What we are, what we can become

One of the many recent life lessons I've learned from parenting an 18-month-old is that where you are and what you know right now doesn't have to limit where you can go and what you can become.

It's been fascinating to watch our daughter learn about the world and incorporate that knowledge into her life on timelines that span mere days and weeks. I had apparently developed a cynical view of what people have the capacity to learn and how long it takes, and she is challenging those assumptions and views every day. The old, limiting way of thinking about this puzzle/game/word/object/creature is so yesterday, dad! It is delightful and surprising to watch the human brain expand its understanding of how the world works, and I must constantly re-evaluate what she is capable of in order to keep up.

It's also a good reminder for me about how much we as a society tend to categorize and label people and what they have the capacity to know or do based on our initial encounters of them.

I've been thinking lately about how this dynamic is at work in the tech world in particular - people are pigeonholed into being developers, support/customer service, marketing/sales people, administrative/HR people, founders, or other roles and then we quickly start to make assumptions from there about how they think, what they know and what they're capable of. We can quickly forget that someone might have a broad range of skills and life experience that would allow them to take on multiple roles or see a given problem space from multiple perspectives, even if they choose to primarily occupy one particular role right now. Even worse, there's strong temptation to use only one or two direct encounters to label someone as a good/bad/mediocre version of their singular role, never again mentally giving them the chance to demonstrate otherwise.

"Him? Oh yeah, I worked with him on a project three years ago. He's a so-so developer but I wouldn't trust him to really thrive with this new project."

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Remote workers want community too

I've been spending more time with people who do most their work remotely. Since writing about the advantages of distributed/remote teams versus working in person, I've been paying attention to all of the time remote workers spend figuring out how to be around other people in just the right doses. They're looking to be in the same place with some fellow humans who have a common sense of purpose, or who at least share an understanding of the remote work lifestyle, even if just for a little while.

This leads me to wonder if the future of remote work isn't just a bunch of people on their own, working from home offices or coffeeshops, but instead an arrangement of remote workers coming together in person for a sense of shared experience. Ironically, it might even end up looking a lot like traditional notions of where and how people work, but probably with a lot more freedom, flexibility and fun along the way.

Here are some of the signs I see:

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On maturity

Edison/Ford TreesAs a young person I was aware of the concept of maturity as something that could be sought, developed, worked on, but I was never quite sure how to measure whether or not someone had achieved maturity.

I've defined maturity in different ways throughout my life, most of them probably flawed.

Recently I've come to see maturity as a measure of someone's ability to understand the motivations of other people, to build for themselves a context about how a given situation or set of decisions has come about, and to have empathy for those motivations and that context.

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My 2011 Year in Review

Family PortraitIt's "year in review" week!

There's just enough time between the Christmas holiday and New Year's Eve for people to get bored, but it's not a good time to launch new TV shows or announce new political initiatives, so we have to have something to keep us entertained.

(As a kid this meant me listening to countdowns of the top one billion songs on the charts for that year, and somehow a Celine Dion or Aaron Neville song always made it into the top five...this was painful, but perhaps reflects more poorly on me and the particular genre of music station I was listening to than it does on all of the music produced in those years.)

But it's been an unusually full year for me, so I thought I'd take a moment to reflect back on what that has included:
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I'm getting married

Cute pairThis weekend I will have the honor and joy of marrying Kelly.

There are many things to say about the institution of marriage that I might normally be tempted to blog about; the legal, political, religious, cultural and social norms involved, the zaniness of the logistics involved when one decides to have a celebration with guests for the spectacle of what Ian Hay called "a ghastly public confession of a strictly private intention," the total failure of contemporary wedding rituals to incorporate modern technological tools and devices into their proceedings ("what do you mean I can't read my vows off my smart phone!?"), and so on.

But today, as friends and family gather to witness our commitment to each other and help us celebrate it, I can only speak of my deep appreciation for the community that has held and encouraged our relationship, the sense of adventure and happiness that I feel about what lies ahead, and my tremendous and growing admiration of and gratitude for who Kelly is - in my life and in the lives of so many others.

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Choosing when to go deeper in conversation

Alive MenuI've been thinking lately about the moments in a conversation when the people participating make a choice - conscious or not - about whether to let it go "deeper," or to keep it at a pleasant and polite level of chit-chat. I'm exploring that because (A) I really enjoy deconstructing how we communicate with each other, and (B) I want to take responsibility for my own part in the cases where more depth would have been a good thing, but was avoided. (I even kind of wrote a little poem about it a few years ago.)

I put "deeper" in quotes because it's one of those touchy-feely words that needs a little more definition to be useful here. When I think of a conversation reaching a new depth, I think of the people involved taking on topics that are significant or meaningful to them in ways that invites personal vulnerability or reflection, where you might have to take a stand, where the stakes are higher and there is something to gain or lose by going there. The topics that achieve this will of course vary widely by personality, community and culture.

So, what do those turning points look like? Here are a few I've noticed:

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How to Leave a Board of Directors

FutureWhen I first started joining the Boards of Directors of various organizations in Richmond, I was intimidated by the thought of learning the proper procedures and cultural norms that dictated successful participation. What I found was that each and every organization seems to do things completely differently, and often seem to be making it up as they go along. 🙂 Yes, there are the Robert's Rules of Order and the bylaws to follow, but there's still such a wide range of behaviors related to joining, serving on, and leaving boards, and it's been fascinating to learn all about it.

One aspect of board culture that seems to be in total chaos everywhere is how a board member can leave a board of directors before their natural term is up in a positive and professional way. Based on my own experiences - sometimes as a board member who did a poor job of leaving early, sometimes as a board leader who was disappointed in how others parted ways - I've some unsolicited advice to offer:

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