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 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!)

Weeknote 09/2022

It’s March! Finally, I feel like a functional human being after five months (Oct-Feb) where, each year, I’ve learned to Just Get Through It. The sun is streaming through the window as I write this, the birds are waking me up each morning, and spring has sprung.

There’s lots going on in the world at the moment, not least a continuing war in Ukraine, a related refugee crisis, and the impact of climate change being felt everywhere. I’m learning the value of Stoicism and putting it into practice by trying to separate the things I’m thinking about into those things I control, those things I influence, and those I neither control nor influence.

Red background with title 'Thing over which you have NO control or influence'.

Large yellow oval with title 'Things over which you have SOME influence'

Small green circle within yellow oval with title 'What you control'

With many big scary things, they’re in the red zone. So all I can do, realistically, is donate money, raise awareness, and try not to add to the world’s problems.

The above image is for an activity we’ll be adding to the Learn with WAO site which launched this week. It’s a place for links to our email courses, resources, and the podcast I record with Laura. Our intern, Anne, has done a great job with it over the last few months, and it comes out of work we did with a bunch of charities during the pandemic. I’m pleased we’ve got somewhere to point people towards for free, high quality, easy-to-use resources. We use them ourselves, of course, with clients!

This week’s been a relatively busy one and, to ensure I don’t bury the lede, I want to make sure that I share the first version of a report I created sharing findings from the initial user research we’ve done for the Zappa project. It’s been really interesting work and I’ve loved doing it. Thankfully, I’ve got some more stuff to do with the team over the coming weeks. Our findings were not quite what I expected when it comes to misinformation in federated networks.

In other work, we’ve paused work with one of our clients which I’m very pleased about. They’re doing a lot of work on many different fronts and we were asking them to spend a lot of time, money, and effort on something they’ve never done before. Hopefully, this pause will allow them to regroup and be able to give the time needed to the digital transformation and new product stuff we’ve been helping them prepare for.

That won’t necessarily be anytime soon, so it does mean that we’ll potentially have some availability for when I come back from taking most of April off. Our Greenpeace projects are continuing, as is our work on the Keep Badges Weird project with Participate. I’m really pleased that I can now point to, a domain that WAO has had registered for years, and now has a use for!

I started the Tethix pilot programme on tech ethics this week, which was great. It’s really well put together and the timezone differences mean that I do it at a time when I’m usually not doing anything very productive (20:00-23:00 every Tuesday). I’ve got to meet some new people, and we’re thinking about some important issues. It runs on each of the five Tuesdays in March.

I’ve been doing a lot of logistics work this week, it seems. I’ve been booking flights for my trip to the Netherlands the week after next, campsites for the Hadrian’s Wall walk I’m doing with Aaron next month, and trains for the Learning Technologies conference in May. After going nowhere for two years, I’m going to be travelling a lot in the space of just a few weeks — especially as Team Belshaw is also going on holiday to Croatia in the Easter holidays.

This weekend I went for a long walk, did some stretching exercises via Giggs Fitness, and ran a 5k on the treadmill at the gym. I need to up my game a bit for walking every day for a week along Hadrian’s Wall! My baseline is pretty good, though, so I should be alright.

Right now, I need to go and get ready because, like a civilised middle class English family we’ve got reservations for Sunday dinner at the new restaurant that’s opened down the road from us. I just hope we’ll be back to watch the second half of the Manchester derby…

Top photo taken yesterday while cutting my hair. I learned to do this pretty effectively during lockdown, and saw no reason to stop. When my family isn’t around, it does mean I need to take a photo of the back of my head, though!