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Decision review: Seven months at HackLab

HackLab logo

It’s been a little over half a year since I signed up for a membership at HackLab, a makerspace and coworking area in Kensington Market. Before I signed up, I thought about the things I would like to be true at the evaluation point for my experiment, which I set at nine months after I signed up (so November 2013). I figured it would be good to do a quick check so that I can adjust things. Here’s what I wrote in February, and how it has matched up so far with my experience:

I know more about other geeks in Toronto thanks to ambient conversations and helping each other out
HackLab is full of interesting people. I like dropping by and hanging out at the open houses or during regular days.
I’m better at asking people for help when I get stuck, and at setting myself tougher challenges knowing that people can help
I’ve done this a couple of times (keyboard layouts, business questions, web stuff, system administration), although I still need to work on that.
I’ve dug into some of the more difficult things that are easier to learn with other people who can help me. For example: web development, mobile development, electronics
Web development and system administration might be good things to focus on. There are lots of other people who are working on similar things.
I’ve gotten better at sketching ideas, asking other people for feedback, and fleshing out the ones that get people interested
I drew How to Learn Emacs while I was at HackLab. That was fun. =) I’ve drawn some of the sketchnote lessons here, too.
I’ve improved serendipity (test different laptop cues to talk? talk to people about what they’re working on?)
Overhearing stuff works well.
I go to HackLab 1-2 times a week, and sometimes more often if the weather is great.
See analysis below
I’m good at managing my focus (do not disturb / yes, talk to me)
Background conversations interfere with things like typing practice (Plover/Colemak), but I’m okay with listening to conversations while typing (Dvorak), coding, or drawing. Headphones help a little.
I’m good at talking to new people and hanging out with the regulars
Getting there. I feel comfortable around HackLab members and I often have interesting conversations at open houses, particularly over food.

In general, the benefits I’m looking for are:

  • Ambient socialization with interesting people
  • Ambient exposure to interesting things
  • Possible support for learning stuff (ex: Javascript, system administration, Haskell, Python, neural nets, hardware, electronics, 3D printing)

My initial goal was to go to HackLab 1-2 times a week. As of 2013-09-25 (~31 weeks after I joined; I was doing this analysis before the members’ meeting), I have been to HackLab on 41 distinct days. This is within my target range of 31 to 62 visits, and works out to 1.3 visits a week. This is a pleasant surprise, because I started this analysis thinking that I was underusing my HackLab membership compared to my goals. Based on my current attendance, this costs a little less than $10 per visit, which is worth the awesome vegan cooking opportunities / lessons / dinners (Tuesday open houses) and overheard conversations with interesting geeks.

I’m at 66% of the top part of my goal range. What are my current limiting factors, and how can I work around them?

Inertia is powerful and works ways: when I’m home, it’s easy to stay home; when I’m in the middle of working on something interesting on the kitchen table, I don’t want to pack up and bike over. I often sleep in during my non-consulting days, and sometimes I think: “Is it really worth biking downtown for a few hours of hanging out or working?” I’ve also offered to do a couple of extra half-days of consulting each week during September and October, so that limits the number of days when it makes sense to go to HackLab. Besides, introvert mode is pretty comfortable – no distracting conversations, and plenty of good food in the fridge.

So, what could help me make even better use of HackLab? How can I hack my motivation and reward structure to get me out the door?

  • Commit to the exercise and treat HackLab as a bonus. At least once a week (Fridays), I will bike for at least 1.5 hours including a mailbox check. I might as well use that biking time to end up at Hacklab, do some stuff, and then take the other 45 minutes on the way back.
  • Make Hacklab the centre of my socialization. Instead of setting up separate get-togethers with people, I will funnel people to HackLab’s open house (which I will attend whenever I don’t have other events). If I’m in introvert mode, I will treat the open house as cooking lessons, catch up with people briefly, and relax knowing that people can always chat with other people. If I’m in socialization mode, I will catch up with people.
  • Consider small-scale cooking on regular days. Have fun by cooking at HackLab even on non-open house days: merienda? This might be easier once we’ve moved to the new location, with a larger kitchen and a non-drinks fridge.
  • On HackLab days, do not open the computer at home in the morning. This gets around the momentum issue. Checking things on the phone is okay, as is working on the computer if something urgent comes up.

What about winter? I’m going to face some motivation challenges when snow makes biking more dangerous and the cold encourages me to stay home. On mild days in winter, I might be able to bike down or TTC down. I can use that as a context switch to write or code. Is it worth $6 to take the TTC down here at least once a week, bringing it to a total cost of $16 or so? Maybe, especially if I move things around so that I’m at HackLab instead of consulting on Tuesdays (or I work remotely on Tuesdays). If I discount winter and consider my membership based solely on my attendance so far, it works out to roughly $15 per day, which is still worth it considering other co-working spaces are $20 for a day pass and don’t offer 24h access, not that I’ve been here at 3 AM. Besides, HackLab does cool things. So yes, I’ll continue throughout winter, and I’ll see if I can get past the activation costs of getting down here by TTC. (Reading time on the subway/streetcar, and travelling during off-peak hours?)

Incidentally, here are the queries that I used to check how many times I’ve been in HackLab:

SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT(DATE_FORMAT(logged, '%Y-%m-%d'))) from access_log where card_id='123-3149';
SELECT MIN(logged) FROM access_log WHERE card_id='123-3149';

Let’s see how this goes!

Thinking about hard commitments and soft commitments, and adapting my life accordingly

image

In the process of experimenting with different types of businesses, I’ve been learning a lot about different types of commitments. There’s a spectrum of commitment-hardness, from very hard (spend money if you have to, but Make This Happen) to very soft (it’s nice to have, but no big deal if it doesn’t work out).

An example of a very hard commitment is speaking. If I commit to giving a talk at event, I need to prepare the talk, and I need to be there. Doesn’t matter if I have a cold. Doesn’t matter if I’m running late because of another meeting and have to hop into a cab. Doesn’t matter if I’m feeling out of it. I need to show up and be professional, which means energy and connection. I can collapse afterwards.

An example of a hard commitment is sketchnoting an event. I promise to be at the event on a certain date, and if I miss that, the opportunity is gone forever. It’s not as big a deal as speaking, since sketchnoting is usually an extra. I write my agreements so that I’m only responsible for refunding the client’s payment if something falls through instead of being liable for loss of business or other costs. I’ve never had to invoke this clause, but I’ve turned down gigs because of uncertainty.

An example of a medium commitment is freelance development. If I’m working with other developers, then I usually need to work at specific times or at a specific pace, but there’s often some leeway in what I can do and when.

Conversations are also medium commitments. They’re scheduled in the calendar, but we can reschedule if necessary.

An example of a softer commitment is illustration. Someone is counting on the images, and sometimes there’s a deadline. I’m free to do the work at a time of my choosing, though, aside from the occasional meetings that are more like hard commitments.

The kind of consulting I’ve settled into is another example of a soft commitment. I have a few meetings (usually mid-day or early afternoon), but I have a lot of flexibility in terms of how many hours I work each week. We keep a long, prioritized list of things to work on, so I can usually choose what I want to work on at a particular time.

Writing is a very soft commitment. No one cares when I do it, so I can write whenever I want. I can write a whole bunch of posts in one day and spread them out for consistency and variety. I can slowly accumulate thoughts or resources for books. I care about writing at least a little bit each week, but that push comes from me.

Oddly enough, compensation isn’t always proportional to the hardness of the commitment. Most of it has to do with the underlying skills rather than how strict the commitment is.

I vastly prefer softer commitments over harder ones. Some of the things I’m working on have unpredictable schedules, and I’d rather be able to reschedule or move things around if something comes up. I minimize the number of hard commitments (business or personal) I need to plan for, and keep a stock of soft commitments that help me take advantage of spare moments. Soft commitments make it easier to match interest or energy with choice of activity, so it’s easier to focus and get things done.

I’ve been taking on fewer events, working on consulting and writing instead. After all, if I can get away with it, why not work with less stress and more happiness? =)

What’s the mix of commitments in your life? Do you want to shift it one way or the other?

Help me figure out how I should reinvest business profits

image_thumb20I’m approaching the end of my second fiscal year. (Hooray!) I thought I’d review my decisions for reinvesting profits, plan ahead, and ask for feedback. Here’s how I reinvested some of my profits this year:

 

  • Tools and education:
    • I bought $289 worth of books, including pricey but useful books on drawing emotions and stick figures (Bikablo, from Neuland). I’ve made the most of them by reading, taking notes, and sharing what I’ve learned, so this was definitely worth it.
    • I also took the AlphaChimp Rockstar Scribe course (CAD 298.66, it’s now USD 497; affiliate link). I picked up a few tips on digitizing scanned sketches (lesson 6: digital documentation). The exercises also prompted me to put together my 3-word life philosophy and my 5-year plan.
    • Next steps: My laptop should be good for another year or two, so I have no major upgrades planned there. I may invest more into courses. These tend to be bigger commitments, but I think the experience might be worthwhile. I can test this by seeing if I can improve my retention in free or low-cost courses (Coursera, Udacity) before going on to more expensive courses. Gotta build up those study habits! If I find that I’m hitting the limits of what I want to learn in group classes and I’m already making the most of the Q&A or mentoring that courses tend to offer, then I can look into getting a one-on-one coach.
  • Connecting with people:
    • The biggest chunk here was flying to London for the Emacs Conference, which was a great way to connect with people, create resources, and develop skills.
    • I also signed up for HackLab ($51.75 a month) as a way to connect with other geeks and have a place to work at when I’m downtown.
    • I attended networking events ($170.45). AndroidTO was less useful than I expected because I hadn’t actually been developing stuff then, although it was good sketchnoting practice. The Third Tuesdays Toronto events were definitely worth it for me. Rotman events were okay.
    • I met four people for lunches/dinners and had lots of tea with others, talking about mentoring or business opportunities.
    • Next steps: I want to focus on virtual connections, because there are lots of interesting people out there. This means ramping up my scheduling, inviting people to reach out, and reaching out myself (possibly appreciating people with gift certificates or donations to charity)
  • Delegation:
    • I greatly increased my delegation budget compared to last year. I subcontracted $1,333.34 of my work and delegated an additional $2,030.30.
    • Hiring a virtual assistant to help with scheduling really helped me get past the hassles of booking people. Worth it.
    • Hiring a transcriber for my podcasts and presentations worked out well, too.
    • Hiring a local consultant to help me brainstorm was okay, but not amazing. It was a helpful nudge to work on my marketing, though.
    • Hiring another on-shore consultant to give me feedback on my website and e-books was also okay but not amazing. It was great for pushing me to add more hand-drawn elements to my website, though.
    • Hiring a developer to work on Rails prototypes gave me a leg up on dealing with various APIs, although I ended up not pursuing the projects.
    • Next steps: Virtual assistance gives me a low-cost way to experiment with and learn more about delegation. In addition to ODesk, I should experiment with Fiverr, Guru, and other sites.

I made $90 in e-book sales in FY 2013, which absolutely delights me. It’s a tiny fraction of what I make in consulting or even sketchnoting or speaking, but it’s a start. I’ve been moving towards a Pay What You Want model so that everyone can get access to the resources and people can show their appreciation by funding future experiments. My experiment-related savings take care of my living expenses, so everything goes to Making Stuff. I want to focus on making more things.

For this coming year, I’m planning to focus on consulting until it winds down. I’m also going to ramp up creating content: blog posts, drawings, articles, e-books, courses, and more. I often get requests to sketchnote events or other people’s content, and I’d like to refer those to other people instead of handling them myself. That way, I can help other people grow, and I can make myself learn more about creating my own content.

Ideally, by September 2014, I’ll have:

  • a separate topic-focused weekly blog with evergreen posts and useful, well-formatted, illustrated articles
  • several e-resources for that blog
  • a mailing list that I’ve learned how to use
  • and possibly a course that includes tips, worksheets, checklists, animations, and video

I might keep a "Wanted" list on my site so that I can funnel other requests to it, like people looking for sketchnoters. That way, instead of simply telling people no, I can help them a little further along the way and help other people grow their businesses too.

Here’s my plan for getting there:

  1. Brainstorm headlines and article ideas to help me choose which topics I want to start a weekly topic-focused blog around.
  2. Get feedback on which topics people would like to read about first. Start collecting e-mail addresses for launch.
  3. "Bank" 4-8 good articles (write two months ahead). Invite early readers.
  4. Publicize it a bit more widely once I’ve gotten into the rhythm of publishing on the blog and I know that the rate is sustainable.
  5. Plan an outline for a brief e-book and gear my articles towards that.
  6. Reach out and find guest posting opportunities once the blog is more established.

To make the blog different and useful, I plan to illustrate the ideas with one-page cheat sheets / references. This will also make a handy collection.

With that in mind, what are some ways I can reinvest some of my profits in order to make things better, and which ways make more sense than others? These are ordered in terms of how useful I think they will be, with the best ones on top. I’d love your feedback and suggestions!

  • Find a system administrator who can help me review my config and backup plans, and who can answer questions from time to time. As someone said, good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement. I can learn things on my own, but it’s probably really good to take advantage of other people’s hard-won experience too. That way, I have a solid platform to grow on.
  • Go through a course like the ones offered at Platform University, CopyBlogger, or ProBlogger. I can get multiple levels of value out of this. First, there’s the lessons themselves. Even if I know most of the basics because I’ve been blogging for more than ten years, it will be good to deliberately go through them. I can turn them into blog posts about my experiences applying those tips. I can turn them into sketchnotes and references. Along the way, I’ll also learn about the structure of courses and communities – what I like or don’t like, and what other people seem to respond to.
  • Sign up for a good mailing list service, possibly with an autoresponder or digital delivery mechanism. This will give me more control than simply using FeedBurner to give people e-mail updates.
  • Sign up for survey tools so that I can get better feedback. Provide giveaways or incentives for survey completion.
  • Experiment with richer media: presentations, animations, podcasts, video. Buy tools and hardware. Possibly delegate editing. Podcasts and screencasts might be a good way to work myself up to doing webinars regularly.
  • Pay for a web conferencing service, and set up regular web conferences or webinars. Monthly webinars might justify paying for a premium service so that I’m not constrained by Google Hangout or AnyMeeting’s limitations. I can also use this to interview people. Any recommendations for a cross-platform webinar service that allows all participants to chat with each other?
  • Work with a reputable SEO company to avoid penalties for duplicate content and to learn more about doing keyword research. Sometimes little tweaks make things more findable or discoverable.
  • Invest in better web planning and design, maybe for the topic-focused blog. I might start off with a basic template, fill it in with content, add some resources, and then go for a more professional design when the topic and audience for the blog has firmed up a little. That way, I can get feedback from people too.
  • Buy premium plugins, scripts, or themes to make navigating the blog or content easier. A responsive theme and a good gallery can make a lot of difference.
  • Buy books, read them, and give them away. That way, I’m not limited to the library’s selection. The library has lots of books and it could take forever for me to get through the backlog, but learning from and sharing tips from newly-published books may create more value for readers. Plus, if I set aside a budget for shipping (which is expensive in Canada!), I can give lightly-read copies away. I’ve had publishers send me copies of books to review, so maybe I can ramp that up also.
  • Hire someone to format e-resources. They can help develop the template, lay things out nicely, and make sure it fits in well with the blog.
  • Learn how to work with article writers or pay for excellent guest posts. I have the time to write and I enjoy writing, but I’m curious about the perspectives that other people might bring.
    • Worst-case scenario: They write the first draft, and I end up rewriting it extensively because I have a better idea of what I don’t want.
    • Best-case scenario: I give them a topic to write about, they come up with insights or research I might not have come across myself, and then I can personalize it with more stories or experiences.
  • Work with copywriters and editors and get better at writing.
  • Hire a coach to help me learn more about planning posts, creating resources or courses, building a community, and so on.
  • Buy domain names and learn how to set up landing pages.

Image credit: Piggy bank (Oliver Hoffman, Shutterstock)

On making big, scary decisions, and how I left an awesome job to do my own thing; or how to be a Builder Lemming

imageFollowing up on my Accelerated Learning chat with Timothy Kenny, where someone asked how I made the decision to go on this 5-year experiment with semi-retirement:

It might surprise you, but I consider myself pretty risk-averse. I don’t bungee jump. I don’t ski. I don’t even drive. I spend hours and days analyzing decisions. I make contingency plans. I take small steps.

So, how does someone like me end up taking a left turn away from a promising career (great ratings, wonderful opportunities) for a 5-year gap in employment as an experiment with semi-retirement?

I’d been thinking about something like that ever since I started working. I knew I wanted to learn about starting businesses someday. My parents built their own advertising photography studio, and although they worked long hours, they were happy. I grew up reading books about management and accounting—ever since I was tall enough to pull them off my mom’s bookshelf.

When I graduated with my master’s degree and started working, I consciously resisted the pull of lifestyle inflation. My expenses were much like the one I had as a student: I rarely ate out, and I bought my clothes on sale and second-hand. An excellent public library meant I could keep my book and entertainment budget under control.

I was excited by the idea of being able to finally apply the advice I’d read in personal finance books. I maxed out my Registered Retirement Savings Plan contributions and put a tidy amount away for other long-term investments. I knew my tendency was to scrimp and save, so I also made room in my budget for two things: a play fund, and an opportunity fund. The opportunity fund would be for learning how to make better decisions and take better risks.

Many of the decisions I made with the opportunity fund paid off, encouraging me to try more. I bought a tablet, and then a tablet PC. I bought books, went to events, tried out stuff, treated people to lunch so that I could pick their brain. As I gained confidence, I wondered: how can I make the opportunity fund even more liberating?

I redoubled my focus on saving, channeling more into the opportunity fund. I looked at my expenses, too. I’d been tracking my finances since 2005, so I had a good idea of how much I spent on average. I started learning more about businesses. I came across the statistic that ~80% of businesses fail within the first five years. If I could free myself from worrying about cashflow for five years, I’d probably do all right – and even if I messed up and had little to show for it, I’d still be doing about average. If I totally messed up? Well, I’d probably still be ahead of where I should be at my age.

Besides, I hadn’t read about a lot of other people giving this kind of experiment a try. If I could muster the time, space, and guts, I might as well learn what I could with the opportunity.

It was not an easy decision. I knew many people who were struggling to find work, or who were unhappy with the work that they had. Technology companies tend to discriminate against older people. Would I waste the prime years for building an amazing career? Would I find it difficult to re-enter the workforce if I wanted or needed to, such as if something happened to W- and we needed a steady income?

I talked to W- again and again, threshing out the possibilities and risks. W- supported the idea. It made sense to try this out, and this was as good a time as any to do so. We didn’t rely on my income for mortgage payments or other constraints. We have a decent public healthcare system, and he had extended health benefits through IBM. We didn’t have any young kids or sick family members who needed care. It was better to learn now than to wait until I had to.

The bigger risk would be to not learn how to create value on my own. If I could learn how to make stuff that other people found valuable, if I could learn how to use my time and energy even more effectively—to learn, share, and scale up—then I could help W- learn these things if his situation changed. And it would probably change someday, so it’s better to prepare for that.

What were the real risks, anyway? I have a lot of fun learning and tinkering. I figured I’d be able to keep my technical skills sharp, and maybe I might even pick up a few other marketable skills along the way.

Sure, the employment gap might turn off some employers. Some of my freelancing friends were going through rough patches, and they told me how employers looked at them askance (“Is this guy going to take off and start his own company again in a couple of years?”) I figured that if I really needed to re-enter the workforce, I could probably come up with a coherent story for these five years. I knew I’d take notes along the way, and I had a lot of practise using weekly reviews to remember what I learned or accomplished. The brain is excellent at rationalization, and I’m sure that in 2017, I’ll be able to explain my experiment in a way that makes sense.

One of the lessons I learned as a teenager was not to get paralyzed by the thought of my “potential”. Sure, if I leaned in with all I had, I might reach the corporate or entrepreneurial stratosphere. But really, I don’t need that much. I just need enough, and enough can be incredibly liberating.

My opportunity fund approached my 5-year target, and I firmed up my plans. I considered ratcheting down work: maybe 75% part time, then 50% part time, then 25% part time, then fully “retired”. With IBM’s intellectual property agreements, it was easier to just make a clean cut. (I ended up doing the ratcheting-down with consulting anyway… funny how life works!)

At the one-one-one meeting with my manager where he shared the results of my annual performance review (yay, top ratings!), I told him I was planning to leave the company and experiment with other things I wanted to learn. Since I gave a few months’ notice, we had plenty of time to cleanly wrap up projects. And then I was off on my own.

This experiment gets less and less scary the more I get into it. Sometimes I look at my numbers and wonder whether I can actually take bigger risks than I currently feel comfortable with. I’m getting better at thinking my way through decisions with greater uncertainty or impact, turning to research, role models, and reflection to get myself through it.

If you’re thinking about making a similar decision yourself, these tips might help:

Think about the real risks you’re worrying about. How can you mitigate them? What are the worst-case scenarios, and how can you work around them?

How can you create a safety net for yourself? What can you do to build your confidence and rescue you from some of those worst-case scenarios?

What are some small steps you can try? I didn’t jump straight into semi-retirement. I started by taking smaller risks and learning from them.

Even now, I take very few risks: I overpay my taxes in order to minimize the impact of calculation errors, I don’t claim tax credits I’m not sure about, I’m conservative about my business commitments and contracts.

If it looks like I’ve come far, it’s only because I go one small step at a time. It’s… kinda like the builders in Lemmings, building steps until you get to where you want to go? =) And then other people can go up those steps and reach their goals more easily, or be inspired and build steps of their own.

2013-07-29 16_27_02-Lemmings! 

(screenshot from http://tomato17.tripod.com/gameroom/fun07.html)

Related posts I think you might like:

Good luck!

(Hah, my current hack for coming up with blog post titles is to just squish many potential titles together. Sorry. Maybe you can give me feedback on which sub-title you liked most! Winking smile )

Thinking about business cards

imageI’m nearly out of business cards, which means it’s time to evaluate my business card experiment and plan my next one. Past performance is a good indicator of future results, so let me think about how I’ve been using my business cards and how I want to use them in the future. For comparison, here’s last year’s business card plan.

People usually ask me for cards:

  • after seeing me sketchnote an event, because they’re curious about having me sketchnote one of theirs
  • after chatting with me at events because they want to check out my blog
  • as a reminder to follow up with me about something

I haven’t gotten any business leads from cards yet, but I’ve had a lot of good conversations. I think they’re worth carrying. I try to not rely on them, though. Whenever possible, I get the other person’s contact information, because I’m often good at following up.

Mostly, I want my cards to make people to think, “Oh, I’m also interested in that! Let me go check out her site and get in touch.”

I designed the current set of cards in November, a month before I came up with the “Experivis” name and logo. For fun, I drew the front of the card. I took advantage of Moo’s ability to print individual designs on the backs of the cards, using scaled-down images of my sketchnotes.

Lessons learned

20121109 Business Card

So far, people tend to react to:

  • the “geek” keyword on my card (“You’re a geek too!”),
  • the sketchnoter keyword/diagram (which could be bigger), and
  • the “pick a card, any card” process because of the individual drawings on the back, even though they can’t be read (I should draw new ones that are sized to fit)
  • the picture, which they find helpful

No one complained about rounded corners or the inability to write on the back (I guess I didn’t run into corner-folders). I liked how the rounded corners felt, but could do with a matte background so that I can write (or draw!) memory hooks for people.

I’m definitely changing fonts to something where the “a”s don’t look so much like “o”s – maybe to the Open Sans that I use on my blog.

Brainstorming approaches

When coming up with design ideas, it’s good to try several very different approaches. Here are some I might consider:

  • Making it more you-focused with a question
  • Using Experivis as a graphic element and making this more of a company card
  • Focusing on my 5-year experiment, making it more of a social card
  • Listing various interests like the way I have them on the LivingAnAwesomeLife.com welcome page; maybe even bringing a highlighter?
  • Adding tips to the back (ex: emotions, stick figures, banners, hair styles, facial hair, clothes, how to draw ____, complete this picture, draw yourself) to inspire people to draw/doodle while still providing some note space (print this in gray?). Maybe I can even encourage people to show me their “filled-in” cards by e-mailing me a picture…

Ooh. I like that last approach.

Cost-benefit analysis

The Moo cards are USD 0.54 per card (per pack of 50, after shipping). Small runs are more expensive, but I can learn more from them. The Vistaprint cards (per pack of 250, plain back, after shipping and promos) are CAD 0.09 a card. With a colour back, it would be about CAD 0.13.

Other ways to achieve similar effects:

  • Print the tips on card stock, print my details as stickers, and stick them manually. Involves work and positioning.
  • Use some kind of custom stamp – that can be a hassle to set up, so pre-printed cards would be a good way to test the approach.

I think printing a small run of business cards will be the best way to test this idea of sharing mini-drawing tips.

I’d still like to know whether it actually engages people, though. What would be my threshold of awesomeness to make it worth the premium over an ordinary card? Possible benefits:

  • I learn in the process of drawing all of those card backs
  • I have more fun giving cards out, and we have built-in conversation hooks
  • I might get slightly better follow-up from people who are interested in learning more about drawing, which will work out well if I create pay-what-you-can resources to help people feel more comfortable with drawing

Next steps

I’m going to work on making business-card-sized drawing exercises/tips and some pay-what-you-can resources, and then I’m going to make Moo business cards that take advantage of them, probably with the front of the card mentioning a variety of interests instead of focusing on Experivis’ branding.

In the meantime, I’ll experiment with a month or two of not giving business cards to test how uncomfortable that might make me and whether I’ll remember to follow up. We’ll see!

Choosing openness and scale

image

Summary: Until June 2014, I’m focusing on work that’s either public or that reaches an audience of 10,000+. 

I’m celebrating my 30th birthday next month. To get a sense of where I’ve come from and where I want to go, I’ve been reviewing more than ten years of blog posts. If I didn’t have my archive, the years would be a blur. The posts help me remember the significant events that happened, and then I can remember other details around those.

Here is something I’m starting to realize: Whatever isn’t written down—whatever isn’t published—gets forgotten. Private notes? Lost in computer migrations and disorganized files. E-mail? Too many to go through.  Photos? Few and far between. Things I’ve shared with other people? That comes back, even when I’ve completely forgotten about sharing it in the first place.

There’s this amazing thing that happens when you have an external brain: people make the connections for you. People comment on blog posts years after I post them, which is great at bringing things back to mind. Longest gap between blog post and comment: 3,410 days (a little over 9 years!) on this post on literate programming, which I wrote long before Org Mode made it super-easy to publish websites with code. Google Analytics shows me that a post from 2010 still gets more than a thousand views a month, and quite a few older posts get hundreds of views a month. My oldest source code available on the Web? This fractal-drawing program I wrote in 1997, when I was in high school. People help me remember and inspire me to learn more.

Good things probably also happened with the confidential workshops and projects that I worked on, but it’s harder to point to them and say, “Oh, that’s where those years went.” The things I’ve shared help me feel that I put the time to good use, especially as they keep providing value.

Open = good.

Putting my time where my philosophy is

Now that I’m on my own, I can choose what to spend my time on. One of the decisions I’ve been working my way through is whether I should work (almost) exclusively on open things: ideas, code, and resources that I can share with other people.

What if I stop accepting requests for confidential work, and focus instead on what can be opened up? I have the space to do that, and it makes decisions so much easier.

I can make an exception for work that meets my desire for scale – perhaps directly affecting more than 10,000 people (even with a small effect) in a searchable, semi-public way. For example, I still hear from IBMers who come across the blog posts I shared on the intranet, and that makes me happy. As for small-scale confidential work… other people can handle that, and they can handle that happily.

Considering the opportunity cost

What would I give up by focusing on only open projects?

  • I might not get a behind-the-scenes look at interesting industries or topics. Sketchnoting is great because it’s a good reason to get into events that I would probably never get to attend or present at on my own. Many events have a closed audience (no public recordings/notes, etc.) to maintain the value of event attendance or provide participants with a more open forum. By focusing only on public events, I’ll skip those closed events… but chances are that I wouldn’t get as much personal value from them anyway, and I can always read or talk to people outside my usual fields.
  • I’ll reduce my income potential. More money helps me increase my buffer, which reduces risk and improves my ability to take advantage of opportunities. Still, I can keep my expenses low, and I can invest in getting even better at creating value through pay-what-you-can resources. I don’t need the money from these other engagements, so I can experiment more.

What are the benefits of focusing on openness?

  • I like the people I work with. People who understand the awesomeness of sharing tend to be awesome themselves, and I also benefit from great conversations with lots of other people.
  • We get tons of value from the things I create. The value isn’t just limited to the particular event or solution, but goes on and on.
  • I have more long-term growth potential. I don’t have to worry about what I’m allowed to share or not allowed to share, and I can build on the things I’ve created.

Okay. I think we can do this. From this time until my 31st birthday next year, I’m going to apply the following decision criteria to the professional work that I accept:

  • Can we share the results publicly, or with an audience of more than 10,000 people? Consider for “yes”.
  • If not, politely decline and refer to someone else.

If exceptional circumstances come up (say, something happens to W- and I need to return to work), I can change my mind about this, but let’s give it a try.

Other notes

SQL query for finding longest time between post and comment in WordPress:

SELECT TO_DAYS(c.comment_date) – TO_DAYS(p.post_date) AS days, comment_post_ID FROM wp_comments c INNER JOIN wp_posts p ON c.comment_post_id=p.ID WHERE comment_type NOT IN (“pingback”, “trackback”) AND comment_approved != “spam” ORDER BY days DESC limit 5;