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Accelerating my business learning: setting a goal for a new business every month

The first year of my five-year experiment is going well. I learned how to set up the structures for five different kinds of service businesses:

  • web development contracting
  • social business consulting
  • illustration
  • conference/event sketchnoting
  • public speaking

and two kinds of product businesses:

  • writing e-books
  • selling used books

… and I got to my first sale (and often beyond!) for each of them (WOOHOO!), which is a thrilling milestone to reach. In addition, I brainstormed more than a dozen other business models that might be interesting to explore, and listed even more ideas for things I wanted to see fixed.

I learned a ton from events, books, and conversations – and what’s even more fun is that I finally got to put into practice some of the things I’ve been learning about entrepreneurship and negotiation. It’s true! You learn things so much more deeply when you actually get to use them.

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine any better way I could’ve used that time. Leaving the relative certainty of a corporate environment was definitely the right thing to do. Gradually learning about business through a combination of familiar skills and new opportunities – that was a good thing to do as well.

Seven(!) micro-business experiments in almost a year works out to a business experiment roughly every two months. Let me look at the pattern more closely:

Business First sale
Social business consulting March
Illustration April
Used book sales April
Web development contracting May
Writing e-books June
Public speaking August
Conference/event sketchnoting December

What could happen if I experiment with trying to build a business every month? When I first started considering it, I thought: “That sounds intense!” But looking at this past year, it’s almost like taking that first sprint of March to August (six businesses in seven months) and extending it just a few more months. What could I learn and share if I had the capability to test an idea every month? How could I learn how to structure it so that my co-experimenters – people who are interested in being part of this, and the clients who are part of that first sale – get the value they want without being burned by the nature of the experiment?

I think that would be an interesting book – something along the lines of Start-up of the Month. I’d love to read it. I could wait for someone else to write it, but I’m not sure how many people have the time and space and combination of skills to go ahead and try it, so maybe I can write it.

I’ll start in March, because I want to make sure that my current consulting clients are totally happy and that they transition well to being independent. There are lots of things I can do to prepare for that. Part of that preparation includes imagining what it would look like and feel like if I had this smoothly running machine for generating and testing ideas.

Being super-good at building a new thing each month means being able to:

  • Generate business value propositions, perhaps picking common markets/personas so that I can get transferable insights and good lists for validating ideas
  • Quickly validate problems and solutions through interviews (maybe through Skype – a community of early adopters who are willing to let me pick their brains?)
  • Create visual mockups and sign-up pages
  • Test pricing and get payment
  • Build minimum viable products using popular APIs and toolkits
  • Do a whole bunch of businesses and then evaluate which ones to invest more time in, or even spin them off as people are interested

To prepare for that, I can:

  • Add more business ideas to the list of  things
  • Flesh out more business models
  • Start building my tribe of co-experimenters (people who are interested in the journey? potential customers?)
  • Map how the different business models relate to each other, so I can organize them in a logical sequence
  • Develop my prototyping skills (mockup, design, MVP)

The risks:

  • Creating new businesses as experiments can be risky - why should people buy from a pop-up business that may not be around later on? Maybe I can draw ideas from software lifecycles: each month, there’d be a business in startup phase, a business in go phase, and a business in maintenance phase, and I’d build processes or open up the possibilities so that people can take over the business if it promises to be interesting.
  • Supporting previous businesses can distract me from creating new ones. Again, processes can help here.
  • Business start-up costs can be high; will I see the return on investment? Possibly, if I stay laser-focused on creating that first customer with a minimum viable product. Also, I’ll get a lot of value from the learning.

I think this will be an excellent use of my second year of the experiment, and a good foundation for the other years. Exciting times! Whom should I learn from? Who wants to learn with me? How can we get started?

Planning my code/development learning

One of the best things about programming is that as you learn more, the possibilities increase dramatically. Each new thing you learn can be combined with so many other things for even more awesomeness. I’m getting ready for my idea-of-the-month experiment, and I’m thinking about the kinds of building blocks I’d like to learn more about and use.

Android development – I can build small apps for myself
Data visualization library like D3 – web-based graphs
Some kind of Javascript/CSS/Rails front-end toolkit that makes it easier for me to prototype rich user interfaces
Evernote API, so that I can improve my workflow
AutoHotkey – finely-tuned timesavers
Rails 4 – prototyping
WordPress backend – building things
WordPress theming – design
Twitter API, for analysis
Meetup API, for analysis
Google Contacts, Google Calendar, IMAP headers – for analysis
OCR, speech recognition – so I can convert, even at 80% accuracy
Arduino, sensors, and motors – for interfacing with the physical world
Emacs LISP – for personal productivity
PhoneGap – cross-platform mobile apps?
Dropbox API – tools, analysis
Twilio or some other text API – communication

For March, I’d love to dig into Emacs, D3, and maybe Evernote. That way, I can prepare for the Emacs conference, visualize my Quantified Self stuff, and dig into my new brain backup system. :)

Experiment notes: Accounting, sales, and marketing–all the other parts of a business

When I started my experiment last year, leaving the familiarity of web development at IBM for my own adventures, I wanted to dig into several big unknowns that I had little experience with: the paperwork and accounting required for business, and the sales and marketing that’s even more crucial to business survival. I had tracked my personal finances and prepared our taxes for years, but business finances were new to me. I’d loved reading sales and marketing ever since I could clamber up my mother’s bookshelves, although my understanding was still abstract. So I expected to do favourably, but I was still a little nervous. After all, this was one of the key differences between an independent life and one inside a company. My experiences with this would determine whether I could survive on my own or whether I’d do better within a structure built by someone else. Would the benefits of managing my own business outweigh the overhead? Would the experiment be a long, hard slog, or could I get the hang of the fundamentals?

Accounting and paperwork was the first hurdle. I wanted to incorporate right away to have that separation between me and the company, so that any mistakes I might make wouldn’t bring us all down with it. It was probably unnecessary, but it was good to know that as long as I paid attention to the details, we’d be okay.

For the most part, D.I.Y. paperwork has been sufficient. I filed my articles of incorporation online, registered my company with the Canada Revenue Agency. It took me a while to sort out getting a business credit card, but it was straightforward once I did so. There were a few stressful evenings of forum research and fact-checking on government websites, such as when I decided to cancel my cellphone claims and ended up owing additional taxes. (It turned out to be just a few dollars’ worth.) Reading entrepreneur forums like the ones at Red Flag Deals helped me watch out for common pitfalls, such as the installment payments that automatically kick in after you reach a certain income tax threshold. I’m still postponing the paperwork needed to figure out how to get money out of the company. One step at a time.

I’ve grown to like that separation of saying, “This contract is between your company and my company,” or “The business will invest in buying ____.” It forces me to make decisions: is this worthwhile for the business? I have a trade name now, although I’ve kept the main company as a numbered company so that I can stick all sorts of other experiments underneath it.

If I were to do it again – or even now – I’d love to have an accountant whom I could e-mail questions periodically. I’d still want to keep a close eye on my books, and my transaction volume is low enough that I can handle things myself with Quickbooks. It would be good to have someone doublecheck things, though, and answer my questions.

One of the things that makes it easier for me is knowing that this too is an experiment, and that I can start up a different company with a different structure in order to try out other things. I don’t have to get everything gold-plated the first time around.

That’s the paperwork and accounting part of the business, which is usually a thorn in people’s sides, but which has turned out to be doable and even a fulfilling Friday afternoon routine.

Sales and marketing were other parts of business that I’ve heard many fellow geeks gripe about, so I wanted to find out what both of those were really like. Most freelancers I know have their plates full with referrals and repeat clients, and many don’t actively sell their services. I was lucky to have had clients for consulting and contracting right away, thanks to personal networks and my blog.

In the past few months, I’ve been making myself scale back consulting so that I can force myself to learn more about sales and marketing. Digital conference sketchnoting gave me a great excuse to try it out. Sketchnotes are visual. People have built businesses around this before. Businesses have bought services like this before, although generally in other cities. The sales approach would be to reach out to conference organizers and event agencies, while the marketing approach might involve posting sketchnotes and resources for organizers. Illustration is a complementary service, too, and there are other services I can cross-sell.

Here’s what I’ve come to enjoy about sales:

  • I like the process of mapping what I can provide (based on my own skills or including others) to what could create value for people.
    I like negotiating: cutting out the non-essential, adding options that people are curious about, and finding creative ways for everyone to get what they want.
    I like coming to an agreement on value and deliverables.
    I like receiving cheques and depositing them. Winking smile
    I’m even fine with following up and with turning down clients. Sometimes there’s a better fit elsewhere.

My marketing has been a gradual process of building up my website and sharing more resources. I enjoyed designing a logo and thinking about how to explain what I do. I’m glad I can build my own website and tweak it based on the ideas I have. New entrepreneurs are usually advised to outsource web design and development, but I think there’s value in creating my own simple site and evolving it over time. There’s still so much more to learn.

Looking back at this first year of my experiment, I think that the overhead of building my own business has been more than worth it. Many people see paperwork, sales, and marketing as distractions from the fun stuff, the work that they actually enjoy doing. For me, these activities are like programming, although in a slightly different form. It’s like learning more about the APIs (application programming interfaces) of the world, exploring the standards and specifications to find out what’s required from me and what’s possible. It’s like developing procedures, dealing with bugs, and improving algorithms. It’s like playing around with an interface until you figure out something that flows.

I’m glad I started this experiment. It’s difficult to imagine a career path within a company that would shift me from development (which I’m good at and which I still enjoy) to learning more about sales, marketing, and finance (which I’d have no qualifications for, and which I’d probably be terrible at in the beginning). It isn’t optimal. It doesn’t make sense. On my own, I can make that decision to temporarily give up some productivity in favour of building a useful combination of capabilities, and then see where I can go from there. I am less awesome a developer than I could have been if, say, I’d spent a year intensely working with Rails in a boutique web development agency, but this combination of tech and business and creative and communication will probably come in handy someday.

I think this will give me a great foundation for further experiments. I spent the first year of my experiment learning that it’s not that scary to create something and get to the first sale. I’d like to spend the next year getting even better at taking a business from the sparkle in one’s eye to a prototype that people can look at, sign up for, or buy, learning more and more about de-risking ideas. Then three years to see what I can do with those skills, and then my first evaluation: back to the world of other people’s ideas, or onward with developing mine?

I’ll still need to keep working on the fundamentals over the next year, of course. Some of the things I want to learn or practise include:

  • Moving money from the company to me (good for replenishing my opportunity fund!)
  • Elimination, delegation, and automation
  • Identifying prospects and reaching out to them
  • Following up with people
  • Building a library of resources not just for marketing but also because it’s good to share, like the way my blog has led to so many great conversations over the years

This experiment rocks.

Things I’m learning about semi-retirement

I’m really glad I track my time, because I get to ask questions about long-term patterns. It turns out that I haven’t been as retired as I joke about. It’s been 64 weeks since the week beginning March 3, 2012, which included my first major gig as an independent person. I’ve tracked an average of 43 hours a week doing business-related things (median: 42.2). This is more than my average of 38.3 hours a week from the twelve weeks when I was tracking regular work using my new system, although that was when I was already in the transition-all-my-projects phase. Earlier, I’d been working a little over 40 hours a week.

I think that’s because there was a month or two of independent work where I was doing two large consulting gigs at the same time. If I drop that and look only at the year to date, I get these numbers:

  Percentage Average hours per week
Earn 49% 18.7
Build 29% 11.0
Connect 21% 8.2
Other 1% 0.3
Total   38.1

I like this current balance of working two days a week. My connecting time tends to be about going to events (especially ones that have interesting-sounding presentations) or meeting people for coffee/Skype chats (often to help them with questions). Maybe I’ll swap some of my connecting time for skill-building time instead. I can turn skill-building into connection opportunities through blog posts and products/ideas, so it works out.

Part of the reason why I decided to go on this 5-year semi-retirement experiment was to find out what I can do when I have full control of my schedule. It was easy to respond to people’s requests and work on what people want, but I’m getting better at following my curiosity and carving out time to work on my own projects.

It might be interesting to keep tweaking my comfort zone. Every weekly review, it’s easy for me to plan my work-related tasks and add the occasional relationship/people-related task, but I sometimes forget to plan something in the “life” category. Ongoing personal projects like learning Japanese are starting to help, but I have to get more used to it. =)

For example, one Monday I spent three hours mocking up a box cover for one of the cushions on our sofa. Making a slipcover for the sofa is one of our household projects, so I decided to take the first step towards the task instead of putting it off to one of these weekends. Even though it felt a little weird doing something so small during prime “business” time during the day, it felt good to know that I wasn’t procrastinating the task. It’s technically a relationship-related task, but that’s okay – learning how to use chunks of weekday time for non-work things is important too, and relationship-related tasks are a good place to start because I don’t feel as guilty and self-indulgent. I was worried because my seams were crooked, but it actually turned out all right. I have to give myself permission to do more of these things that might not be part of the “See, I’ve been doing all sorts of market-valued things” story, but are good to do anyway.

Writing is something that I enjoy and something I do for myself. I’ve been giving myself more permission to write (as you can probably tell from my blog), and to try things and learn so that I have more things to write about. Gardening is good, too, and reading. (Even comics!) Maybe I should mentally label Wednesdays to be like weekends – a day for building relationships and life instead of focusing on work.

Drawing is fun, too, and it turns out that I can create interesting things that people find useful.

I guess this is also an experiment in having enough, and that takes surprisingly long to get used to. I think part of why it’s difficult is the lingering fear that I might do the wrong things during this experiment and end up in a situation that’s difficult to move forward from. But if I take a step back and look at the numbers, from time to time I might be able to convince myself that it’s going to be okay, and then use that moment of trust to build new lifestyles or ratchet things up a notch.

There’s that urge to do something that I can justify as productive to other people. I don’t want W- or my parents to think that I’m wasting my time. In the past, I used to stress out about “not reaching my full potential,” especially as I had teachers who believed I could do far more than what I was doing in class. There’s an opportunity cost to everything. Then again, there are many people already exploring the path of “more! more! more!”, so it might be good for me to explore the path of “enough,” and work on the new possibilities that open up.

It also feels weird exploring this while other people who are struggling with much harder problems, so I’m tempted to write less about it because I don’t want to gloat or make people feel bad. But this might be useful to other people too, I guess, sketching out alternative paths beyond what most people have experienced. Maybe eventually it will be like how people read about people exploring different lifestyles—digital nomads, early retirement enthusiasts, people living off the grid… I learn from the possibilities in other people’s lives, and it’s my responsibility to explore the possibilities in mine.

How hacking my wants helped me experiment with early retirement

During his Third Tuesday Toronto talk on How to Live an Amazing Life (see notes), C.C. Chapman saw me sketchnoting near the front and called it out as an example of a creative and unusual profession. He asked (probably rhetorically) how I explain it to other people. I said that I usually told people I was retired, which boggled even more people. He said I should tell my story more.

So this is where I am, how I got here, and what I’m learning along the way. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, so this is definitely not a recipe for how you should live your life. (Hard to plan for luck!) But maybe it helps show some of the possibilities, and maybe that will shape some of your decisions, and maybe that will lead you to living an even awesomer life than I do. (Please share your notes!)

How I prepared for this phase

It helped that I had never been buried in debt. I graduated without student loans, thanks to scholarships, assistantships, and my parents’ financial support. My mom had drilled into us the importance of never carrying a credit card balance and of living within our means. I’ve never had a car, so I’ve never had a car loan. W- owns the house we live in, so I’ve never had a mortgage. My parents are doing all right, and so far they haven’t had any major health issues. This gives me a lot more space than most people have, and I’m grateful for this excellent start.

I had saved the majority of my income ever since I started working at IBM. I grew up reading personal finance books, so when I started working, I was excited by the opportunity to practise good habits and resist lifestyle inflation. I knew I wanted to try other things someday, and a good nest egg would help me with that. I remembered how my sister saved up for her trip to South Africa. She told us how she would say to herself something like: "One hamburger here, or one more day in Africa?" That made it easier for her to make frugal decisions. I also learned how to think about expenses in terms of how much time it took me to earn the money to pay for them. Was that purchase really worth several hours or even days of my life? Usually, the answer was no.

Keeping my wants simple meant that I didn’t feel deprived. I kept the same lifestyle I had enjoyed as a graduate student, aside from occasional new expenses like buying office clothes. I still enjoyed home-cooked meals, books from the library, and taking public transit or my bicycle; I didn’t need to swap those out just because I was earning more. I didn’t buy designer handbags, perfume, or makeup. W- and I agreed that we wouldn’t buy each other gifts. Stuff was just stuff, after all. Reading books like A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy helped me realize that a lot of luxuries that other people might consider part of happiness are entirely optional and could easily be substituted by inexpensive or free activities that I enjoy. I’m a happy person by default, and I’d learned early on that happiness doesn’t come if you chasing after it. That and growing up in an advertising photography studio probably helped me gain a resistance to marketing, which made it easy for me to focus on simple joys.

I’d learned from Early Retirement Extreme and Mr. Money Mustache that reducing your expenses can drastically increase the rate at which you earn your freedom. A penny saved is more than a penny earned. If you spend $2 for every $4 you earn, you free up a year for every year you work. If you reduce that to $1 for every $4 you earn, you free up three years for every year you work. This gave me even more incentive to shift my spending to the things that really mattered to me instead of frittering it away.

After I filled up a decent-sized emergency fund, I split my savings among long-term investments as well as a short-term opportunity fund. The long-term investments were for peace of mind, while the opportunity fund was for learning how to make better decisions. I figured that as long as I was saving at least 10-20% for the long term, I’d be well ahead of where most people would be at my age. In practice, I ended up saving much more than that, and it was liberating.

Following Tim Ferriss’ advice in the 4-Hour Work Week to figure out the actual costs of your ideal lifestyle, I realized that I didn’t actually need that much money to support the modest lifestyle that I wanted. After tracking my expenses for more than seven years, I had a good idea of what my core and discretionary expenses were. When I estimated how much I needed, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was practically there in terms of my opportunity fund. I set aside what I needed for five years using laddered GICs, and I left my long-term investments alone as a safety net.

As I was building up that opportunity fund, I started planning what I could do with it. I wanted to learn about building businesses that could fit into the kind of lifestyle I wanted: plenty of time at home with family and other interests. I talked to many mentors about their careers – consulting, web development, startups, small companies, large corporations. Many people wished they had more time, but they were handcuffed by their financial commitments: a mortgage, college educations, private schools, expensive hobbies, and so on. If I kept my expenses low and saved up enough, I could free myself (even temporarily), and then explore from there.

I decided that instead of waiting until I had sorted everything out, I would take a risk and move some years from my "retirement," like the way Stefan Sagmeister interrupts his work with year-long sabbaticals. But I wanted more time than that, and five years seemed like a good chunk of time to work with. Statistically speaking, most businesses fail within their first five years. If I gave myself at least five years without worrying about cashflow, I probably had a decent chance of learning enough about business to build something that can last me a while. Besides, five years would be longer than my high school, longer than the time I spent in university, longer than the time I worked at IBM… If I could learn so much and grow so much during those periods, I should be able to make good use of five years too. I figured that if I could give myself the space to explore these possibilities, I should, since not many people get a chance to do so.

Like the way I get ready for other risks, I plumbed the possibilities of failure. What if I ended up with nothing to show for the five years? I’d probably have at least a story, though – people are really good at rationalization. What if something happened to W-? If I kept in touch with people and I kept my skills sharp, I could probably go back into web development or consulting easily. What if? What if? What if? When I was comfortable with the downsides as well as the upsides, I gave myself the go-ahead.

The timing worked out wonderfully. I had a one-on-one meeting scheduled with my manager to discuss the results of the yearly performance review. He told me that once again, I’d received a top rating. I told him that was fantastic – and that I was planning to leave in order to start on this experiment. I really liked working with IBM and was happy to leave at a convenient time for the team, so they asked me to stay on for a couple of projects that needed my web development skills. A few months later, I wrapped up all my work, and I started my experiment in February 2012.

So far, it’s awesome

Thanks to amazing people, I hit the ground running. I had expected to flounder around a little trying to find ways to create value, but people stepped forward right away with suggestions. A former colleague had read my blog posts preparing for the experiment and wanted to know if I was interested in working with his team, so I had my first consulting client lined up. Another friend needed help with Rails development, so I experimented with that as well. I picked the brains of mentors who helped me spot opportunities and avoid pitfalls. I read forum messages and blog posts. There’s so much out there to learn from.

I tried out different business models and found ones resonated with me. I got better at floating ideas and getting to that first sale. I dove deeper into skills that I wanted to improve, like sketchnoting and programming. If this is what I can learn in a little less than a year and a half, I can’t wait to see how the rest of the experiment will unfold.

If things work out really, really well, this is how I imagine this five-year experiment succeeding: I’ve learned and shared a ton, and I’m ready for more. I could easily see it extending to a lifetime. Wouldn’t that be neat?

After C.C. Chapman’s talk on how to live an amazing life, the people I chatted with told me they didn’t pick up anything particularly new, although they enjoyed his talk. Likewise, there’s very little that’s new in what I do, if there’s anything new at all. I just want to illuminate possibilities and show that you can get there in small, non-scary steps. I want to help people explore these paths, whether it’s experimenting with life, quantifying/analyzing your decisions, sketching your notes and plans, writing code for fun… I work on this by learning, writing, drawing, and making things, and I’m going to get even better at this learn-share-scale cycle as we go on.

If you want to do this too…

Hack your wants. I have simple wants, and what I want the most is time. I deliberately dig into what I want and what I can give up. Wants are more changeable than you might think, and letting go of attachments can actually be pretty fun. Frugality follows naturally from this, and savings follow frugality. I think it’s easier to shape your wants than it is to force yourself to be frugal if you don’t want to be. Then save, save, save, because that safety net makes all sorts of interesting things possible (and less stressful).

Have a supportive partner. This is a huge part of what makes it possible, and I often thank W- for helping me explore this experiment. He thinks it’s a good experiment and could possibly pay off well for us in terms of the decisions we want to make in life, and that means a lot to me. We have a simple lifestyle and are both frugal. It’s super-helpful to have a spouse who’s on the same financial page. It’s easy to imagine how this could’ve gone differently. If W- had disapproved of the idea or if we had a two-income mortgage, it would be much harder to explore this, or I might not even have tried it. I could probably have done this on my own, but it would have been more difficult to save up, the jump would have been much riskier, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

It’s a little difficult to tell people, "Oh, make sure you have a supportive partner," so this is not really advice. But if you do happen to have a supportive partner, work on making the most of life together. Be that supportive partner, too. Investing in relationships pays off a lot.

Get help from other people, and help others. I learn a ton from people’s experiences as shared in books, blog posts, forum messages, e-mail, Skype / Google Hangout / phone / in-person conversations, and so forth. I get opportunities from people who are willing to take a bet on me. I always learn a lot while answering questions or helping people out. I’m amazed by the results of betting on other people, too – the world is a candy store of talents.

There’s a lot that I’m forgetting to explain because I take it for granted or because I don’t know that it’s missing, so please ask! =)

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;