A blog where I explore a loosely-connected set of topics (enjoyment, games, constraints, self-medication, willpower, risk, decision-making, beauty, technology, etc) by working on a series of projects and experiments that interest me.
One of my favorite take-aways from SXSW was something Ze Frank mentioned at Noah Kagan’s awesome Mixergy event at Elysium on Friday 3/10. It’s at about 37:40 in the video. The transcript is:
Ze: If they want to be more creative… on FaceBook, it’s a stupid fucking simple challenge, but challenge yourself. Do a weekly challenge with yourself to try to ask a question of the people that you know and try to beat your score in terms of number of responses to that question each week. I literally think it is the best entry into the core premises of social media at its core. Because you start having to ask yourself if you really try to beat your number every week, you’re like, “Oh, maybe I should ask a kind of insidious question that I know would piss some people off and there would be controversy.” The other thing is challenge another person to this kind of activity. I have learned so much from this kind of activity.
You start second guessing yourself and coming up with all of these things. Then you surprise by asking something like super, like simple and honest. I think it’s a really, really wonderful start.
I think this will be more fun for me on Twitter, especially now that I’ve got a new beta of ThinkUp installed on my server. So far, I’ve just started looking through my tweets to see which ones get the most replies, retweets, etc. And, by pure chance, I broke my record today when I asked about examples of “gaming the system”.
Does anyone want to do this with me? The goal is to see if you can break your record every week. It’s not to get the most replies, but just to break your record the highest percentage of weeks since starting. You should probably install ThinkUp if you can (because it is awesome), or else figure out another way to track this… I think I can allow people to register on my installation of ThinkUp too… yeah, so feel free to do that here if you want.
A random comment during a fantastic panel at SXSW called Agile Self Development has stuck with me this last week or so (I need to do a more comprehensive follow-up on SXSW… wonder if I’ll ever actually get to it though).
The comment was about something regarding whether or not you’re a “sponge, faucet, or caked on pan that can’t absorb anything”. It resonated with me especially in regards to how we think about work.
Then, the last two days (my Niko-sitting days) I’ve been going through and watching a ton of TED talks, more comprehensibly organized here by Postrank than by the TED site itself. Two of them in particular sort of resonated with me and yet contradicted each other at the same time.
Jason Fried says, and I agree, that 4 hours of uninterrupted solitude is the best gift you can give to a developer.
Steven Berlin Johnson says, and I agree, that offices should look more like coffee houses than how they currently look.
You can’t have solitude and the wisdom of the crowds at the same time, though.
The truth is, that depending on whether or not I’m in a SPONGE or SPRING state, I need a different environment to work.
How I work
I take care of my 10-month old son, Niko, 3 days a week (Fri, Sun, Mon), and work the other 4 days. 3 out of 4 of those days, if I’m in Seattle, I work from the fantastic Office Nomads office in Capitol Hill. Their motto is “individuality without isolation”. Before recently moving, I worked from the equally fantastic (and terribly missed) Bedlam Coffee in Belltown. The interesting thing about both locations as work environment is that they allow me to work amongst people without having to be distracted by them. I require an almost religiously mandated solid 4-6 hours of work (without interruption) on the days I’m working. A day where I get less than that (especially since I’m only working 4 days a week) is rather terribly received. And as a consequence, I get a lot done on most of those days relative to the average amount that 4 hours 4 days a week would produce. These are the days are all about creating something from the mishmash of ideas and inspirations from the other days of the week. These are the days when I am a SPRING (aka producing water, content, and ideas).
The other 3 days a week are what I call my “offline” days. Days with Niko: feeding him, changing his diapers, entertaining him, napping with him, playing with toys, taking him on walks, repeat, repeat, repeat. Strictly speaking, I’m not “on the clock” those days, and yet, I think they are absolutely essential to the work schedule I’ve set up for myself. They are the days when I make sure that the top work or creative problem of the week is simmering on my back burner subconsciously. They are the days when I am a SPONGE. I listen to TED talks, I read, I go on walks, I mull, and most importantly I just focus on one particular area of work that sits at the bottom of my mind as I wait for it to finish baking. Frustratingly, sometimes, this has nothing to do with my conscious mind, and is not on a schedule. Patience is required.
And, ideally, I would never be a STONE. The stone state is where you can’t absorb any new information, and you don’t have any energy to create. They are days when it’s best to simply turn the mind off. Stop thinking about your problems, stop trying to work, stop trying to be creative. Do errands. Do mindless tasks. Have an extra drink. Let my subconscious and creative minds restore a bit of energy. These days suck. They are wastes of days, but they would be made worse by trying to get any creative productivity or mulling out of them.
So, I think Jason Fried was right about how to handle SPRING days.
And I think Steven Berlin Johnson was right about how to handle SPONGE days.
And I think that the unsexy, unmarketable nature of STONE days is just something that we need to come to terms with. They are our lost weekends. Days off. Every other day is a work day, indirectly. Even if I’m just making funny sounds at Niko or walking around aimlessly.
Every day, when you wake up, ask yourself: am I a SPRING, a SPONGE, or a STONE? And accordingly, determine whether or not you are going to give yourself of solitude to work (spring), a social and media-heavy environment (sponge), or clear your plate and let your subconscious recover (stone).
Thor Muller and I did a panel at SXSWi this last week on cooperative games! We were expecting somewhere between 75-200 people, but I think there were probably 500ish people in that room (and many more waiting outside that couldn’t get in because it was full). Luckily, by the time we figured this out, we had no choice but to go forward with our plan to play a cooperative game during the panel that required that everyone get up and move.
We played a game! We had bourbon for the winners. I got to talk about Health Month and afterwards got to meet some very interesting people who are thinking about many of the same things that we are.
Competitive vs Cooperative Games
Yes, it’s a false dichotomy. Yes, most things have both competitive and cooperative elements. Even when you play on a team, there is some taunting and competition amongst teammates. And that’s healthy.
HOWEVER, the competitive and cooperative elements of a given game do serve different purposes and appeal to different kinds of players.
Competitive game elements work best in the following conditions:
Everyone is highly motivated to play
Everyone is of about equal talent, or balanced by luck
The game is of finite length (doesn’t go on forever)
Cooperative game elements, on the other hand, work best in these conditions:
The players are not highly motivated to continue playing
The players of the game come in and out of the game
The game is loose, casual, played over a long period of time
The players have different skill levels, different areas of interest within the game
And, what I think is one of the bonuses of cooperative games: they allow cultures to emerge as groups of cooperative players create new rules that their group is required to follow. Game ethics, game manners, and loyalties emerge.
We, as humans, work best in self-interested groups, where we can specialize, encourage each other, and help those who need help so that we are in turn helped when we need it. Cooperative games help foster self-healing communities that are able to take on tasks that any individuals in the group could not have accomplished alone.
I’ll be linking to more info about the games we played and slides from the talk once Thor posts them in the next day or so. In the meantime, here’s a rather long list of tweets from the panel, via storify.com.