Shaving my hair off again, just because I felt like it
Sometimes I think back to life just over a decade ago when I was working full-time as a senior leader in schools, with a baby at home, and getting up at 4am to work on my thesis. I’m not sure I could do that now.
But then, I’ll probably think the same in another decade’s time about this pandemic. It’s certainly tough, but I’m also thankful that, fingers crossed, things haven’t yet affected our family and town as much as elsewhere.
Background anxiety and stress levels are high, and I feel like I’m on high alert all of the time. This must be having a long-term effect on our bodies —and I’m not just talking about the increased weight we’re putting on and the extra alcohol we’re consuming.
I couldn’t be happier with my decision to end support via Patreon and switch to a ‘bitesize updates’ model, pulled together in a weekly email. It’s more enjoyable for me to do things this way, and the mailing list is growing again for the first time in a while!
Next week, after being concerned that I wouldn’t have enough work, I’ve got so much stuff to get on with! I’ve got the upcoming Tech4Good event to finish planning with Erica, a new Greenpeace contract to get started on with Laura, a team to put together for the Catalyst work, Sociocracy work at Outlandish, and internal projects to keep ticking over.
Remaining unmanaged, whatever name you give to it always seems to be feast or famine, but the great thing about being part of a co-op is that you can balance out the work between you a bit. Get in touch if we can help!
Selfie taken while writing this post, at home, using the Retroboy app.
NVC theory supposes that all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs, and that these needs are never in conflict; rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that people should identify shared needs, which are revealed by the thoughts and feelings surrounding these needs, and then they should collaborate to develop strategies and make requests of each other to meet each other’s needs. The goal is interpersonal harmony and learning for future cooperation.
It’s a difficult thing to search for given, well, fonts, but yesterday Abi Handley gave me an overview of the FONT approach that Outlandish have taken from NVC, which stands for:
Despite the order of this acronym, the aim is to acknowledge your own feelings, observations, and thoughts, and get to the needs you have in any given situation.
I don’t have much knowledge or experience with NVC, but found FONT very useful yesterday when it was important for me to push past what I was feeling to get to a solution/resolution. I simply opened my notes app, and wrote some bullet points under feelings, observations, and thoughts, before getting to needs.
I’m not sure how well it scales to really deep-seated issues we may face in life, but for nipping things in the bud that could escalate, I found FONT useful this week.
Austin Kleon is the author of a book entitled Show Your Work. Some of its key points are summarised in an article which features this graphic:
To me, ‘showing your work’ = ‘working openly’ = ‘working out loud’ — so I’ll use them interchangeably. I think showing your work so important to the future of successful, harmonious, purposeful organisations, that four years ago I help set up a co-op called We Are Open. We’re dedicated to spreading the “culture, processes and benefits of working openly wherever we can”.
I think working openly is vital because it builds trust. It also leads to three things pointed out by Matt Thompson, a former Mozilla colleague of mine, almost a decade ago:
Participation — more people can get involved!
Agility — new ideas can be generated!
Momentum — things progress more quickly!
These benefits are cumulative, meaning smaller organisations can leverage the advantages of working out loud to ‘punch above their weight’.
My friend and co-op colleague Laura Hilliger acknowledges, as I do, that being open is hard. Nevertheless, she frames open as an attitude that anyone can choose to adopt.
Elsewhere she points out how nerve-wracking it can be for people who are used to working in more traditional ways:
Whenever you’re going to talk about another major player in the industry or a peer or project, it can be risky. People understand the things we say differently, but being open means being willing to clarify your words and understand that your perspective might not be shared.
In other words, you might choose to share your work, and other people might not like it! But that’s OK. Returning to the eighth point of Austin Kleon’s list, you may have to develop a bit of a thick skin to work openly, but the benefits of doing so are enormous.
I’ve come across plenty of objections to working openly over the years, with most them boiling down to confidence. Once people get over that hurdle, though, people seem to then worry about a world where everyone is sharing everything all of the time. Well, at least they used to before everyone was sharing pretty much everything on social media…
Showing your work may be noisy when done well, but it’s ‘noisy’ in the same way that the productive buzz of an office is noisy. In that offline setting, you can’t pay attention to everyone all of the time. Similarly, online you can’t pay attention to every message in every channel you can access.
Instead, as adult human beings we scaffold people’s attention; that comes partly through the features built-in to the tools we use, but also through agreed processes. As I’ve quoted the media theorist Clay Shirky as saying many times, “it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”.
Finally, I should point out that, in any organisation, there are private conversations. These, of course, should be respected. A private email conversation or chat conversation is no different to having a quiet word with someone in the corner of the office to make sure they’re OK. But conversations squarely about work? They definitely should be open by default, there’ so much upside!
If “old habits die hard” then it would appear uncontroversial to state the obvious, that new habits die easily.
There’s different views on how long it takes to form a new habit, but, for some reason, 21 days seems to be a popular opinion. The trouble is, that it’s based on theory 1950s plastic surgeon who noticed that it took at least 21 days for a patient to get used to the result of their new post-surgery look.
It makes sense why the “21 Days” Myth would spread. It’s easy to understand. The time frame is short enough to be inspiring, but long enough to be believable. And who wouldn’t like the idea of changing your life in just three weeks?
Proper scientific research, carried out by Phillippa Lally and her team at UCL has shown that it can take a good deal longer than 21 days to form a new habit:
In my own life, I’ve found habit formation to be very easy for some things and very difficult for others. If we step back a bit and think about things, that’s exactly what we would expect. It’s easier to engrain a habit based on something positive that I’m doing and that I enjoy (e.g. going for a run) versus something negative that I feel I’m giving up (e.g. eating less ice-cream).
On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life — not 21 days.
The other thing to point out here is the specificity of the habit being mentioned. For example, I use Loop Habit Tracker to keep track of a bunch of things from doing press-ups and sit-ups every morning through to not eating sugar on weekdays. It’s easy for me to give myself the weekend off doing my press-ups, or not counting certain types of sugar (e.g. fructose).
The thing is not to give up and to get yourself back on track. For example, this morning, I went on the exercise bike, did my press-ups and sit-ups properly and used a 24kg kettlebell to do some weights. I’m also about to go for a long walk so I get my 10,000 steps in for the day (although that’s also a problematic number).
Motivation around my physical health is high today, mainly because I took it easy at the end of last week as I felt a cold coming on. Tomorrow, who knows? The trick is to keep on the upward trajectory.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.
I saw this illustration somewhere this week, but just as the days and weeks are indistinguishable at the moment, likewise my digital channels bleed into one. Every day, it seems, is: get up, spend most of the working day at the computer, switch screens for ‘leisure’ time, and then go to bed.
As Mark Frauenfelder reports for BoingBoing, perhaps it’s not just me — everyone’s in the same boat:
The issue with 2020, particularly with everyone in lockdown, is that we’re all stuck in the same four walls. And even though there are stressful things that occupy our minds, the fact is we’re not laying down very distinct memories, largely because we’re not moving around to different locations. Everything blurs together because every day looks essentially just like the last one. So when you look back, you think, We’ve been in lockdown for… how long? What day is this?
I’ve been reflecting on Oliver Burkeman’s last column for The Guardian, which I shared via Thought Shrapnel last week. There’s so much condensed wisdom in there, but, like Austin Kleon, I found the framing around ‘enlargement’ when making life choices extremely useful:
When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response. You tend to just know whether, say, leaving or remaining in a relationship or a job, though it might bring short-term comfort, would mean cheating yourself of growth. (Relatedly, don’t worry about burning bridges: irreversible decisions tend to be more satisfying, because now there’s only one direction to travel – forward into whatever choice you made.)
I haven’t talked much publicly about what went down when I left Moodle, nor will I, but it’s fair to say that I well and truly burned my bridges there. But the great thing about it is that I feel enlarged by doing so; I stuck to my principles, was supported by the team I’d put together (who also quit) and have moved onto things which make me happier.
For various reasons, I’ve started tracking the amount of paid work I do, and how much it earns me. Different clients, contracts, and types of work earn me different day rates. Sometimes this varies quite a bit.
Most days I spend from 08:00 to 16:00 in my office doing some form of work, with about 30 minutes for lunch. This adds up to a standard working week of 37.5 hours. However, over the last month I’ve been paid for the following:
Week beginning 17th August: 27.9 hours
Week beginning 24th August: 26.2 hours
Week beginning 31st August: 28.16 hours
Week beginning 7th September: 25.25 hours
That means, on average, I’m spending over 10 hours per week on things I’m not paid for. This week that included some pro-bono work for an Open Source project (which I’ll say more about when it’s got a proper web presence), replying to emails, research, blogging, admin, having a chat with a client about upcoming work, and a one-hour therapy session.
The latter was particularly welcome this week given some low-level drama going on in our co-op. For the last few months I’ve been working on my avoidant tendencies, which includes often apologising for situations in an attempt to make them go away. My therapist suggested that, this time, it might do me some good to just allow the dust to settle rather than trying to hastily fix things.
I’m particularly enjoying the work I’m doing with Outlandish at the moment, as I feel I’m able to apply some of the product skills I’ve developed over the past few years. There’s more wider ‘productisation’ work there, but also specific help I’m helping with related a stream of products and services related to sociocracy. I overhauled the workshop page for the
The initial contracts for those of us on loan from fellow CoTech co-ops were to the end of this month, so I’m not sure if I’ll be working with them after the next couple of weeks, but either way it’s definitely been a positive experience. Working with Aaron has been a highlight, and we overhauled the workshop page for Sociocracy 101: consent-based decision-making this week, among other things.
Other work this week has involved:
HelpingLaura with a slide deck as we wrap-up a six-month contract with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team. We may remain engaged with them in some way over the next few months, but also have two contracts with other Greenpeace teams starting soon!
Updatinglearnwith.weareopen.coop to make more publicly-accessible a course on openness we initially put together for the Planet 4 team. I also ensured the new We are Open branding and logo is featured on that site. Our main site will be updated soon.
Drafting a post for the co-op blog about the Catalyst and Social Mobility Commission-funded work we finished recently. Erica Neve and I will be presenting about this at an upcoming Tech4Good event in a couple of weeks’ time.
Talking with Ken McCarthy about some work I’ll be doing with Waterford Institute of Technology after they were successful in a grant application. Fun fact: Ken has not missed a day in 10 years of writing at 750words.com!
Catching up with Erica to do a bit of planning around our the event session mentioned above.
Deleting my Slideshare account after downloading the 83 presentations I’d uploaded there between 2008 and 2017. I didn’t fancy having my data mined after Microsoft sold the service to Scribd. More details here.
Next week, guess what? I’ll be at home. I’ve got some Outlandish, Greenpeace, and internal co-op work to do, but am also available for more work! I’ve updated my hire me page specially. I think ideally I want to spend my time doing more product stuff. It’s enjoyable and I think I’m pretty good at it.
Before I deleted my LinkedIn account and then created a new one from scratch, I had a bunch of recommendations from people with whom I am no longer in contact.
I vividly remember one such recommendation, however, which described me as an ‘ideas hamster’. This was unexpected, but I saw it as a good thing. I shared that description of myself with a kind of pride. I owned it.
More recently, and particularly in the self-excavation I’ve been doing via therapy, I’ve come to see my constant need to move onto the next thing and work as fast as I can as a form of avoidance. After all, hamsters take exercise in wheels that, ultimately, go nowhere.
But if I’m not an ‘ideas hamster’, then… what am I? If the ability to rapidly generate new ideas is not my USP, then what value do I bring to the world?
Thankfully, the answer has been sitting in front of my the whole time. People regularly allude to my ability to connect together things in new and novel ways.
I’m happy with that. There is nothing, after all, new under the sun, meaning ‘my ideas’ have never been more than connecting together things differently. So it’s in this that I add value to the world, in my ability to synthesise and make sense of the world around me.
I’m continuing to listen to Season 4 of Scene on Radio, entitled The Land That Never Has Been Yet. As I mentioned in a previous post quoting from another episode in the series, the hosts bring a clarity to some of my muddled political thoughts.
This time, they’re talking about neoliberalism, the idea that markets can fix everything. It’s gone from being a contested idea when I was young to pretty much orthodox thinking in 2020.
John Biewen: Yeah and despite these inconsistencies and logical problems with the theory, another thing that Wendy Brown has pointed out is that neoliberalism has become so pervasive. People like Buchanan and Hayek and Milton Friedman wanted us to accept the market as the guiding metaphor for pretty much everything in our lives.
Chenjerai Kumanyika: Yes. And we were talking about an example of this in our pandemic episode. The problems with this idea that everything should be run like a business. But neoliberalism is really this on steroids, right? It’s like society should just be a marketplace, in fact, Margaret Thatcher famously said there’s no such thing as society. Just a collection of individuals. So in that picture, we’re not even citizens, right, we’re just kinda like, independent contractors.
John Biewen: And notice that language, the way so much of our language now is borrowed from the financial world and from markets. We’re not caring for ourselves, we’re developing our humanity, we’re investing in ourselves. We’re not sharing our gifts, we’re building our brands. We don’t have responsibility to take care of each other, we’re out here competing.
That line from Kumanyika that we’re “not ever citizens… just independent contractors” really stopped me in my tracks (literally, as I was running at the time). In the UK, we don’t have a written constitution so, despite the government’s mention of us as ‘citizens’ we’re actually subjects of the Crown. The term may no longer be in popular use, but it doesn’t make it any the less true.
Part of the reason we don’t think about this is probably because how subjugated we are to the market forces of neoliberalism in every area of our lives. True democracy, as Biewen and Kumanyika discuss towards the beginning of the episode, deals in power dynamics, trying to make society more equal over time. Neoliberalism instead entrenches privilege and hierarchy, which is why I’m against it and everything it entails.
As a self-identified left-libertarian, I’m sympathetic towards anarchist philosophy and the right of people to be free from state interference. I’ve discussed this elsewhere, so I’ll not get into it in too much depth now, but suffice to say that it makes this book an interesting read!
In the first chapter of the book, Tainter gives numerous examples of societal collapse, which he defines as happening when a society “displays a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity”. As such, it encompasses not only the Roman and Mayan empires, which we’ve all heard of, but also many that we (or at least I) have not.
I wanted to share one example in full, because it blew my mind that people could live in this way, without the normal social bonds. What I find particularly interesting are the hints that things have not always been this way, due to clan names and the choice to live in villages.
The Ik are a people of northern Uganda who live at what must surely be the extreme of deprivation and disaster. A largely hunting and gathering people who have in recent times practiced some crop planting, the Ik are not classifiable as a complex society in the sense of Chapter 2. They are, nonetheless, a morbidly fascinating case of collapse in which a former, low level of social complexity has essentially disappeared.
Due to drought and disruption by national boundaries of the traditional cycle of movement, the Ik live in such a food- and water-scarce environment that there is absolutely no advantage to reciprocity and social sharing. The Ik, in consequence, display almost nothing of what could be considered societal organization. They are so highly fragmented that most activities, especially subsistence, are pursued individually. Each Ik will spend days or weeks on his or her own, searching for food and water. Sharing is virtually nonexistent. Two siblings or other kin can live side-by-side, one dying of starvation and the other well nourished, without the latter giving the slightest assistance to the other. The family as a social unit has become dysfunctional. Even conjugal pairs don’t form a cooperative unit except for a few specific purposes. Their motivation for marriage or cohabitation is that one person can’t build a house alone. The members of a conjugal pair forage alone, and do not share food. Indeed, their foraging is so independent that if both members happen to be at their residence together it is by accident.
Each conjugal compound is stockaded against the others. Several compounds together form a village, but this is a largely meaningless occurrence. Villages have no political functions or organization, not even a central meeting place.
Children are minimally cared for by their mothers until age three, and then are put out to fend for themselves. This separation is absolute. By age three they are expected to find their own food and shelter, and those that survive do provide for themselves. Children band into age-sets for protection, since adults will steal a child’s food whenever possible. No food sharing occurs within an age-set. Groups of children will forage in agricultural fields, which scares off birds and baboons. This is often given as the reason for having children.
Although little is known about how the Ik got to their present situation, there are some indications of former organizational patterns. They possess clan names, although today these have no structural significance. They live in villages, but these no longer have any political meaning. The traditional authority structure of family, lineage, and clan leaders has been progressively weakened. It appears that a Although little is known about how the Ik got to their present situation, there are some indications of former organizational patterns. They possess clan names, although today these have no structural significance. They live in villages, but these no longer have any political meaning. The traditional authority structure of family, lineage, and clan leaders has been progressively weakened. It appears that a former level of organization has simply been abandoned by the Ik as unprofitable and unsuitable in their present distress (Turnbull 1978).
One of my reasons for sharing this is that what’s portrayed here is often how ‘anarchy’ is painted by those who have a vested in the status quo; as the utter breakdown in political, economic, and social relations.
I don’t think this is the case, and in fact I have a feeling that Tainter is likely to argue that one of the reasons for societal collapse is over-centralisation. After all, decentralisation is always more resilient. We’ll see.
This week I got into a new rhythm with Thought Shrapnel, restoring it to something approaching its strapline – i.e. a stream of things going in and out of my brain. I’m pleased with the result, although it will evolve and change as I do.
This week featured a Bank Holiday in the UK, so it was a four-day working week. Team Belshaw spent Monday in Thrunton Woods, which we’ve never been to, despite only being 25 minutes away from where we live. Of course, we decided to do the red walking route, despite the fact that our two children were on their mountain bikes. Cue me and our son having to carry bikes up a very steep section, broken up with tree roots. Still, it was fun, and we went out for lunch afterwards.
Despite the four day working week, I managed to fit in the same number of hours of paid work as usual. I ended up doing four half-day for Outlandish, continuing to help them with productisation and in particular developing what they offer to help teams work more effectively. There’s only a couple of places left on their upcoming Sociocracy 101 workshop.
For my home co-op, We Are Open, I’ve been mainly focusing on business development, submitting three funding bids on Friday. We’ve got some things to work through internally as the co-op expands and grows. That can lead to difficult conversations, some of which we’ve been having this week.
Those connecting with me via video conference in the last few days would have seen something new behind me in my home office: a full-size dgital piano, and a tiny Korg NTS-1 synth. Inspired by Mentat (aka Oliver Quinlan) I decided that it’s been too long since I tried making my own music. 25 years, in fact.
The piano was my parents’ and was at our house while my two children had piano lessons. Given our eldest gave up a few years ago and our youngest decided she no longer wanted to play during lockdown, it’s been sitting in our dining room gathering dust. I noticed it has MIDI ports to the rear, so I’ve hooked it up to the Korg synth and experimenting with the noises I can make. And they are definitely ‘noises’ at the moment…
This weekend, my wonderful wife and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. We’re pretty much middle-aged now, so celebrating it by going for a child-free long walk and having coffee and cake. Our children will be at my parents’. It’s a shame we can’t really go away, but on the plus side the pandemic has meant we’ve explored many more places locally than we have previously!
Talking of children, they were back to school this week, both starting new schools. They seem to be really enjoying it, especially being back among their friends rather than mainly connecting with them via Fortnite.
Next week I’ll be working a couple of days for Outlandish and getting started on a new piece of work for Greenpeace through We Are Open. Other than that, I’m still looking for a bit more work, so hit me up if you see anything Doug-shaped!
Some research I did during the Black Lives Matter protests pointed me towards Seeing White, which is Season 2 of the amazing Scene On Radio. I’ve been catching up with other series of the podcast since then, and the third series about toxic masculinity is also excellent.
However, it’s an episode of the most recent season which I want to focus on here. Season 4 concentrates on the origins of American democracy and, towards the end of March 2020, the hosts recorded a special bonus episode.
I listened to the episode this morning and it put into words something I’ve really been feeling about references to ‘the economy’. Thankfully, Scene On Radio provides audio transcripts.
Here’s the main host, John Biewen, talking to his co-host and collaborator, the academic and activist Chenjerai Kumanyika. They’re discussing the tension between the economy and democracy.
John Biewen: So in those cases from our series, and in others that we’ve looked at, it seems clear that building a healthy economy, as the ownership class understands that, is usually not the same as achieving wellbeing for most people. And here we are today, this argument still seems to be very much with us.
Chenjerai Kumanyika: So, you look at what we’re dealing with right now with this crisis, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that this thing of prioritizing profit has a lot to do with why our disaster preparedness is so far from what we need right now. Most of y’all have probably heard that Trump dismantled a pandemic preparedness team inside his administration that had been created during the Obama administration. But what you really have to look at is how he explains hisreasoning for this. In a press conference where he was describing why he cut thepandemic team and other things, he said, “I’m a business person….”
They play a clip from Trump where he says he doesn’t want people ‘standing around’ being unproductive. But of course that only makes sense if you think countries should be run like businesses.
Chenjerai Kumanyika: And so there’s all these ideas circulating that everythingin the world should operate like a business and that somehow businesspeople are the best equipped to do everything. But in this case what you see is that business instinct was incredibly shortsighted. When we’ve actually known about these kinds of flus for decades, and people have been warning about just this kind of global pandemic — including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who’s playing such a prominent role right now. He’s the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and you’ve probably seen him talking about this. He’s been warning about flu pandemics at least since the 1990s. But with that government pandemic unit cut from the budget, the decision of whether or not to develop and mass-produce vaccines and tests was an economic decision left in the hands of people figuring out, like, are we gonna profit from this?
So there we have it. By ‘the economy’, what politicians and others mean is ‘profits for wealthy people’. This is why, with a straight face, they will talk about the ‘balance’ to be struck between the economy and the number of deaths caused by the pandemic.
Put like that, as profits for wealthy people, I don’t particularly care about getting the economy restarted. I care about human lives. Trickle-down economics has, after all, been debunked as bogus.