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).
I am thankful for the changing nature of the universe, for the fact that every day can surprise me, for the fact that we can improve our own lives, for our autonomy and our interdependence.
In some traditions, people respect the deceased by putting their ashes in little paper boats and releasing them down the river. I think we should release ourselves in much the same way. Not because we’re dead, but because we’re changing, every year, month, and day different from the last. And that’s a good thing.
I’m taking today to appreciate the impermanent and the transient parts of my life, while they’re here. I’d like to write something meaningful on a piece of imaginary paper, and send it out onto the lake.
What do you think of my tweetpitch for a chance to attend the Innovator’s Luncheon at Web 2.0 Summit?
I’m working on few slides for a pitch, and have looked at any pitch decks my entrepreneur friends are willing to share plus Dave McClure’s “How to Pitch a VC” talk. As a (previous life) creative writing major, I like the constraints that pitching offers, and the emphasis it puts on writing (my strong suit). I feel like I’ve got something great here to pitch. Let’s see if they think so too.
Please give me feedback too. Even though this is my third company, I’ve never done the pitching myself.
My Facebook Page for Health Month (which had just barely launched) was unfairly taken down last week (October 3rd) because a false claim of IP infringement by a spiteful competitor. Apparently, Facebook’s lawyers have convinced them that it’s safer to just act swiftly on any and every claim of IP infringement than to think about accurate claims versus false claims. I wrote to Facebook a total of 15 times over the last 8 days, and got variations of this message sent to me at least half a dozen times:
When we receive a proper claim of IP infringement, we promptly remove or disable access to the allegedly infringing content. Unfortunately, we will be unable to restore this content unless we receive a direct request from this party. If you believe that this claim has been made under false pretenses, we recommend that you contact a lawyer or your local law enforcement agency and discuss this issue with them.
I never got to speak to anyone on the phone, or ever got a chance to escalate my case to someone who could do more than cut and paste blurbs to me. I pleaded and reasoned with them and sent them every piece of evidence I could that the claim was false (even though they never actually told me the specifics of the claim) including the fact that the Facebook Group that was shut down along with my Page had been around for 2.5 years, and the accuser’s website had been up less than a month and didn’t have enough traffic to show up on compete.com. CLEARLY, a false claim by anyone’s standards, and that’s not counting the half-dozen other pieces of evidence I had dug up in my research.
Reason didn’t work. Lawyers would cost too much and take too long. Law enforcement agencies? Please.
Then what did work? Writing up the evidence, posting it to my blog, and asking people to retweet it. Within a couple hours I had over 100 retweets, over a thousand views, the 2nd result on Google for his name, several contacts at Facebook forwarding it up the chain, and (most importantly) a reply from up-until-then silent accuser that he had contacted Facebook and asked that my page be put back up.
Twitter-bullying works. The repercussions of this are pretty huge, I think. Social networks keep people honest. The fact that I could tell my accuser that if he didn’t reply within 12 hours that I would be writing to each of his family members on Facebook (I searched his friends for people with his last name) and inform them of his behavior… that’s pressure!
On the one hand, the Internet’s ability to connect any sketchy dude with a big corporation’s paranoid lawyers is what got my page taken down. Legality doesn’t take advantage of the social network, it operates in fear and lets risk-adversity reign. But on the other hand, getting the page back up… using the social network to spread a valid and true case, to use real names, to find real people with real relationships, to appeal to reputation and status… THAT keeps us honest.
The moral of the story. Don’t mess with the social network. It will make you behave according to its rules. It will FORCE you to, even, or kick you out.
Because I respect the power of all of this, I’ve taken down the post with all the accusing details, real names, etc, (who knows how long it will exist on Google though) and will give this guy a break. Thank you, everyone, for helping. Now, let’s disperse and enjoy the rest of our day.
One of the more existential realizations I remember having as a youth was that, in fact, nobody was in charge. That everything was run by a bunch of monkeys, was how I dramatically phrased it at the time. It’s a strange realization to have, especially when we are all trained to believe in the authority of parents, and teachers, and bosses. When we’re young it’s evolutionarily advantageous to give authority over to these figures–they can take care of us better than we can take care of ourselves. Then, at some point, when we have gained the skills to either match or exceed the judgment and self-care abilities of these authority figures when it comes to our own lives, it becomes disadvantageous to continue relying on others for our own self-management.
But how do we let go of such a self-reinforced worldview? As long as we rely on others to take care of ourselves, we continue to need others to take care of ourselves. Hence the rocky adjustment period of college, give or take a decade or so depending on your personal circumstances.
The circumstances of the shift in worldview, however, have consequences of their own. They may leave you feeling burned–distrustful of ever again placing any dependence on anyone. Or, it may merely be a symbolic change that hides the fact that you’re still dependent on the care of others.
It might also leave certain areas of life woefully vulnerable. We may be independent in spirit, but be terrible at managing our own money. Or we may not have what it takes to keep a living space livable. Or it might leave some social skills highly unrefined. And we have two options: improve those skills, or continue to adjust our worldview to account for our weaknesses. Maybe we don’t feel like learning how to keep a clean living space, and instead learn to take pride in it. Or maybe we haven’t learned how to be in a relationship, and decide that we’re jaded and cynical about the state of coupling.
Being in charge of ourselves leaves us with a huge responsibility to come up with strategies to either fix, or cover up, weak spots.
It’s even easier to see when you think about this in others. For example, our parents, teachers, and bosses. The default authority figures. They have the same challenges, after all. And they excel at their “being-in-chargedness” to the extent that they are able to manage their weak spots without trying to cover them up or justify them with worldview shifts.
As soon as we can see these faults in others, we must turn on ourselves and examine how we ourselves are managing our weaknesses. How are we doing at being in charge of ourselves? How are we doing at being in charge of others (to the extent that we’re authority figures of our own right).
I think a lot of grief in social situations can be examined in this context.
Is someone in charge of something that they don’t want to be in charge of?
Is someone not in charge of something that they want to be in charge of?
Is there confusion about who is in charge of something?
Are you and others managing the weak spots of their in charge areas with competence?
Is someone feeling under-appreciated for the effort required to be in charge of something?
Somehow, in our brains, we know exactly how much good will we have towards any number of things. Our wife, our baby, our job, people who walk slow, rain, people who are always late, people who drive you to the airport, people who hang out with you with no notice, our parents, our computer, AT&T, etc.
It would be interesting to investigate just how we are able to have completely different amounts of good will towards all of these things without it seeming contradictory to ourselves. How is it possible to have so little good will for a long line at the post office while having so much good will for the person who saves our spot for us while we run to get a coffee? It goes deep into our old brains’ sense of fairness, justice, manners, and what’s right and wrong. An early feature of our cerebral cortex, most likely.
1976: Born in Newport Beach, California
1986: Turned 10
1992: Briefly owned a Ford Mustang convertible, before totaling it
1993: My father passed away
1994: Graduated high school
1994: One year at UC Berkeley
1995: Moved to Seattle, Washington
1998: Graduated from UW
1998: Hired at Amazon.com to answer phones at night
2000: Transferred to Amazon web developer position
2000: Got married
2000: Launched Seattle Stories (now gone)
2001: Launched Nervousness (sold in 2002 for $400)
2002: Launched All Consuming (sold in 2005 for $5,000)
2002: Wrote Man Versus Himself
2003: Transferred to Amazon product manager position
2003: Wrote Disaster
2003: Web developer again
2004: Got divorced
2004: Quit Amazon
2004: Co-founded The Robot Co-op
2004: Bought a loft
2005: Launched 43 Things
2006: Co-founded McLeod Residence (closed in 2008)
2008: Married Kellianne
2009: Started Enjoymentland
2009: Launched Locavore
2009: Quit the Robot Co-op
2009: Kellianne gets pregnant
2010: Launched 750 Words
2010: Son is born
Would be interesting to dig deeper into these 30ish events to see how they relate to one another:
Which ones were intentional, versus accidental?
Which ones had high immediate impact, which had high long-term impact?
Which one had intended consequences versus unintended consequences?
Which things am I proud of, which am I ashamed of?
Another thing to consider, as I am currently 33 years old, how many more things will be on this list? I started this list in 2005 (it was the bio on an old Typepad account), and only just now updated it to include the last 7 things. Will the list continue to include about 1 item per year? Will I add things to the past that I don’t currently know are high-impact events? Will I remove things?
I think this is true. When at a loss for something to do, think about the people in your life and try to think of something nice that you can do for one of them. And then don’t mention anything about doing it.
It’ll all backfire if you expect credit or congratulations or even attention for the favor. For favors to work as self-medication, they have to be rewards in themselves, private to yourself, and with no residual expectation of pay-back.
By “social specialization” I am referring to how, in groups, certain people specialize to take on certain roles, strengths, weaknesses, etc. How, sometimes, in a group one person might be the one that helps pay for drinks at the end of the night, or the person who’s able to give you a ride home, or the person who acts the silliest, or the person that cries the most, etc.
The same person might have different specializations in different social circles. In one group, a person might be the comforting one while in other they might be the distressed one.
I’m interested in this for a weird reason. I’m particularly interested in how some people specialize as being good or strong or stable. They are the ones that people can expect to more often than not keep it together during a problem, be fair during disputes, take care of others when they’re in distress, etc.
The side effect of social specialization is that when one person specializes in the direction of a strength, it sometimes becomes a cue that others can be less strong, more dependent, etc. And this is a disincentive for the strong person to continue playing that role, as it in some ways makes the other characters less strong. Are they being taken for granted? And then who will be strong for them when they need it? Parents, I’m guessing, might run into this conflict when trying to decide how protective they want to be of their children… does one shield them from all turmoil at the risk of sheltering them too much and leaving them unprepared for the eventual arrival of “real life”?
Does the person who always picks up the tab disincentivize the others to make more money? Does the person who is patient disincentivize the others from having better behavior? Does the person who always cleans disincentivize the others from picking up after themselves?
In a way, social specialization seems inevitable, and in many ways productive to a social group. We would never have evolved into multicellular creatures unless some cells decided to specialize and take over functions from other cells. Similarly, society has to specialize in order to grow and evolve. We can’t all grow our own food and improve technology and raise children and build roads and govern the states and transport mail in equal amounts.
Of course, the rational answer is that we should balance specialization with giving others an opportunity to grow in their own ways. Balance strength with encouragement to grow. But at the core of the question is an anticipation of what society might be able to evolve into if it were to go whole hog into the idea of social specialization. How many cells got left out of the first multi-cellular animals? How many species didn’t provide something of value to the whole and therefore disappeared into the world of independent single cell outcasts?