One of the fun projects I've been involved with in my work at Automattic is bringing Joel Spolsky's esteemed writings at JoelOnSoftware.com to a WordPress-powered site. That site went live earlier this week just in time for a big announcement from Joel's company Fog Creek Software.
My friend Carol Hunter died this past Sunday morning at the age of 68, of cancer.
I wrote to her recently about how much her teaching and life have meant to me:
I think the third term of Humanities during my first year at Earlham was the most time we ever spent together, gathering in the Meetinghouse Library four days a week to talk about the works of Willa Cather, Anzia Yezierska, Amílcar Cabral, Basil Davidson, Ayi Kwei Armah and others. I remember the gentle but persistent way you encouraged us to think, to organize our thoughts, and to share them in mature and helpful ways. I remember your way of talking of really hard things about the nature of the world - historical and modern alike - with a tone that was serious but encouraging. And I remember your overall kindness as a professor...I want to thank you for the life that you have lived, the challenges to heart and mind that you laid down for your students, and the ways you have shaped the rest of us through your time in this community and the way you have been as a family. I am grateful to you and for you.
My friend Roland Kreager died on May 28 of this year at the age of 65, of cancer. His obituary only begins to paint a picture of what a kind, active, generous, loving soul he was. He worked hard to create a world that was more just and equitable. Roland surprised me often with his ability to find good and hope within complex situations, even horrible ones. Even within his experience of cancer.
I can only hope to have a small piece of both Carol's and Roland's tremendous perspective on life as I grieve their deaths and feel anger and sadness at how quickly and profoundly a world can be turned upside down by illness.
Unfortunately this particular kind of anger and sadness is not new to me, or to many other people.
And it feels like cancer is everywhere.
The election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence is horrifying in so many ways, and it will take days, weeks, years to process and understand the implications for our country, and for my own life and community. I have renewed fear for the health and safety of the many people who Trump has attacked, denigrated and vilified in his life and campaign, especially women. I am deeply concerned about the damage that could be done in the years ahead.
But we also know that this outcome is not an accident. It is the very predictable result of living in a world where consideration of the facts and what is true has become inessential to public life. It is the expected product of a political system that exists to feed the beast of insecurity, consumption, fear and disempowerment. It is what happens when we fight our way through crucial conversations instead of listening to each other, when we focus on what we are against instead of what we are for. It is a natural -- if significant and very unwelcome -- stop-over on a path that we have been on for a very long time.
Where do we go from here? Where do I go from here?
- Locally, work to protect the people and communities who are at risk of further harm from a Trump presidency.
- Regionally and nationally, work to minimize the damage that can be done.
- Replace "clicktivism" with real movements and real strategies.
- Get clear on where our personal tipping points are for taking real action.
As someone who has long held the belief that words of truth have the power to facilitate the changing of minds in significant ways, I personally also need to wrestle more with what this election outcome means for the relevance of language in shaping national events.
The people who I see making the most progress in community building (at any level) are the ones who can effectively articulate the things that they are working toward, what they're for, and then get other people excited about different ways to make that happen.
The people who I see doing the most damage to community building efforts are the ones who only seem able to talk about the things they are against.
Maybe you recognize these different profiles?
- Is usually dreaming about ways to make something better
- Celebrates existing strengths and accomplishments as a foundation to build on
- Understands possibilities for the future, describes them well
- Lets their ideas evolve as they get feedback
- Connects with stakeholders and figures out how to help
- Engages through questions, observation and collaboration
It's been a good year of reading so far. Here are some mini-reviews of what I've been taking in. As always I’ve linked to an online purchase option (with a small referral fee coming to me if you actually buy), but please consider buying from your locally-owned bookseller or visiting your local library first.
Purity: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
I hadn't read any of Franzen's work before picking this up, but I'm planning to now. Purity's storyline takes on several generations of culture, world events and political-technological evolution while remaining a very personal and rich study of a few particular relationships. I enjoyed the way journalism, social media and other tools of the digital age were woven into the plot without becoming perfunctory. Some parts of the book felt a bit rambling or under-developed, but overall I found the writing to be really compelling and the book as a whole a moving and rewarding read.
Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Startup Bubble by Dan Lyons
I have to pace myself when it comes to reading "insider looks at life in Silicon Valley" books. Partly because I spend my professional life working in tech and I don't always want to read about the tech industry for fun, and partly because it seems like too many of those books are thrown together to create a quick payday and/or ego boost for the author, without a lot of substance to make them worthwhile.
When I saw Dan Lyons` book I thought the concept sounded interesting and fun: "old media" journalist tries to join in the "new media" tech world, hilarity ensues. I also thought it would be interesting to learn more about HubSpot; I've been hearing about the company years now but I could never quite understand why what they did was of any value. So I dived in.
It's striking to see the differences in where power gathers in a distributed organization, compared to where that happens in a more traditional office setting.
When people come together in a physical space there is a lot of time and energy spent on appearance. The work isn't just about "what are we doing" but also "how do we look and how do people perceive us while we're doing what we do."
When people come together to work in a virtual/online space, the focus shifts.
In an office setting, I see power and influence gather around...
- The person with the newest, coolest and/or most expensive clothing
- The person with the larger corner office
- The person with the most assistants
- The person with the most impressive sounding title
- The person with the closest parking space
- The oldest, richest, whitest males
- The person who's allowed to create or interrupt meetings
- The person with the most impressive social and public-speaking skills
- The person who uses their power to get what they want
In a distributed organization, I see power and influence gather around...
I'll be speaking at the SupConf New York City 2016 conference behind held at the Digital Ocean HQ in Soho on November 15th and 16th. My talk is on a topic I've enjoyed thinking about and working on over the years, moving customer support interactions from transactions to partnerships. I'm also excited to meet and hear from some other great speakers.
If you're interested and can make it, tickets are available now. I'll also be sure to share the content of my talk here after the event.
Update December 3, 2016: My slides from the talk are below.