New Year, New Beginnings

Beginner’s Mind.


Reflective Practice.

As the New Year gets underway, I’m juggling ideas on how to push forward on several fronts including McGee’s Musings. All have to do with rebalancing the mix of new thinking, ongoing learning, and drawing on experience. They also all have to do with variations on the notion of doing the work and sharing it earlier than my internal critic would like.

Here’s a wonderful quote from Ira Glass of NPR’s This American Life that captures some of this:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Ira Glass

This is drawn from an excellent interview with Glass on the topic of storytelling. Regardless of my experience or expertise in any area, I believe it’s important to keep what’s powerful about “beginner’s mind” and to keep the self-critic at arm’s length.

Another perspective is to do a better job managing the balance between consuming and creating. As an interesting and ironic example of this point, I’ve just spent nearly an hour tracking down a blog post I read the other day on this very point. The post was titled “The Dangerous Effects of Reading” from David Tate’s Certain Effect blog. He makes the following observation:

In our personal lives we tend to optimize for one of two things: input or output. Reading or writing. Consuming or creating. The environment we live in – the prevailing culture – by default is optimized for consumption. Even our personal computers are turning into devices that are optimized for consumption! This is terrible and dangerous.

If the world overwhelms you with its constant production of useless crap which you filter more and more to things that only interest you can I calmly suggest that you just create things that you like and cut out the rest of the world as a middle-man to your happiness?

So my primary goal for this coming year is to create more and to share it. I still will strive to exceed threshold levels of quality, but I’ll set the dial more towards “ship it” than to “make it perfect”. I trust my friends will help me adjust that calibration as we go.

Ten years at McGee’s Musings

Today marks the tenth year that I’ve been writing here. Like all things organic the pace ebbs and flows. Topics evolve and morph. Technologies appear and disappear. Over all this time, the reward that turns out to matter most is the opportunity to make and build relationships.

This week brought an excellent example. I was in New York at the contactcon conference to talk about the work that David Friedman and I have been doing on Collaborating Minds. Besides all the fascinating new people we met at the conference, I was also able to finally meet several colleagues in person that I’ve come to know digitally because I’ve been present here. Both George Por and Flemming Funch were at the conference as well and we were able to expand on our friendship instead of starting them.

A special treat was being able to meet Dave Winer face to face and to thank him for all he has contributed to my work. I started blogging using tools and ideas he created. For that matter I started using his tools for writing and thinking (ThinkTank and Ready) in the very earliest days of personal computing.

Once again my thanks to all of you that I’ve been able to meet and get to know from this outpost on the Web.

Collaborating Minds

Some details about what my partner in collaboration, David Friedman, and I have been up to lately.

Improved logo with background and tagline
For the past few months, my colleague Jim McGee and I have been hard at work on a project we’ve named Collaborating Minds. It will be an online problem-solving community — with a unique membership recruiting strategy. The goal is to create a resource that will be able to assist organizations with hard problems by providing rich insights and multiple perspectives. It’s a marriage of some of the ideas of crowdsourcing with the principles that make for high performance teams. It’s an example of getting more people to work together better, a topic I wrote about a while back.

Collaborating Minds’ main assets will be:

  1. Its network of 500-700 part-time participants
  2. Its approach to community building and structured problem solving,and
  3. Its software platform that supports and enables the community building and structured problem-solving. 

The people will be recruited and selected based on their interest and ability to work together in the community in just the way the software platform allows. They will include people from a very diverse set of backgrounds. We’ll have scientists of various stripes, engineers of various types, humanists, consultants, experts in all kinds of fields. So in that respect it will be like crowdsourcing.

The community and the problem-solving will be actively managed, and the members will be expected to get to know at least some of the other community members outside the context of the specific problems we are working on. Community members will help each other on their own issues and challenges, and can use the problem-solving tools provided to do so if they like.

The software platform includes a social network of a particular kind, and a structured problem-solving process and spaces for the problem-solving to occur. The problem-solving method will combine structured asynchronous elements and structured synchronous elements (online meetings). We also will have an alternative free-form option for members to use when the structure isn’t right for the problem at hand.

There’s a lot more info available now at the Collaborating Minds site. We are almost finished with the alpha version of the software platform and are starting to talk with people about recruiting and membership. We have a lot of unanswered questions (e.g., precise target markets, compensation, and governance) and probably some wrong answers to others. One of the best things about this idea though, is that we can aim our group at ourselves; if this sort of group can generate insightful and powerful solutions to hard problems (which I believe it can) then it help us solve the issues that remain ahead.

Collaborating Minds
David Friedman
Fri, 24 Jun 2011 19:07:11 GMT

A Concise and Brilliant Peer-Reviewed Article on Writer’s Block

I’m passing this along from Bob Sutton’s blog (which you ought to be reading if you care about management and leadership in today’s enterprises).

Below you can see an entire article (including a reviewer’s comment) that may look fake, but is legitimate. It was published by Dennis Upper in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis in 1974, and is funny, true, and inspired — and a great demonstration that "brevity is the soul of wit."   Academics, especially the editor’s of our journals, have a well-deserved reputation for being humorless assholes (note I edited a couple academic journals and include myself in this swipe), so I give these editors a lot of credit.  A big thanks to Thomas Haymore for telling me about this masterpiece and to Professor Brad DeLong for publishing it on his blog a few days ago.


A Concise and Brilliant Peer-Reviewed Article on Writer’s Block
Mon, 06 Dec 2010 17:52:26 GMT

Nine years and counting here at McGee’s Musings

Today is the ninth anniversary of my first post here. It remains the primary place where I work out my thinking about the challenges of knowledge work in today’s world and how to operate at the boundaries between technology opportunities and organizational reality.

It’s also a place that continues to introduce and connect me to other people wrestling with the same kinds of questions. The human connections that flow from this effort remain the real reward.

I would like to ask a few questions from those of you who find this valuable in some way:

  • What would you like to see more of here?
  • What would you like to see less of?
  • What topics would you like to see me address that haven’t been addressed here yet?
  • What else would make this a better resource for you?
  • Who else should I be listening to?

Are you reading McGee’s Musings via Bloglines?

My good friend Jack Vinson has put together the following useful information for blog readers who are using Bloglines and now in need of a new solution. Like Jack, it appears that about a quarter of my current subscribers use Bloglines to follow McGee’s Musings. If that applies to you, Jack’s advice is applicable to your needs.

Bloglines no moreBloglines is shutting down at the end of September.  If you are using Bloglines to read Knowledge Jolt, please find a new RSS reader.  Here are some possibilities for your switch from Bloglines.   

For what it’s worth, about 1/4 of the people reading my blog come from Bloglines, according to Feedburner.  When I look at website referrer information, I see a very small number of people coming to my website from Bloglines.

First off, you need to get your subscriptions.  Some services know how to read from Bloglines, but in case they don’t you need to find the "Export Subscriptions" option under the Feeds tab.  Your browser should offer to save the file to your computer.  You can then import these subscriptions into any other reader.  (Bloglines are showing you how to do that on the home page.)

Then you need to pick a new reader.  As far as reading options, the biggest player in the room is Google Reader (50% of my readers – and similar statistics for many others).  The Google Reader team have even written a welcome post for people who might be making the switch.  A welcome and a look back:

We know that nothing will be quite like Bloglines in the hearts of its users, but if you’re looking for another online feed reader, we encourage you to give Reader a shot. All you need is a Google account (you already have one if you use Gmail) — and here’s a video to help you get started. It’s also very easy to bring your Bloglines subscriptions over, you just have to export them from Bloglines and import them into Reader.

There are a number of other web-based options.  And, like Google Reader, there are some that provide access via multiple devices, such as Netvibes and NewsGator.  I’ve noticed that there are some of the newer "social dashboard" applications that incorporate feed reading, such as Seesmic.  And there are a number of standalone applications (RSS readers or news aggregators), such as my recent looks at RSS Bandit.  It’s also possible to pull a web feed into Outlook or Firefox or Internet Explorer directly.

[Image is my mashup on the Bloglines logo.]

Are you reading Knowledge Jolt via Bloglines?
Jack Vinson
Fri, 17 Sep 2010 23:03:27 GMT

Time for the Larry story again

For me, this has always been the Jessica story, as will make sense when you read it. I, too, tell it from time to time. The actual timing was late in 1993, as I left Ernst & Young at the start of 1994 to co-found Diamond.

I’ve told this one in different forums since it happened in 1995-ish. A recent incident prompts this version.

Back in the days when Harvard Square was one giant bookstore, a corner of two floors was occupied by Wordsworth. Always jammed, knowledgeable clerkery, books, books, and more books, the place where it was easy to walk out with two shopping bagsful of books.

"The TeamNet Factor is faceout at Wordsworth," Daughter #2 said. It was a star from Kirkus at the time, an acknowledgement from the arbiter of good books that this was worth reading.

So I went to take a look and there it was, third shelf up faceout.

I gasped and the man next to me said: "What’s wrong?"

"That’s my book!"

"Great book," said he, "I read it. And have you read my book?" He reached across, a couple of shelves down to hand me Managing Information Strategically, inadvertently pushing me into the woman just beside us.

"Oh, is that your book?" she said. "Well, this is my book, or I mean his book," pointing to the man to her left. "I’m just the editor."

Rewind: The author who reached in front was Jim McGee. The man with the editor was Charles Handy.

Jim and I chatted for a while; he mentioned that he was at Ernst & Young; we exchanged contact info; and I formulated The Bookstore Theorem: The only people there are authors.

Fast forward a year or two to the mail dock at Bear Island where I spotted a couple looking for directions. They wanted to find the girls’ camp that their daughter had gone to; they were staying nearby at the Appalachian Mountain Club on Three Mile Island; they’d just paddled over.

Me: "The girls’ camp is close to our cabin." Off we went, following the red trail, chatting, who are you, what do you do, until eventually the husband said, "I work at Ernst & Young."

Perfect entre for my book-story to which he had the perfect rejoinder.

"I’m Jim McGee’s co-author on that book," said Larry Prusak.

Fast forward again to very recently. Two good friends decided to go to the AMC camp on Three Mile for the weekend so we visited, got the tour of the camp (go, that’s all I can say, it’s beautiful).

Outside the dining hall was a list of those present for the weekend.

Guess who?

Yes, Larry, who, by the way, is reading Jonathan Franzen’s new one, Freedom. "Beautifully written," he says.

Time for the Larry story again
Jessica Lipnack
Mon, 06 Sep 2010 12:57:28 GMT