Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blogging - when and why

Blogging for me is just a particular form of having a conversation.

I end talking about people's personal blogs frequently enough, or about the blog they plan to start... or perhaps most often, the blog they have lying dormant.  Many people sense it's worth blogging, but aren't clear about what what and why.  But many people don't seem to know how to catalyse this sense into actual writing.

I don't write a good blog, but I do have one, and I do write for it - occasionally.  And some of the posts are okay.  Some people seem to read it.  And I'm happy with how it's working facilitating my social connections online.

In the middle of last year I was writing some highly important, super intelligent, completely irrelevant and largely unread posts on the state of the world.  It was a waste of time.

I started this blog just to record my experience trying to set out for myself and make things happen in the world (and make a life/profession out of it - hence, Professional Adventurer).  A lot of what I'm doing and learning is worth sharing, because I know others out there want to be able to take this pathway.  And I don't want it to be as hard for them as it is for me.  And I just wanted to keep in contact with people that I probably wasn't going to be sitting down to drink beers with every other week.

My blog got shit when I started trying too hard.

So now, I don't.  Now I just converse.

There's an organic vibrancy to conversation.  In response to what's happening in conversation around you, things you want to say emerge within you.  They bubble up inside you and exert pressure on your larynx.  When a suitable opportunity arises you say it.

It doesn't really matter whether you're right or whether your 'thing' is going to save the world.  It's a social activity mostly, so you go with it.  Our brains are pretty good at creating things organically (and collectively) out of conversations that are worth saying, so we let it go and have faith.  Most of the time we just listen.  

So most of the time blogging for me is like this.  Nothing more and little less.

Normally I'm having a conversation in my head.  It seems like a valid thing to share, and I have an opportunity to sit at my laptop and type it up.  So I do.  And then I hit the publish button.  If I'm feeling adventurous I'll share it too.

It's easy and it just happens.

So if you're stuck maybe give it a shot.  Don't let trying too hard get in the way of having a conversation.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Changing Lives

Transforming lives is the heart of meaningful change.  So it's worth reflecting what has impacted on our own lives to get a sense of how we can enable change for others.

I was reminded of a few of my own, hearing Sam Manger's story of how he ended up doing Transitions Film Festival Adelaide - inspired by his experience of TFF in Melbourne.

I'm sure you can think of many examples in your own life similar to these...

Learning about the politics of social relations on 'year 13' exchange in Russia in 2004
High school social systems can be turbulent and unpleasant, but there is a wonderful simplicity to them.  It's something else trying to manage relationships in an exchange position living with families and schools with their own complexes, different cultures and a diverse (often perplexing) set of expectations.  I was totally unprepared, didn't realise how consciously I needed to manage these relationships, and I failed.  I learnt my lesson the hard way.

Attending my first Australian Literature lecture with David Brooks
David Brooks is amazing, and I certainly hope Australian Literature is still kicking along in the backwaters of University of Sydney so that other students have the opportunity to learn with him.  Nevermind that the classes were interesting and engaging - I was inspired by being so directly connected to the actual world I lived in, studying writers who lived and wrote about my city, learning from a lecturer and tutor who knew them and often edited their journal submissions and published commentary on their work.  The only other time I remember doing anything that really connected to the broader world was reviewing the newspaper in year 12 economics.  It was inspiring to feel for the first time that I was a real human being with a right to engage in the world.

Taking up civic responsibility with the University of Sydney Motorcycle Club
A little later in my first year of uni I stumbled into my first real role of civic responsibility, as Treasurer of the university motorcycle club.  I went along because I wanted to hang out with some fellow bikers, and I put my hand up cos they needed it - and I could add and subtract.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time I exercised any civic agency, having previously taken a lot of interest in social science, economics, the labour market and other fun things - but only at an idealistic level.  I haven't looked back.

Having my assumptions turned upside down by the movie Economics of Happiness
I'm pretty grateful for the grounding year 12 economics gave me, but the Economics of Happiness was the first time I'd had my core economic assumptions challenged.  Much of the film is pretty dogmatic and suspect itself, this is true, but it did open my eyes to some of the limitations of economic rationalism that I'd previously taken as gospel.  Many of you will know my general disdain for mainstream economics, and its impact on decision making and our social and business structures.  Much more than just academic questions, this film forced me to reassess all of my own values relating to our economic systems.  I can see in this brief experience the seeds of my present respect for localism, sustainability, and probably even my passion for agency.

Economics of Happiness was going to be my very first post on this blog - but that ended up an unpublished draft owing to my first experience of really making something amazing happen, at the Global Sustainability Jam 2011.  You can read about that on my very first blog post.

While my writing is much better, the threads of inspiration are still clear.  A dozen other examples have come up in the writing of this... not least of which are moments of inspiration offered by the heroes I wrote about in my last post.  My past blog posts offer insights into many more as well.

So what can we take from this?

I don't know about your examples, but mine make a few things pretty clear...
  • the most transformative experiences are very rarely planned or predictable - all of the above were serendipitous
  • tiny things can make a big difference to the right people at the right time (butterfly effect)
  • most of the time when you enable a transformation in someone's life, you'll never know about it - and you won't capture any of the value you create either

I'm not sure what this really means though.  It suggests to me that philosophies of change need a level of sophistication higher than we're accustomed to. I have been reflecting recently on culture, memetics and planning for serendipity, and I sense that these are the types of things that will bring that extra level.  But we need to understand how to wield them.

In the meantime, keep creating experiences and and opening up possibilities for people - and keep learning how value flows out of them.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Keep marching, my heroes and my friends

Sometimes I sit and watch my balance depleting, and wonder what my work adds up to.  I'm investing all my energy, my time, my money - for what?  I'm going nowhere.

Then something catches my attention, I remember 'me' from a year or two ago - and I think maybe I'm doing alright after all.

Most of the change in me come from one thing: aspiring to be more like the heroes that are my friends.

archer10 on Flickr -

I remember how I failed at 'social' when I started work in the Victorian Government.  Friday Night Drinks were unpleasant for all around me.  I tried all sorts of bullsh*t 'self improvement' initiatives that got nowhere - the thing that drove the change was the example of one of my peers and her infectiously charming banter.

It was inconceivable a year or two ago, but I get complements these days on my presence and how I host events.  It's only because I can channel those I'm lucky to know.  When I wonder whether it's possible to do amazing things, I think of those around me that already are - and know it's true.  When I wonder whether to fight when the odds are stacked against us, I'm inspired by friends who give their all to make this world a better place for others - not because they know they will achieve their dreams, but because they know the least they can do is everything they possibly can.

You probably know people like these.  The inspiration they provide is infectious.  We can be told, we can make a decision, and pour effort into being new and improved.  What sticks is following the change manifest in those we look up to.

Every act of kindness, generosity and excellence is an example of something better that we may one day become.  I can't be grateful enough of the wonderful friends that show me the way.

Little makes me prouder than seeing in myself shining little bits of those I admire - perhaps except the idea that if I keep on going, I may pass these gems to others too.

These people, my friends, are my heroes.  You might not realise it yet, but 'these people' are YOU.

Your efforts probably mean much more to those around you than you'll ever realise.  Keep being excellent.  Keep marching.

On behalf of us all - thank you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

How do we know our work is worthwhile?

I'm going through a critical reflective phase with CoCreate at the moment.  It's making me wonder how we really know whether we're doing anything meaningful.  Though that's not a quandary unique to CoCreate.

In a way, I have no doubt that it's a good thing.  Michael Kubler and I edited a video yesterday from footage of the April CoCreate Adelaide event.  (Video below.)  There was some pretty inspiring content in there, and some of it was a pretty convincing demonstration that we were doing something that was valuable for people.

But I still really, really struggle to put my finger on how we provide value, and what we should focus on as we grow - not only with CoCreate Adelaide, but the CoCreate movement as a whole.

At our last CoCreate Adelaide community session we discussed what we're about, what we do, and our indicators of success.  Or as I like to put these last ones - the things that let us know we're winning.  The indicators we came up with were a pretty good spread I think

  • people having positive experiences and coming back
  • event attendance increases
  • number of connections made
  • visible action happening as a result - people starting projects, getting involved in others projects, or getting supported with their own

But for the last couple of weeks I've still sat uneasy with this - with our understanding of whether we are doing something meaningful.  Let alone whether it's the meaningful work we could be doing!

I think the startup approach is very helpful here, with its relentless focus on understanding the 'user', their needs, and the value proposition as an offer to fulfill those needs.  It's something I bring in to all my community activity - cultivating community should only be pursued on the basis of the unmet needs of members, not on the ideas of the 'community builder' about what the community should look like.  So this has been churning around in the back of my head.
  • Who are our members?
  • What are their needs?
  • What energy is there in our community, and in the broader population, that we are offering an outlet for?

The startup philosophy basically stops at the point where your users are willing to part money for your offering.  That's your sign that you're providing them value.  But you can't apply that with communities in quite the same way, and at any rate I find it a deeply unconvincing way to establish that you're creating value.  (That's a debate for another day. Grrr fallacy of homo economicus! *shakes fist*)

Flicking through images from our CoCreate video about what was meaningful to people, two types of value came through.  First, people have a positive experience and they are happy.  That's fine, but it's not particularly exciting or meaningful by itself - especially because it's so transient.  Second, we enable a positive transformation in people's lives.

All of the other things we talked about that were good for people essentially boil down to this second point - we provide something that changes people's lives for the better.  That's why it is valuable to make connections, and it's what happens when people are supported to do meaningful projects.  Yes the projects themselves might achieve good things, but from the perspective of our own members, it's the transformation in their own lives that is really the end point.

It feels like such an elementary, important discovery.  The question at the heart of whether we are doing something meaningful:

What transformations are we really enabling in people's lives?

I don't pretend to have any good answers for this yet, but I think having a good question is a pretty good start.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A model for movement driven initiatives

How do you create a social change initiative?

There are a range of models out there for getting things done.  The startup model will work for many social enterprises (e.g. Lean Startup and Business Model Canvas).  A movement-building approach is great for behaviour-driven social change.  Activist and campaign techniques can leverage collective interest to influence the activity of large institutions.

I have learnt a lot from all of these fields - and continue to learn from them.  But none of them has ever been a convincing model for 'what I do' - or what I could do, or ever want to do either.

I've lamented before about the lack of an archetype for being a 'social innovator'.  I've discovered many more fields of interest, but still nothing that fits the bill.  Hell, I've even started telling people I'm setting up a consultancy.  A consultancy!?  What crap that is.  Yes, I hope in the (near) future to be paid to consult, but that's a far cry from "being a consultant".

These thoughts have recently coalesced into something that I think might just work, for me.  Not to say it is a model others should follow, but it seems promising for me.  At least, at this stage, it feels right.  That's more than I can say about any model I've sat with before.

As of... now, I'm calling it a model of 'movement driven social initiatives'.

The model goes something like this:

  1. Find a cause you care about: develop a sense of untapped potential, a problem, or the possibility for change
  2. Find allies
  3. Work with your allies to understand the space, find further allies, and opportunities to move forward
  4. Move forward 'growably' - initially with low-hanging 'MVP' initiatives, progressively with 'bigger', higher-impact and more scaleable initiatives - always with initiatives that grow the movement and the resources driving it (including your personal energy and finances!)
  5. Champion the cause, support your allies to deliver the change they are passionate about, and grow your initiative into a community and a movement
  6. Cultivate leaders to make yourself redundant before you get over it - because the first five steps are never finished
  7. Find another cause

I'm not going to blog here about this here in any more detail, but if you want me to elaborate, tell me that this is 'so 2005' and has been written about already, or especially if think this is what you (could) do - would love to hear from you.

Especially that last one.  Let's get awesome at doing this together, eh?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Slow Living

It's been a full on month.  I'm in Melbourne at the moment - my projects are on track, I've had some incredibly productive inspiration and reflection about my business, my information streams are under control, and I just need to get down to the necessary low-value administrative crap.  Perfect time for a blog post.

Some themes are emerging in my life and practice, like a desire for simplicity, complementarity and cumulative investment of energy.  Perhaps the most interesting is the desire to live slowly.

I know a lot of people loathe the pressure and effort of high pace living.  But this is not where I'm coming from.  In fact, my life is not energetic enough.

What I'm coming to loathe is the futility and narrow-mindedness of the short term, and the corrosive influence of the cults of busy and fast.

I've spent a lot of time since leaving my job, more than twelve months ago now, doing things that have been great and worthy and valid by themselves - and a great personal experience... but haven't added up to much.  You probably noticed that in my reflection on 'helping' where it's not wanted.  Short sightedness played just as much a role as my misguided idea of 'helping'.

I'm not hard on myself over this, because I frankly didn't know where I was going - nor could I have.  It was one of those necessary, foggy periods.

But now, as things settle into a slower and longer-term rhythm, everything is coming easier.

A materialising sense of purpose has not only given my efforts a frame, but driven my perspective outwards into the longer term.  All of a sudden, the things in the now don't need to deliver value in the present, as long as they're an investment in the future.  And they don't need to happen now either, if they're best off taking the time to mature.

Living slower doesn't mean I'm doing less.  But it does mean I'm doing better - especially in the long term.

An example. I'm organising CoCreate Adelaide - an unconference to enable community members to cocreate their visions.  It's had a longer effective lead time, is coming along way easier, and is better organised than anything I've done in the past... but in the now, that doesn't even matter.  Because my goal isn't to realise the amazing potential of CoCreate Adelaide in April... it's to realise it in April 2015.

Some may take that as permission to take two lazy years to get it done... but far from it.  I still need to work hard now, and for the next two years... it's just the rhythm and perspective that have slowed down to stretch out beyond the present.

Iteration, reflection, growth, learning and 'sustainability' are no longer luxuries at the edges, but integral to the core.  The experience is de-stressing and empowering.

I've invented a contrary challenge in fact, to encourage me to stetch my mind - instead of working out how to speed everything up, as is the customary imperative, I'm exploring how to slow it down.

Last year I wrote a book in a week. It was a good exercise, but if I could write that book in two years it would really be worthwhile.  Can I write a book in two years?  Or perhaps if I am writing a book, what book can I write in two years?  (The fact is, I couldn't possibly take that long to write the Open Handbook, my One Week Book.  If I find a book that I can write in two years, I'll aim to do that - and because I've done the one-week exercise, I know I can knock over the first edition in three or four days.)

Sometimes it feels like a curse to have a big picture, systemic perspective on doing good.  There are so many amazing things in the world that I could get excited about... if they weren't doomed to insignificance.  The vast majority of 'good' done achieves little in the long term (even ignoring the dubiousness of its impact now).

But our efforts don't need to be futile.  Be patient.  Slow down.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Don't waste your effort helping people achieve something unless they want it

I've been lucky enough to be involved in some fantastic projects in the last year, like Collaboratory Melbourne, Collaborate to Innovate and Our World Today.  I've had great experiences.  But a lot of the time, it hasn't felt like I've achieved anything.

I have learnt that transformation relies upon the use of potential energy.  Enabling people, helping them realise their potential, instead of doing things for them.  Things they want to do - rather than what you want them to do.

Sometimes I haven't been able to take a step back and realise that the 'help' I've wanted to provide is really just an expression of my own desire. Most of the time people will nod and agree - perhaps with some enthusiasm, and often with a degree of gratitude.  But that's not enough.

On one hand, where my help is for something to get done, then I should go do it.  There's nothing wrong with taking the initiative.  Ask people to make sure it's okay with them, sure - but if it needs doing, then I can't dally around expecting people to get on board.  My desire is mine to take responsibility for, irrespective of who it's good for.

I've found myself much more inclined to be direct like this lately.  Probably out of impatience more than anything else.  It feels liberating, and things feel easier.  It actually seems easier to involve others - people helping me, instead of me helping them.  There's a paradox to navigate, but the direction is clear nevertheless.

On the other hand, where my help is actually for another person to do something, then I shouldn't expect it to be of any use unless they want to.  If there's no energy there, if they don't feel the need, then the best informed and best intentioned advice is a waste of time.  Sure, if I'm specific enough then they might do it.  But when they need to digest it and make a decision on it, chances are it won't go any further.

I gave a lot of great, gratefully accepted advice last year.  Most of it was useless.  Useless because I didn't really understand where the unmet needs and energy lay, so that I could actually help others achieve what they wanted to do.

Hence today's lesson - if people don't want something that I do, I should stop wasting energy trying to 'help' them to do it.  It's really not helping them at all.

Boo for all my well-intentioned, wasted energy.  Here's to taking the lesson on board.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Simple steps for leading collaborative initiatives

It was one of those dark and stormy, sleepless nights.  Ideas racing at a million miles an hour, and my last post churning around in the back of my mind.  Out popped a few simple steps for collaborative projects.

My inclination has been to talk, ask about issues, seek collaborators, try to find common ground, and develop practices for collaborative action.  Things have gone slowly.  These new steps are a bit different.

  1. ! Do
  2. - Invite
  3. > Develop
  4. \/  Evolve

! Do  -  what you can

Don't get caught up planning things for others to do.  And don't stress yourself stretching beyond your own capacity.

Don't worry too much about waiting to get everyone on board first - this can come later.

'You' does not need to be you individually, but if the initiative doesn't resonate really strongly initially, don't expend energy trying to get people to partner with you.

- Invite  -  specific opportunities

Make specific invitations for modest opportunities to collaborate, and general invitations to participate (with a specific 'opt in' attached).  Don't push too hard, don't expect big leaps from collaborators, and don't be afraid to tell it how it is to get the job done in the early days.

> Develop  -  deeper engagement

As the project matures, interest grows and collaborators are more familiar, gradually enable deeper engagement in the project.

Most collaborative initiatives seem to get stuck with a few key organisers, and a host of others whose keenness grows... only to whither as they don't have opportunities to move beyond relatively minor engagement

\/ Evolve  -  roles and project

It will be possible to evolve to a more collaborative partnership only as others gradually develop deeper engagement.  The roles of participants, and the nature of the project itself, will need to evolve to better reflect the energy and resources of the community.

You really need to step back and accept that it's not 'yours' anymore.

I initially sketched this post way back in January.  I'm pleased to confirm the Simple Four Step is working pretty well so far in 2013!  A few small collaborative initiatives here at the Majoran Distillery are coming along well, and CoCreate Adelaide is taking on real momentum.

I'm going to claim it validated.  Bam.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A more reflective, personal turn

The blog has been fairly quiet the last six months.  There are too many different things I could write about, and I have no compelling case to write about any one of them, especially given my modest readership.

This blog was initially a way to engage with friends about what I was up, where individual conversations were impractical.  Many of my posts have let my friends know I write about things that are 'interesting' - but of little interest to them.  However, without a specialist readership to replace them I've mostly been writing for me.

2013 will see me setting up a business, and a collaborative book project.  I can write more in-depth, topic specific posts in conjunction with these.  Guest blogging may also be a way to share niche thoughts.

A friend's post reminded me the other day about the value of regular reflection in the development or practice.  So for this blog - I'm going to do that.

First step: reflect on blogging experience.