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!
I’ve spent this week looking forward to this Bank Holiday weekend. I’m not employed as such, so there’s no particular reason I have to take Monday off, but not only do I want to, I feel like I should. After all, public holidays were fought for by previous generations.
I spent the majority of Sunday afternoon with my neighbours at a pot luck on the back lane behind our terrace of houses. Thankfully, the sun came out after the wind and rain earlier in the week!
On the work front, we had the final deliverable meeting for the work we’ve been doing for Catalyst and the Social Mobility Commission. It’s a series of linked resources relating to charities taking their programmes online: a quality framework, benchmarking survey, and toolkit of resources.
For Outlandish, I’ve continued with the productisation work, thinking particularly about the product manager role in a co-operative, and about upcoming products and services around Sociocracy.
I had a chat with a couple of large tech companies this week about roles with them. One flat out told me I was over-qualified for the role I’d applied for, but it looks like we might get some consultancy through the co-op with them. The other is a work in progress.
I made the decision yesterday, after much deliberation, to delete my Patreon account. This means I’m no longer supporting a bunch of creators, and also means I’ve told the ~50 patrons of Thought Shrapnelthat I’m taking it in a slightly different direction.
Other than that, I’ve been playing quite a bit of FIFA 20, going for a run and on our exercise bike, and hanging out with the family. One thing that’s had quite a big impact on my life over recent days is workmen re-doing the road surface right next to my home office. The noise!
Next week will be a four-day working week due to the Bank Holiday. I’ve got a couple of days lined up for Outlandish, and then will be applying for a couple of pots of funding and doing some business development. Let me know if you see anything Doug-shaped!
Image shows road being resurfaced next to my house.
For me, there’s a sweet spot between working in a permanent role within an organisation, and working as a consultant on a short-term basis with many different organisations. Some call this ‘contracting’, but I prefer the term ‘remaining unmanaged’.
Venkatesh Rao riffed on this in a recent (subscriber-only) post:
In the gig economy, freedom is primarily freedom from being managed. It’s a freedom that can seem like a curse to those who either enjoy being managed, or are too inexperienced to have learned adequate self-management behaviors. But like it or not, this is the freedom you have in the gig economy, and there is an art to thriving under this freedom you must learn, or it turns into a burden.
He goes on to explain that the reason traditional organisations have people managers is to prevent failure. They exist to prevent employees:
Doing the wrong thing (misdirect effort)
Doing the thing wrong (make mistakes)
Cutting corners and do poor work out of laziness
Working too slowly, creating delays
Gaming incentives and work to minimal standards
Acting maliciously due to unresolved resentments
Acting unreliably due to personal life issues
Lying or cheating in reporting on work
Failing to resolve conflict with other employees
Becoming unable to work due to illness
Failing due to lack the right resources to succeed
Failing due to essential tools or systems failing
If you work outside a regular organisation, as I do as a member of a worker-owned co-op, then you have to learn how to self-manage. Interestingly, if you do this well enough, then you and your crack team can perform a better job than an entire traditional department.
The pandemic has shown what we already knew: it’s entirely possible to work from home and co-ordinate your activities with other talented, self-directed, emotionally mature people. Perhaps we no longer need managers?
Instead, what we need are process people; emotionally-intelligent, tech-savvy conveners of people across organisations. They can’t rely on hierarchy to get things done, so they have to navigate their networks, assembling and dismantling fluid teams.
To some extent, we’re already getting to this scenario in some sectors and for particular projects. For example, our co-op has helped form part of a couple of Catalyst digital teams, helping charities respond to the implications of COVID-19.
There are many things that won’t go back to the ‘normal’ after the pandemic. Hopefully there will be collective desire to self-manage a lot more, forming nimble teams to work with like-minded people on stuff we find valuable.