For the record, I'm still learning how to do this whole "life" thing.
Recently, I made the really invigorating discovery that I can be a grade-A asshole while simultaneously thinking that I am helping those around me.
In continuing to examine my assumptions, I've started to see the "black boxes" in my thinking – swaths of my perception that I'm blind to. Sometimes, they exist because I have inaccurate data about a project that keeps me from seeing the reality of whats going on, but other times it's myself that I can't see, which keeps me from being in-tune with how my actions affect what I'm doing or the people around me.
Recently, I had one of those big black blind boxes planted directly over a particular relationship with a teammate. I was completely unable to see that I had done nothing to build trust with them, but was instead micromanaging their portion of the project, and making them feel disempowered to bring their expertise to the table. The surprising thing to me wasn't that I was basically managing the project very poorly – I am very aware of my baby-level management skills – what surprised me was that, yet again, I couldn't see it. It was only after my interactions were played back to me by another teammate that I saw how incredibly rude and arrogant I had been – in what I thought was the best interest of the project.
Black boxes are sneaky – they don't show themselves on their own, until it's too late. I need to learn how to hold a mental candle up to everything I do, so that I can see, if not the actual wrong-ness of my actions, at least the black boxes themselves. If I can see the boxes, I'll be able to work backwards and find out what I'm missing.
But that's not the point.
We all have black boxes in our minds. We all struggle to see how our actions affect others, how they affect projects we're working on, and how they affect our own selves. That's something I will always struggle with, and I hope I'll continue to make progress and get better at uncovering those boxes.
The point is: what do you do once you've found them? That's where humility becomes the most crucial thing of all.
My actions towards my teammate were really wrong. I felt I was in the right, arguing for the betterment of the project at hand, but in the process, I really hurt someone by making them feel that they had nothing to contribute. I walked all over them in the interest of "making things better". At the time, I didn't think that it would be possible to heal that relationship in a way that wouldn't leave a long, awkward aftertaste.
After some wonderful soul-searching with another teammate, I was counseled to simply humbly make amends, let that feeling of asshole-being really sink in and sting, think of the situation from the other's perspective, and genuinely admit to being that asshole that I never wanted to be.
Super simple, kindergarten human-being 101, there.
All I can say is that genuine humility, without expectation of forgiveness or "results", is miraculous. The amount of healing that can be had, both for your own being and for a relationship, by simply getting down and being vulnerable in your own shortcomings, is incredible. My teammate and I are on much better terms than we ever had been.
By focusing on humility in my management and relationships, I hope I'll be able to more clearly see the black boxes. At this point, I'm pretty confident that humility is the secret to the whole "life" thing.
Go forth and be humble, folks.
Lately, I've been busy.
I currently run MUX, a local music venue in Richland Wa. We focus on regional and local independent music, producing between one and three shows a month. I've been learning a ton – not only about the music industry, booking, production, and promotion, but about myself.
Assumptions are essential for effective life-living and thing-building. You can't do any one thing without having some preconcieved idea about what you should do, or at least how you should learn to do that thing. However, assumptions are only healthy when they are constantly challenged in your own head.
For example: most MUX shows don't sell many presale tickets. We generally announce the show three weeks in advance, and offer cheaper presale tickets right away. One or two tickets will sell in the first two weeks, but the majority of the ticket sales will be in the last two days before the show. This is generally fine, aside from the fact that it's difficult to figure out how many people will show up ahead of time.
Two weeks ago, we put on an outdoor festival called TriFest, in connection with a local art/design/tech/entrepreneurship conference called TriConf. Ten bands (all regional medium-sized bands) played over the two nights of TriConf. Two-day wristbands were $35 presale, $40 day of show, and TriConf attendees received free wristbands. Leading up to the festival, wristband sales looked much the same – one or two wristbands sold in the first two weeks of promotion, and a couple more in the last week.
The first night of the show, almost nobody showed up. The attendees from TriConf trickled in and out, but a grand total of a dozen festival-goers made it out that night. It felt like an utter failure, and I didn't know why.
Later that night, I was taken aside by a good friend and fellow MUX teammate. He told me that he honestly felt that the ticket price had scared off a lot of folks, and that would account for the dissapointing turnout that night. This didn't come as a shock to me – I had worried about the ticket price – but I realized that my unchallenged assumptions about ticket sale patterns had prevented me from seeing that the price was too high, and people weren't going to come.
There's a good cliche out there: "you can't know what you don't know". Assumptions work off the worst side of that – you feel that you have a grasp on whatever's at hand, but left unchallenged, you're completely blind to any potential problems that your assumptions don't account for.
I'm seeking to break down that wall for myself. I need to be able to see the holes in my assumptions and fill them with the information that is already there, waiting for me to ask the right questions to discover it.
Here's my plan.
- start asking myself "what if" questions to find parts of my projects that haven't been considered, and then
- learn to find people who may have honest perspective on my projects and ask probing questions to gain that perspective myself.
- to learn to channel the "irrational" anxious feelings that come with new projects into constructive critiscism of my assumptions
- to document my failures and reference them often in relation to my current projects
In the end, we made the second night of TriFest free to all, and promoted the crap out of it that day, thanks to feedback and ideas from another member of the MUX team. By personally asking people to invite all their friends, writing a blog post on the MUX site about why we made the second night free, and pushing it out on all the interwubs, 300 people came to that night's show. That's great, but had I been able to understand how people percieved the ticket pricing ahead of time, the whole weekend could have been packed out, and I could have been selling tickets at greater than $0.
I'd crave your thoughts. How do you challenge your assumptions? Has hindsight enlightened your current planning process? What are some methods that you use to gain perspective when you are planning and executing your projects?
"...And we pray, not for new
earth or heaven, but to be quiet
in heart, and in eye clear.
What we need is here."
– Wendell Berry
We're really lucky bastards. Here in the comfy bubble of the tech world, there's practically no glass ceiling we won't eventually smash through. I've been blessed with a company I can believe in, amazing teammates, good health, and a wonderful place to live surrounded by pristine nature. I live a life filled with abundance, for which I am extremely grateful. If you ever catch me complaining, you have my permission to slap some sense into me.
I firmly believe that we cannot afford to become complacent in our position, but to use it to do the greatest good we can in the short time we have. As such, I am setting a personal bar for myself this Thanksgiving by giving $200 to a different cause each month. Here's the list I've got so far (If you know of a cause that you think should be on my list, please get in touch with me):
- Nov: charity: water
- Dec: World Vision Micro Loan
- Jan: Let's Respond
- Feb: Amazima
- Mar: Doctors Without Borders
- Apr: Not For Sale
I'd really like you to join me in this endeavor. If you do, please let me know, and I'll link you from this post.
Together, we can use our privileged position to do a little good in the world.
So, here it goes.
A couple things happened at Realtime Conf that sparked my move to the #indieweb. One of them was a talk given by Amber Case called "The Open Web and the Opportunity of Now". You need to simply sit down and watch it, but the tl;dr goes like "get out there, use what's already been written, own your data, and build cool things".
As soon as I heard that talk, I knew I needed to sit down and finally get my online presence wrangled together, starting with my personal blog. My persona online has been growing and becoming more fragmented very rapidly, which, despite the convenience of all those accounts and services, still left me feeling unsettled and uneasy. So far I've:
- moved this blog off of tumblr
- quit facebook
- downloaded tons of data from many of my social sites, and
- figured out a plan for finally lassoing my persona into one place, ike.io.
The second thing that started this 'homesteading' itch (have you watched the talk yet?), was more of a nagging zeitgeist feeling. I haven't nailed it down, but I have this notion that we're embarking on something big right now. I think we'd better buckle up.
After putting it off for a long, long time, I have finally bitten the bullet and will start my obligatory personal tech blog.
The signal/noise ratio is impressively high out there on the interwebs, so I hope to hold a laser focus on valuable, personal editorial content here.
Life’s too short for bad blogs.