Open Thinkering


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No management but self-management

The robber of your free will does not exist. (Epictetus)

Eylan Ezekiel shared a Twitter thread (single page) with me recently from former monk Cory Muscara. In the thread, Muscara explains that he meditated for 15 hours per day for six months with one of the toughest Buddhist monks on the planet.

To me, one of the overarching themes of the 36 things he shares in the thread is that you can’t outsource self-management. I’m a world away from the level of meditation and discipline that Muscara details, but my background in philosophy, a lifetime of self-reflection, and some therapy have enabled me to get to a stage when I mentally flinch (and almost physically recoil) when some refers to another human being as their “boss”.

Despite the existence of HR departments in larger organisations, humans are not ‘resources’ to be ‘managed’. We live in a world with many problems, but also one of abundance. The biggest problem that seems to plague people and organisations across the world is one that is often referred to as ‘time’ but which, upon further investigation, often turns out to be ‘prioritisation’. We all, after all, have the same number of hours in a day.

The ability to make decisions is almost like a muscle; it withers without practice. When we employ individuals to make choices that affect others (instead of collaborating on a process), we create systemic bottlenecks. I’ve always felt constrained when working as an employee, finding that people making decisions that affect my practice are often one or more steps removed from the thing under consideration.

This is not an argument against expertise or experience. In fact, it’s the opposite, as often the people with the most relevant understanding of the situation are those closest to the problem. Finding ways for them ask for relevant input and come to alignment isn’t a problem that requires hierarchy as a solution, but rather one that requires collaborative processes.

Last week, I helped facilitate as a group of people without a clear hierarchy came to a decision to form a new organisation. The process we used was one that I’ve discussed here before and which we use at WAO: consent-based decision making, or Sociocracy. I understand that hierarchy is the ‘default operating system’ of how groups of people organise themselves, but it doesn’t make it the best.

We now live in a time where people, across arbitrary borders can collaborate with one another using technology tools that are increasingly prosaic. They can make decisions without hierarchy using consent-based decision making processes. And they can raise and disburse money through platforms such as Open Collective.

The idea of a ‘boss’ is a collective fiction. We can and should do better. Of course, we need leaders but that’s an entire other post…

Weeknote 31/2022

Colorado scenery, including The Rockies, and a speed limit sign saying that it's enforced by aircraft!

I spent most of this week in the beautiful environs of Boulder, Colorado. Travelling there last Saturday, I was in town for The Badge Summit, an event that this time around was held at CSU Boulder and had around 200 attendees. WAO‘s client Participate enabled this to happen, and we (Laura, Anne, and I) stayed in an amazing Airbnb with them (Mark, Julie, and Don).

On Sunday, I went for a hike into the Rockies with Julie and one of her friend’s daughters, who happened to be pet sitting in a $4m dollar house in Boulder. The views were incredible, and I got back to watch England women beat Germany in the Euro final football match. It was a shame I couldn’t be at home to celebrate with my family, but the massive screen I watched it on almost made up for that.

I had a great time in Boulder, going for a couple of 10k runs in amazing scenery, helping run two sessions, one of which you can find out much more about in this post on the WAO blog. I was reacquainted with some awesome people who have been part of the badge community for a while (the OG’s!) as well as meeting new people. I’d forgotten how much I miss going to events.

On Wednesday, everyone headed off before me, so I went to a zero-waste shop that my sister recommended, travelling there on an electric scooter. I then got an Uber to the incredible Meow Wolf immersive art experience that Julie had recommended. I really have no words other than to say that if you’re ever near Denver (or Las Vegas, or Santa Fe) you really need to go. What an experience!

My trip back home went more smoothly than the trip going out, as my wife Hannah tested positive for Covid last Friday. My parents were amazing and looked after the kids at their house while I was away, meaning she could recover without having to worry about parenting while feeling rough. I think the current strain is more virulent than the one I had back in January of this year.

British Airways rearranged my connecting flights between Newcastle and London so I had a long layover in both directions. Thankfully, on the way back I got the entire back row of seats to myself on the flight from Denver, so could stretch out and slept for seven hours straight. I then got on a train instead of waiting 9.5 hours for my next flight, meaning I was back home in time to take my son to training!

Thankfully, I don’t seem to have suffered from any of the jet lag I usually get going forwards through timezones. I think that might have had something to do with the quality of sleep I got on the way back, and the fact that I exercised every day while I was out there. In addition to running, there was a decent gym in the Airbnb where I could do free weights, pull-ups, etc.

On Friday, I spent most of the day with the family, running errands for Hannah, and sorting out my expenses. There were some things I needed to order from Amazon to either arrive before we go, or to be sent to the in-laws’ while we’re in Devon next week. One of these things includes a new battery for my son’s phone which he (despite my many warnings) plugged into a charger much too powerful for it to handle. So part of our holiday will include performing some open heart surgery on his device. Every day is a learning experience, etc.

I’m composing this on Saturday morning, and am about to go for a run before going to the gym with my son. We’ve pretty much just got today to get things sorted for our trip to Devon for a family wedding and our holiday in France. That’s because my daughter has a football tournament tomorrow night for her new team — so we’ll be hitting the road straight from there.

Photo taken during one of my runs in Boulder, CO

Weeknote 21/2022

Jetboil stove, New Philosopher magazine and Firepot food pouch on grass.

I was supposed to send out the latest edition of my monthly Thought Shrapnel newsletter this morning. The reason I didn’t was because I’ve barely written anything there over the past month. I thought about sending an “I didn’t write anything this month” email, but it seemed pointless. The weird thing is that I didn’t particularly make a decision not to write anything there, it just sort of happened. It’s weird how you can just lose energy for something for a period of time. It’ll come back.

Perhaps some of the energy and time which I usually dedicate to Thought Shrapnel has been spent watching the final weeks of the football season, as well as gaming. As I’ve mentioned in previous weeknotes, I’ve been trying to improve our home internet connection as well, and have made some progress this week. My experiments with a 5G router showed that, actually, 4G speeds can be pretty quick compared to the relatively slow speeds I get through my VDSL line. So I’ve bought a 4G router (actually two, the better one is arriving today) and I’m… just using that in my home office.

This week, I’ve written two posts here — one on how Sociocracy (consent-based decision making) works in our co-op, and one which puts some (philosophical) context around my decision to disable my LinkedIn account. As I was mentioning to Laura earlier this week, I used to try and make decisions in a way that other people might want to follow. These days, a year after checking out of therapy, I don’t really care what others choose to do. I’m documenting what I and the people who I choose to associate with do, and others can do likewise if they want.

Work-wise this week I enjoyed our WAO co-op day on Thursday. This is actually a half-day each month where we get to the things that aren’t covered in our weekly meetings. As we’ve just had our financial year end, there was some discussion about spreadsheets and money. Thankfully, the eyes of John and Bryan (who is currently dormant but happily came along anyway) don’t glaze over when it comes to this stuff. Between VAT, tax, which money goes in which year, and other dark arts I’m pleased that we have talents in different areas!

As we tend to be socially progressive but financially conservative, we had a small surplus over and above that which we’d accounted for. Perhaps inspired by the most recent series of Taskmaster, which I’ve been watching with my wife, Hannah, I therefore set my fellow co-op members a challenge. By June 13th, Laura, John, Anne (our intern-turned-collaborator) and I, have a limited budget to:

  1. Buy a domain name with ‘wao’ at the start (e.g.
  2. Spend five hours putting something there
  3. What we create needs to be weird and/or useful

Note that it’s a ‘challenge’ and not a competition. We all win by doing this, and I suspect that something will come out of this process which we end up retaining. For my part, I ended up burning through all of my hours on Friday morning and early afternoon. I’m looking forward to showing what I’ve done!

Given our podcast guests last week and this week asked to postpone to subsequent weeks, Laura and I decided to record one with just us two talking about hosting our own infrastructure (or not) based on Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS). This can sometimes be a difficult topic to discuss, mainly because the world we operate within assumes that because our co-op is called ‘We Are Open’ we exclusively use FLOSS tools. This isn’t the case, in fact, although we do use some. There are many types and shades of openness and sometimes being overly-fastidious about open technologies can prevent open practices. The episode should be available soon.

Other than that, I’ve been involved with some client work for Participate and Greenpeace, as well as having a chat with a couple of people who might want to work with us. I’ll hopefully be able to talk more about our involvement with one project next week; the other is more of a slow-burn. There’s yet another that a fellow CoTech member has mentioned they might like our help with, but we don’t know too much about that yet. Combined with our existing work, our upcoming work with Aaron and LocalGov Drupal, and maybe the return of some work with Julie’s Bicycle, we may have a busy lead-in to the summer.

This coming week is half-term for our kids. There’s also two days of public holiday to celebrate (or plot to get rid of) our current monarch. My daughter came home with a commemorative mug, given to every student in her school, and paid for by the local council. The charity shops will be full of them next week, I should imagine. I’m not employed so don’t get paid time off for these shenanigans, but it’s school holidays so I’ll choose to take them off anyway. Here’s not the place to rant further, but to have a royal family in 2022 is tantamount to publicly-funding celebrity influencers. I really can’t stand it.

Team Belshaw revolves around the football season and the academic year. The former is just finishing and the latter hasn’t got long left to run. We’d better get our summer holiday plans sorted out…

Photo of dinner on Friday night, which I spent out on a field somewhere with my Jetboil, a Firepot meal, and the latest issue of New Philosopher. I ended up walking for a few hours and then not camping. It turns out I just needed some time to think (and it was really windy!)