Open Thinkering


Tag: Richard D. Bartlett

Whisky and Wisdom

Illustration in a woodcut style depicting a serene, mountainous landscape with rolling hills and varying elevations. A visible trail winds through the hills, and a small group of stylized people are seen walking along it, engaging in conversation. A whisky bottle and glass rest on a rock in the foreground, subtly included as a reference point. The palette features soft, natural tones like greens, browns, and greys, creating a tranquil atmosphere ideal for contemplation. The sky has gentle cloud patterns, adding to the peaceful setting

This week, Derek Sivers published a post entitled Walk and Talk, while Rich Bartlett posted Running a local lodge for your internet friends. Both of them encompass a similar theme: bringing people together to live alongside one another temporarily, creating space for serendipitous conversation and learning.

Derek walked 100km over seven days in Thailand with Liz Danzico, Kevin Kelly, Jason Kottke, Craig Mod and a few others. They naturally broke into small groups to talk while walking the trail. In the evening, the conversation over each dinner was on a topic chosen by one of the walkers, for example Where do you call home? And why?

It sounds like an amazing experience, and one that I personally would slightly prefer to Rich’s experiment in communal living. That’s mainly because I need something to do with myself during all of my waking hours and find unstructured time difficult. I always have done. So walking, which is a long-form activity and topic of conversation, is perfect for me.

What I appreciate about Rich’s post is his giving a peek behind the scenes to show how the economics work. If I was going to organise something like this, it would be based around a walk; perhaps part of Hadrian’s Wall. In fact, these posts are perfectly timed, as I’m going walking with Aaron tomorrow and last time we met we discussed how awesome it would be to invite people for some ‘Whisky and Wisdom’ walks. The whisky would be provided by us, and the wisdom by the group.

I don’t think there’s any ‘perfect’ gathering, and the two approaches — Walk and Talk, and Local Lodge — (quite rightly) reflect the preferences of the organiser. The structure of events is what includes or excludes people, so I guess you need to ensure you’re intentionally including the right people and not unintentionally excluding them. A simple example of this is location. For example, Rich points out that if they had rented a place north of the Pyrenees, more guests would take the train instead of flying. I guess some people might in fact refuse to come if they have to take a flight.

Why do this kind of thing? It’s all about increasing your serendipity surface, and allowing unexpected things to happen. All of the walkers linked above who have written about their experience in Thailand have mentioned the dog that accompanied them for 70km and who they eventually took to the vet. They really formed a bond with the animal, yet this couldn’t have been something that they planned for ahead of time.

This post is mainly me thinking out loud. I’d usually put this kind of thing over at Thought Shrapnel, but I’ve shut up shop there until the new year! More (perhaps) after talking with Aaron tomorrow, and having a think over Christmas…

Image: DALL-E 3

Coda: after writing this, and just before hitting publish, I came across a post by Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin about Zuzalu, an experiment that aiming to “create a pop-up mini-city that houses two hundred people, and lasts for two whole months”. It sounds like it was more successful than the crypto cruise ship, at least 😂

Weeknote 06/2020

This week, I’ve been based at home, settling into my new rhythm of working for Moodle on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and We Are Open co-op on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I have to say, I like it.

When I tell people that I’m part of a co-op, people are often interested in what I can only refer to as power dynamics. How do decisions get made? Who’s in charge? How do you allocate work?

I can certainly answer those questions, but it’s the difference between explaining, for example, the act of swimming verbally, and getting into the water and doing it yourself. Like goldfish, we forget the ‘water’ we already swim in is one that takes for granted coercive power relationships. Instead, with the co-op, as members we rotate roles and discourage permission-seeking.

This week, we realised that, given the amount of potential work coming in, we really needed a project management solution. In an organisation with coercive power dynamics, this would be decided by fiat, or by the ‘management team’.

In our co-op, we instead took a different approach. Some members of We Are Open are available to work almost full-time. Some, like me, are available a couple of days per week. Others, right now, have very little availability.

So we allowed those who would be using the project management solution the most, and who were most interested, to do the research, and then suggest an option.

Project management tool comparison spreadsheet
Project management tool comparison spreadsheet

This doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it have to be based entirely on functional requirements. In the end, Gráinne Hamilton and I spent some time, both synchronously and asynchronously, with a few solutions.

What I found particularly interesting was that Gráinne and I had quite different requirements and assumptions going into this, but managed to find something that satisfied the collective needs of the co-op. (Note that the requirements down the left-hand side of the spreadsheet came from our meet-up in London the week before last.)

Once we’d chosen a solution to put forward, we shared our spreadsheet (which also included some comments you can’t see in the screenshot) and put it to a vote in Slack. The options were ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and ‘Need more info’. Every member voted in favour of our proposed solution, which in this case happened to be

When describing this kind of approach, people tend to call it ‘democratic’ and, to some degree, it is. But that’s just part of it. The main piece of the puzzle for me is ensuring alignment, which you get through healthy power dynamics.

11 Steps Towards Healthy Power Dynamics at Work (Richard D. Bartlett)
11 Steps Towards Healthy Power Dynamics at Work (Richard D. Bartlett)

This is the kind of approach that you can use in any organisation. You don’t have to be yogurt-knitting vegans to get started with it.

For example, as Product Manager for MoodleNet, I meet 1:1 with every member of the team once per month. While I may not use the language in the above diagram, during these meetings what I have in mind during these meetings, as well as the weekly team meetings, is to increase reduce the ‘power-over’ that is implicit within hierarchies while increasing ‘power from within’.

Because of the intersecting injustices of modern societies, the degree of encouragement you receive when you’re growing up will vary greatly depending on many factors like your personality, gender, physical traits, and cultural background. If you want everyone in your org to have full access to their power-from-within, you need to account for these differences.

Richard D. Bartlett

What I’ve found in my career to date is that, no matter how they act in other situations, in 1:1 meetings, people are looking for reassurance and encouragement. The hard part is doing that without reinforcing a coercive power dynamic.

So this week was full of meetings, but thankfully not the boring type, but the kind that are focused on actions and outcomes. For example, in addition to meeting 1:1 with several of the MoodleNet team, I met with:

  • Sander Bangma who leads the Moodle LMS team about integration between our two products. We used a document we’d already been working on to make decisions about scope.
  • Martin Dougiamas, Moodle’s Founder and CEO, about MoodleNet resourcing and budgets. I then met with Mayel de Borniol to finalise a spreadsheet for the budget committee.
  • A potential client which I’ll not name right now. We keep these initial meetings to 30 minutes, investigate requirements, and then, if invited to, send a proposal.
  • Adam Procter who is a friend and generous supporter of Thought Shrapnel. He was looking for some advice about productivity and workload.
  • My therapist for my last CBT session for three months. I’m starting a period of consolidation after a marked improvement in my outlook on life over the past six sessions.
  • Olivier Wittorski and Emilio Lozano about gathering requirements for ways in which Moodle Workplace and MoodleNet could work together. This led to a document and a slidedeck with initial ideas and mock-ups.

As I discussed with Emilio, who became a father recently, when you have kids, your time becomes a lot more precious. This is doubly so when you split your time between two organisations. There’s less slack time, which is a good thing as it means you’re laser-focused on what needs to be done, and intolerant of distraction.

Next week, I’ll again be working from home all week. I’ve got some exciting co-op work to begin, as well as new functionality and features in MoodleNet to oversee. It’s the week before half-term, when I’ll probably be taking some time off to spend with the family.

As I’ve said in previous weeknotes, we’re getting our house ready to potentially sell, so I’ll be continuing to paint, and sand, and scrub, and buy random pieces of IKEA furniture…

Image cropped from photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash