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Doing vs. Enabling Doers

6 minute read
by Alex Hillman

I’ve been in a funny spot for the last several weeks as I rock between my previous workflows of being wholly responsible for production work to being in a pseudo-management position and doing more advising, strategy, and writing. I’m still not entirely comfortable with it, mostly because I feel like I’m diluting the amount of the end product that I’ve actually “done”.


This is turning into a dangerous conundrum because every time I slip back to thinking that the only type of “doer” is the one on the production line, I get down on myself and upset about my contributions. Clearly, I know this is irrational. I’m still working. I’m working my ass off. But something felt out of sync.

Lets switch gears for a second.

Ze Frank. Internet performer (genius), educated thinker (genius), master DO-ER (mad respect).

I was introduced to Ze last year at the end of his run of producing “The Show”, his daily take on existence that he distributed over the internet from March 17th 2006-March 17th 2007. Having met Ze briefly before I knew who he was, or more importantly, what he was, seems to be a theme from SXSW Interactive 2007 (where we met at the Yahoo! Bartab). As tends to be the case, I researched him a bit after the fact and realized that I had just brushed shoulders with inspiration and didn’t know it…and that this inspiration would strike again.

And it has.

After taking a 1 year leave of absence from his community, Ze reappeared a few weeks ago on Twitter. Watching Ze emerge was kinda like watching an infant grow up over the course of a couple of days. He didn’t really understand the whys…he didn’t really understand the hows…he just asked questions, tried things, and waited for feedback.

Then he did something that was out of the norm of most developing children. He colored (PUNNY!) outside of the lines, with complete disregard for the ruler aimed intently on slapping his wrists.


From speaking to my buddy Erik Kastner (internet famous CSS3 Image Hider, FlickrSpell, Befuddler, his contributions to the creation of the acclaimed WineLibraryTV and supporting infrastructure at WineLibrary, and countless other bits of awesome. Clearly a doer.), his contributions to Ze’s latest project have opened his eyes to what makes Ze “tick”.

Ze, I don’t know you and can’t pretend to, but if I had to guess, the one common thread between you and I is our complete and utter disregard for the norm. In fact, I think it goes a bit deeper than that. We strive to break the norm, in experimental, observational activities.

You see, as Ze got his legs for the twitter community, his realization that norms had developed in the first place made him uncomfortable enough to say, “EFF THIS!” and only 4 days after exploding onto the scene, turn several thousand users (including a number of the twitter co-founders and employees) into active participants in a new construct that came completely from his imagination.

Ze colored outside of the lines by starting ColorWar2008.

I’m thinking about my own childhood, and education in general. I’m thinking about the activities that education tries to push on us, and at the same time, I can pinpoint a couple of educators I’ve had in my life that with one hand, imposed rules and regulations. With the other hand, though…certain educators would smile and half-encourage my misbehavior, believing in the fact that I wasn’t being destructive, I simply had a varied perspective. Coloring outside of the lines was my immature way of exhibiting that.

One more Ze-specific anecdote before I come back to my point:

In this video from TED 2006, Ze describes being in a perpetual state of “80%”. I agree and think that most creative people are as well, and really like being there. What Ze does that’s so freaking magnificent is his ability to extend that experience to people who aren’t typically the types to color outside of the lines. Who aren’t the kinds of people who think they can just “try stuff”. The reason I think people idolize Ze isn’t because he’s funny (and he is), and it’s not because he’s smart (and he is). It’s because he’s repeatedly come up with ways to invite people inside his vision, and then at the same time…gives up a good portion of the vision TO the new participant and lets them run with it. That’s inspiring. That’s awesome.

I’ve done my best to conduct myself in the last year to do similar things for my peers surrounding me. As I’ve written about before, by coming up with simple, basic tools to let people share your vision is about as close to a sure-fire way to improve the world around you as I can think of.

I’ve gone on the record before saying IndyHall was a self serving venture in the fact that I wanted it myself. I was able to find others around me, give them their own box of crayons, and tell them that it was OK to color outside of the lines. By doing that, I created the surroundings that I wanted for myself in the first place.

Back on point

Alright. I’ve rambled enough. What’s my point. I was talking about doers, and related, doer-enablers. If it isn’t clear from the lack of structure in this post, I’ve been feeling like I’ve lost a good deal of my focus.

Remember when I mentioned the “80% complete” feeling that most creative people thrive on? Well, once in a while, that feeling sinks and you find yourself stuck in a rut of “always 20% done”. With no light at the end of the tunnel, motivation drops, productivity drops, quality of work drops, and distractions become your biggest enemy.

I’m not longer sure which of my contributions to society are most valuable, both for me and for the people around me. Am I a better doer, or a better doer-enabler? And most importantly…can I make a living (or at least not run myself into debt) being a doer-enabler?

I don’t know the answer. I just needed to get this stream of thought out of my head and out into the world rather than cryptically being frustrated by my own hesitations to execute. I’m not a hesitant person. I don’t know why I’m hesitating now more than ever.

I still haven’t found the focus I’m looking for, but at least this clarity helps me reassure myself that I’m on a path to look for it. This post is an early step to opening myself up to new roads to travel down while searching for that focus.

Here’s to finding my 80% again.


Another way to look at all of this is finding balance between two sub-types of social capital: bridging and bonding. As if by magic, one of my good friends and mentors, Tara Hunt began twittering about this balance right around the same time I made this initial post. See: Tara on detecting bridge vs bond
Tara on balance
Tara on the exhaustion from balancing them
Tara on creating mentors

Thanks for accidentally pitching into the mindshare, Tara!

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Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.