Ask someone what they’ll remember about their job when they leave. What do you think the most common answer is?
Hint: it’s not so much a “what”, as it is a “who”.
Hi, I’m Alex.
I build communities, started one of the longest running coworking communities in the world, write a crapload of words every day, tweet a little too much, coach people to be the best version of themselves possible, can't stop learning new things, and do my very best not to take myself too seriously.
I have one goal: to fill the world with truly excellent collaborators so we can all work together, better.
Because let's be honest...most of us aren't very good at it.
These are my most popular and most valuable pieces, to help you get started.
We spend most of our lives reacting.
Somebody says something, we respond with the first thing that comes to mind.
Somebody does something, we do the first thing that comes to mind.
Somebody writes something, we comment the first thing that comes to mind.
It’s not that our reactions are wrong, it’s that they’re reactions. They’re not fully formed thoughts or actions or statements, run through the filters of critical thought and reason. And most of the time, they’re shared in a way that’s only going to elicit more reactions, rather than more critical thinking and reasoning.
The next time you’re about to react, stop. Pause.
Take a deep breath.
Count to three.
Do this ten times.
And see how your reaction changes.
It’s noisy in my head.
There’s a good chance, it’s noisy in yours, too. The trouble is, I spend my days battling two channels of noise: my own, and others. By noise, I don’t necessarily mean noise, but I do mean thoughts and ideas with marginal unique value.
Think about it this way: you’re on an old-timey radio (non-digital) and as you turn from one station to the next, you encounter static. What’s the difference between static on the radio and the music found on the specific stations being broadcast across? The stations have intent, purpose, and (theoretical) value. That value is discreet, and what I’d consider signal.
To return the metaphor to the noise in my head, the willingness to put up with the noise comes with the hope of encountering a new signal, broadcasting new ideas, or new value for existing ideas.
A lot of people put a lot of energy into processing other peoples’ noise for them. You’ve probably read it on blogs, or seen it on the news. Most of your thoughts aren’t actually your thoughts, but reactions to everyone else’s.
You think you’re being “inspired”, but when the source of inspiration is noise and not signal, the quality of that inspiration trends downward.
Consider this for a moment. Do you even remember what your own thoughts sound like? Or have you forgotten that voice in favor of the other voice, the one that spends all day listening to and reacting to everyone else’s thoughts? Sure, it’s easier, but what are you missing by not having your own voice?
I’ve tried a variety of techniques over the last few years, and continue to find out new things about myself every time I do.
This past week, I spent 6 nights in the Spanish countryside with one of the newest teams I’m working with. The Wildbit team is almost 100% remote, with myself, Chris, and Natalie in Philadelphia, Daniel in Canada, Gilbert in Germany, Ilya and Dima in Russia, Igor and Milan in Serbia, and Eugene in Ukraine. A couple of times a year, everyone gets together to spend actual time together, not just the virtual together-ness we have in instant message and Campfire chat.
6 nights in the peacefulness of the countryside provided a lot of time to get to know one another, talk about the products and the business, and do some planning for the future. For some people on the team, the peacefulness provided inspiration as well. Many team members cranked out some excellent new features and ideas for the products. For me, I struggled. Not that I didn’t enjoy myself and make the most of getting to know my team better – which will invariably benefit the work we do together – but I can’t say I was inspired with the presence of peace.
For many, the removal of external noise is helpful for finding internal signal, a powerful source of inspiration. Not for me, though. Leaving external noise behind is a good battery recharge for sure, which is also important for quality inspiration, but recharging the batteries without anything for them to power only solves half of the problem.
I know I’m not alone in that I prefer to work in noisy environments. I love cities and busy areas, I love coworking spaces and cafes. The existence of actual noise seems to help filter out the noise in my head, since in a way they sound similar, leaving higher quality signal behind to work with. Noisy environments provide sort of a filter to cut through the noise in my head. Sort of like panning for gold, if everything goes well, all of the cruft fades away and I’m left with some nugget of gold.
But I’ve learned a new trick. This evening, while walking across town in Barcelona, I realized that I was surrounded by the noise of a city. That included people talking…but in a language that I almost entirely can’t understand, and even the bit I can understand requires concerted effort. While walking, people watching, and taking in the beautiful architecture, I realized that without the input of other people’s conversations, I had a very strange but intentional sense of peace for myself.
I’d removed the opportunity for my voice to be interpreting other people around me because, well, I couldn’t understand most of them if I tried. That meant that, even with them contributing to the noise around me, it was less distinguishable from the static of the city sounds that I use to cut through my own noisy thought process.
I’m going to try this again when I return to Philadelphia by finding a place to work in Chinatown, where I’m likely to be surrounded by noise but not by people whose conversations I can process along with my own.
If it works, awesome. If not…I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t mind returning to Barcelona for another signal-seeking mission.
I’ve got a very short list of people who’ve inspired me in ways that even I haven’t fully grasped yet. In that list is Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger & Twitter.
I’m pretty sure that the first post of Ev’s I ever read was when he founded Obvious Corp in late 2006. I remember reading this post and thinking “I’m not alone.” That seems like an arrogant thing to say, comparing myself to the co-founder and CEO-to-be of Twitter, but remember this was in 2006. Twitter in 2006 was very different that Twitter in 2010. Ev had already sold Blogger to Google and was independently wealthy, but that’s not what I admired.
A few things about Ev have always struck me. He’s careful with his words, or at least seems to be from a distance. That deliberateness is interesting to me. His candidness in his observations of the world around him. An odd sense of self-awareness that seemed otherwise missing from most of the business leaders I’d been exposed to.
There’s a few excerpts from that first post that I’d read that have resonated with me for a very long time.
I’m very excited to announce something that I’ve wanted to do forever.
You can feel the giddiness of that sentence. I know that feeling now for myself.
The Obvious model goes something like this:
- Build things cheaply and rapidly by keeping teams small and self-organized.
- Leverage technology, know-how, and infrastructure across products (but brand them separately, so they’re focused and easy to understand)
- Use the aggregate attention and user base of the network to gain traction for new services faster than they could gain awareness independently
As services mature, the goal is to get them to profitability with advertising and/or subscriptions, so they can add to the network (and fund more building).When justified by growth, resource needs, and desire of the team, we will spin off growing properties to form their own entities (with outside investment). It’s not that we’re against investors and acquisitions. That model works great for some things—especially once the idea is proven. But we’re also not an incubator, with the goal of hatching companies from everything we build. Some things are perfectly worthwhile but don’t need to be a company.
You can find bits and pieces of this in almost every project I’ve worked on. Advertising model aside (since I know now how difficult and unrealistic that can be for most companies), the idea of building things out-of-silos and giving them the ability to spin off is at the core of Indy Hall. Indy Hall isn’t about Indy Hall, but about the things Indy Hall has enabled. And even some of those things that Indy Hall has enabled have enabled things of their own.
Recursion. It’s a helluva drug.
Lastly, for me, I just wanted to create a company that would be as much fun and as fulfilling as possible. Fun in work to me means a lot of freedom, and ton of creativity, working with people I respect and like, and pursuing ideas that are just crazy enough to work. I don’t want to have to worry about getting buy-in from executives or a board, raising money, worrying about investor’s perceptions, or cashing out.
At SXSW a couple of years ago, a friend asked me, “Alex, what’s your end game?” My response was almost a direct pull from this excerpt, again probably without realizing it. My goal in life is to work on things that I think are awesome with people that I think are awesome. Whatever it takes to get to that point is worth it.
If the first quarter of 2011 is any indication, Ev’s final point in his post from 2006 is a perfect representation of how I’m feeling right now.
It may be stupid. It may be naive. It may be selfish and undisciplined. And, frankly, it may not work. All I know is I’m more excited about work than I’ve been in a long time. And from excitement and bold moves, great things often happen.
Quick repost from the coworking google group. This was too good not to share here.
A member of the Global Coworking Google Group named Garth posted the following:
I spent Earth Hour chatting with an old buddy about his passion, psychology. When I told him what we’re trying to achieve with coworking, he suggested I look up “zone of proximal development.” Any of you have enough psych background to assess whether there is some value in reviewing the literature on that? Could it be applied to coworking?
So I don’t have much of a psych “background” other than my armchair interest in it as Coworking (like most things) has become less about business and more about people for me. Here’s my response, with some minor edits for clarity from the original post to the Google Group:
I’ve spent a good amount of the last year reading more articles and books on psychology, sociology, and cognitive science for ideas and lessons to apply to coworking…chiefly for the purpose of finding terms like this that could lead to more study of the context. It’s so often that I observe a pattern and the main thing keeping me from understanding it more is not knowing what the pattern is called or means, so I can’t look up a study or research paper on it. Best I can do is write about it and hope somebody posts about it.
Interestingly enough, I think this concept is a meta explanation of exactly that experience. Here’s what I mean:
A quick skim of the concept makes me think there’s a lot of application here. It also reinforces some of my theories that coworking is most valuable when it’s not a room full of “likeminded people” doing the same thing (startups, law, technology, creative, communication, writing, art, business, science, education, etc) but instead a room full of “likeminded people” doing DIFFERENT things (startups, law, technology, creative, communication, writing, art, business, science, education, etc.).
That is to say, especially as adults, we’re less likely to learn from peers that are too similar. We spend too much time reinforcing each other’s existing habits and knowledge instead of creating space for new knowledge to be exchanged. That “space” isn’t physical space like a coworking space, but conceptual space, like the “zone of proximal development”.
Essentially, we share what we know. We don’t share what we don’t know. And we don’t know what we don’t know. Coworking can help break down those barriers.
Coworking, in its best forms, creates a zone where we’re surrounded by people aren’t limited by knowing what we don’t know (or know what we do know) and it can be shared in loose contexts and formats that we’re all increasingly comfortable with.
Cool shit. Thanks for sharing, Garth.
Indy Hall has brought literally thousands of amazing people into my life, but the most important of them to me turns 40 today.
In Geoff DiMasi’s honor, I invite you to participate in his birthday by choosing any of the “Random Acts of DiMasi” below and performing them. You can also add suggestions of your own in the comments and I’ll add the good ones to the list.
I was going to give you all sorts of background on our friendship, how we became friends, what it’s meant to me, blah blah blah. The I remembered that you probably wouldn’t care.
What’s important is why Gary and I became friends, and why we’ve stayed friends. We have a commonality. We’re both wired to make the world a better place, whatever it takes.
In 2009, Gary released his 1st book. “Crush It!” was a fun read, but it was like talking to Gary circa 2009. It was manic and excited, often inspirational, but otherwise was phoning it in. Gary and I haven’t talked about it, but I think even he knows that “Crush It!” wasn’t a book that was going to change the world.
Today (well, yesterday by now), “The Thank You Economy” is on bookshelves. But I’m not going to review Gary’s new book, in spite of having had a galley copy for the last week. The fact that I’m writing about it at all should tell you that you might want to go pick up a copy and read it for yourself.
Instead, I’m going to suggest a trick to employ while reading “The Thank You Economy”.
Remember, Gary’s a make the world a better place, whatever it takes kind of guy. Which is why I think that “The Thank You Economy” is actually a trojan horse carefully placed in the business section.
While the message appears to be about how to succeed at business, I’m going to challenge you to read the book as a guide of how to succeed at life.
“The Thank You Economy” isn’t a business book, in spite of the section of the bookstore you found it or even the name of the publisher on the spine. It’s a sneak attack on a broken business world, with a mission to make the world a better place, whatever it takes.
My friend Thomas Fuchs, who also happens to be the author of Scriptaculous, also just authored a list of his “power tools” that he uses while creating badass webapps with his wife & co-conspirator Amy Hoy. He surprised me at the end – not because he’s wrong, but because I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this at the end of a “power tools” list:
Software development is so much more than just computers and software and hardware.
You want to be in a place that sparks your creativity, that gets you off your lazy ass, that inspires you and where you can relax, too.
More important than any computer you can ever buy is surrounding yourself with the right people.
If you’re working from an office cubicle, with all your co-workers just waiting for 5pm so they can go home, you just can’t create great software.
Same goes if you’re stting at home, all by yourself, brooding over the keyboard. Not possible. We found our development nirvana in Philadelphia, at Indy Hall.
It should go without saying that I’m beyond thrilled that internationally renowned software developers and business builders like Amy and Thomas have chosen Philadelphia and Indy Hall as their new home. I take it as a sign of many more great things to come.
Spotted this on the new IgnitePhilly website in the about section. It was from a 2008, Philly’s first Ignite. It resonated deeply then and still does now.
“Perhaps the most interesting thing about the evening was that these important players in Philly’s advancing creative communities didn’t get on stage to show off their resume and reel. They used the forum to talk about what others are doing to make a difference… The fundamental takeaway from IgnitePhilly is that that the ability to change the world is more real than ever.” Brian James Kirk
Ignite is my favorite recurring event in Philadelphia, for this very reason.
Few things can give me the charge that IgnitePhilly can.
These are my most popular and most valuable pieces, to help you get started.