like a Montessori teacher observing his classroom, during a coaching conversation, the coach is to be fully attentive, observing where someone is at through active, global listening, asking open-ended questions and not giving advice. By trusting that the individual will find their own answers to the problem that lies before them and their own path in trying out solutions, the coach, like the Montessori teacher, believes that people are naturally creative and resourceful enough to “know what’s needed”.

Through the coaching feedback model—what went well, what was tricky, what would you do differently next time—one reflects on actions taken, and what could be done next time. By practicing awareness and really listening to the feedback that you are getting from the world, control for error becomes self-directed. Coaching yourself through the feedback model and honestly reflecting on the answers you give yourself, gets you in the habit of being your own boss, in a sense. This sort of self-coaching can be said to be the ultimate goal of coaching. Just as in a Montessori classroom, the teacher will never correct the child, or tell them that they were wrong—the materials have control for error built into them—so too with coaching. Coaching builds control for error into the process, and builds your competency to coach yourself towards your goals.

At the end of every coaching session, when the coach holds the individual accountable to the solutions that they came up with, they are stamping out the final (and perhaps worst) vestige of deference to authority: “do it for me.” Instead, the attitude is thus, “you own the problem, you own the solution, there is no one to seek approval from for you to proceed with what you know you need to do… it is up to you…” and “…the next time we talk I want to hear that you’ve done the things you said you know you need to do.” As much as we might pride ourselves on the so-called independent spirit, especially in the west, the lazy attitude of “do it for me” can pervade our approach to personal growth if we don’t practice the very existential reminder that we are fundamentally alone to deal with our challenges. You might feel bad letting the coach down if you return with no progress towards your goals, but any good coach will remind you that you’re only letting yourself down… they’re just there to help you recognize what it means to hold yourself to your own word.

4/10 – Actively Notice New things

In September 2015, I stumbled across an On Being interview with Ellen J. Langer where she implored the listener to become more mindful by simply making an effort to “actively notice new things.” Having earnestly practiced Vipassana meditation in my mid-twenties, I was already familiar with the notion of becoming more mindful. However, because so many of my meditation experiences were grounded within Vipassana practice, I thought that the only way to cultivate an authentically mindful experience was through extended meditation retreats and hour-long daily practice. I found her approach to mindfulness uniquely western among the preponderance of eastern religious and spiritual teachings in the field.

What interested me about Langer’s approach was her different entry point: instead of studying eastern approaches to mindfulness, she studied the effects of mindlessness in the psychology lab. Her book, Mindfulness, is a culmination of over fifty psychological studies on the effects of mindlessness that she and her colleagues had conducted in the 60’s and 70’s—it’s definitely worth a read (non-affiliate link here). So, what is mindlessness, then?

The popular concept of “being on autopilot” captures the lazy attitude of mindlessness well. Not wanting to really think about a decision too hard, because “I’ve always done it this way.” Not wanting to ask “how could it be otherwise?” because that would require pause and consideration, both of which require time and effort. Not wanting to really think about what you want, because this would require honest reflection, thoughtfulness, choice. In many ways, being on autopilot is well-supported by a speedy, busy life. Being on autopilot is coasting, cruise control, ease-of-use, seamlessness… because being in a different state requires energy and effort.

So, I think that a core aspect of being on autopilot is a mild aversion (an attitude of “I don’t want to be bothered to…”, or “I’d rather not…”) in relation to the mild exertion of effort that any given moment invites us to offer. This mild exertion is simply the effort we have to make to be present in the moment and consciously consider how to respond, outside of the well-worn track of easy answers and habitual responses that constitute the fabric of our everyday conventions.

What is easiest, is to fall back into well-worn patterns of thinking and doing and respond to the moment with the easy answer. What is hardest to do is to recognize that every moment is radically novel. Every moment is something that has never happened before… the tip of time’s arrow. Mindlessness, then, is an attitude cultivated by our need to conserve physical and mental energy and effort in the face of a relentless emergence, in the face of a raw existential awareness that you can never be secured from “what happens next”. Mindfulness is about striving to notice the relationships you are embedded in, and honestly questioning and opening up concepts and practices that are well worn and asking how they could be seen and enacted otherwise. This goes for relationships with others, but also relationships with oneself, with one’s conventions.

So, what can we do about this? How can we cultivate mindfulness without the vow of silence and the years of asceticism in a mountain ashram? How can we be mindful during a fast-paced day at the office? How can we stop ourselves short of a caffeinated induced heart-attack while jamming through our endless to-do lists?

We can start with three small practices. Two of these can be adopted “in the field”, and one requires a little bit more time “in the lab”.

Practice one: we can take two or three very deep breaths. Try this: breath in through your mouth to your natural limit. When you’ve reached that limit, inhale a little bit more until you feel your diaphragm stretching out front, back and sides… to your very limit, and then exhale. (It’s possible to do this in most settings throughout the day, however, perhaps not during a moment when all eyes are on you—i.e. when you’re leading a briefing or giving a presentation.)

The goal of this practice is to become more aware of your bodily sensations. Yep, along with our smartphones, we also have bodies that beg to be checked in with constantly. Our bodies are sturdily anchored to the moment—your aches and pains, your breath, your stiff muscles, itches, warm feet, etc. These sensations wash over you, always. Three very deep breaths bring you back to your physicality in the moment quite nicely. Wherever your train of thought is taking you, it is usually taking you away from your body, from the moment—or at least just skimming the surface of bodily sensation.

Practice two: just sit quietly for one minute and notice the sounds around you. Notice when you’ve stopped noticing the sounds and are thinking about something… like what so-and-so said to you earlier that day, or how you totally bombed that thing and had so-and-so not done X then you could have easily done Y, etc. or that bill you had to pay… fuck! you forgot about that, etc. If all you do is manage to notice that you’ve stopped noticing the sounds around you, that’s fine. Don’t aggressively try to only notice the sounds around you. Just notice the distraction from the small goal you had, and next time try for a full minute.

This practice is all about cultivating your noticing muscles, practicing the act of stopping and raising your awareness above the level of autopilot. This practice develops the skill of pausing everything you might be caught up in to just notice your environment for a moment.

Practice three: cultivate mindfulness outside of work through a “10-minute sit” (i.e. a 10-minute silent meditation routine at the end or beginning of the day). It’s easy to agree that yes, in theory, the notion of being more present during the day makes sense. Why let life pass you by? Etc. But without a more effortful silent meditation practice, I have found that it is much harder to cultivate the ability to actively notice new things. I know this because as I write this, I am pretty lousy at regularly managing the 10-minute sit and I think that it undercuts my ability to remember to stop the blur for a moment during my busy day.

The 10-minute sit is really a synthesizing and integrating practice: not only does it help you with practice one and two, but it helps you to holistically address the day, your week, your life. When I’ve had long bouts of consistent 10-minute sits, I’ve found that my ability to simply understand and be at peace with things improves. Finally, I’ve found that it becomes easier to stop the autopilot for a moment and perceive the newness all-around me (in whatever context I might be in).

Although we may conceptually “get” the importance of mindfulness, when actually situated within the moment, we are largely in a mild state of drift between the task that came to be, the task at hand, and the task to come. We need intentional practices like those above to help us break out of routine and convention, especially in a world that is becoming evermore seamlessly integrated with automaticity (on this theme, and for a more realistic sci-fi rendition of how AI could change the world, watch Spike Jonze’s Her). But for those of us who may find ourselves too busy to imagine integrating new practices into our busy everyday (as I did during my most intense weeks working in upper-level management), then there is always Langer’s simple call to actively notice new things. Try to remember her phrase as you move through your day, and see what happens next.