Last week we met a friend and ex-colleague Neil Cocker for a coffee and a catch up. Apart from being an all round smart cookie and good egg Neil has been very aptly described as a “creative industries ninja” due to his ability to quietly be everywhere and work on several projects at the same time. To give you an idea of the pies he’s got his fingers in check out this list of his current projects.
Managing Director of Dizzyjam, a merchandising service for the independent music scene.
Co-organiser of the first TED talks in Cardiff due to be held in Millennium Centre on the 14th April 2010.
Co-organiser of Ignite Cardiff a networking event that brings Cardiff’s community of creative and digital folk together.
Mentor for Community Music Wales, working with disadvantaged young people and consultant for the Welsh Assembly Government.
Neil in one of those people who has an extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances and then rallying them to come together and do something. Malcolm Gladwell would probably call him a ‘connector’ and a ‘maven’.
Whilst chatting with Neil about work (and quite often and very happily veering off topic) I was struck by how Neil is almost pathologically interested in everything and just can’t help himself from being helpful. How does this man sleep? With so much going on how does he organise himself? We talked about this and quickly we all agreed that training yourself to say ‘no’ and do less was very difficult if you are indeed hard coded to want to know more, learn more and do everything.
The talk that Neil gave at the third Ignite Cardiff was called ‘The art of blackspotting, and having less’. It covered some of the ways he’s trying to simplify his life. He is hunting out spaces with no wireless and he’s going back to relying on email and Twitter for the information he needs. If you’re unfamiliar with the Ignite format it’s worth setting the scene; the speakers have 5 minutes to race through 20 slides, the slides rotate automatically every 15 seconds. The audience is around 200 strong. The art (so I’m told) is to make sure that what’s coming out of your mouth matches up with the slide. Meanwhile not giving away too much of the panic you’re feeling inside.
When I spoke to Neil about his talk his response was this:
“I really didn’t like my presentation a huge amount. I didn’t have time to learn it properly, and tried to fit too much in. It’s fairly garbled! In a way it was good, because it taught me to never commit to doing stuff I haven’t got time for. As I wrote a few days afterwards …” … read Neil’s post
I was there on the night and I thought it came across really well. Have a look and make up your own mind.
We couldn’t agree more with this formula. In fact it’s now written on a Post-it note and stuck on my wall to the left of my computer screen. It’s always there in my peripheral vision helping remind me to name my files accurately, back up my computer regularly, test, check and double check everything before we present it to the client.
Wrapping neat ideas in rigorous process driven stuff may feel uncomfortable, but delivering a good idea through to execution demands a large dose of meticulous, pedantic, attention to detail … and time. FACT … a painful one no less.
The book Here Comes Everyone by Clay Shirky (a very smart fella) considers the way digital social arrangements develop. Here’s a précis of his four steps.
When we were kids learning to be a ‘good sharer’ was important. Initially we didn’t much like it but over time sharing made life much better in lots of ways. We interacted, we made friends, we played with those friends, we learnt from them and we felt bonded to them. Online we are creating and sharing lots of stuff – images, video, status updates and bookmarks to name but a few. Sharing is the starting point for cooperation.
We do stuff that makes it easier for the community to use the things we’ve made. We tag content with categories, labels and keywords. We do it because it makes life easier for everyone. It also strengthens the power and output of the community. Take Digg and Reditt as examples – their top stories can influence what we consume as much as any newspaper.
“Serious collaborators put in far more energy than they could ever get in return. This is why the sum out performs the parts”
Simply put I suppose collaboration is a more organised form of cooperation. It had baffled me for a long time why thousands of people would write code for open source software projects. Why do they invest their time and energy? The answer is a whole bunch of things; altruism, recognition from their peers, status, reputation, enjoyment, learning and satisfaction.
This is the thicker end of the stick. How are these communities held together in the long term? Who decides what the priorities are? How do they balance direction between the leaders and the rest of the community? While millions of people contribute to Wikipedia, where would it be without the circa 2,000 editors keeping it in check?
I tend to agree with Mr Shirky;
“In the past, constructing an organisation that exploited hierarchy yet maximised collectivism was nearly impossible. Now digital networking provides the necessary infrastructure. The internet empowers product focused organisations to function collectively while keeping hierarchy from taking over”.
Interesting. I think this is a useful framework for working with groups and organisations in the offline world;
Are we making life easier for each other?
What are we getting out of the work we do?
Are the people in charge mindful of the community?
Over Christmas, during a 24 hour pyjamathon, I flicked back through some old issues of Wired Magazine. An article by Kevin Kelly in the June 09 issue jumped out at me. I must have missed it the first time; the title of the article was The New Socialism. He talks about how we’re getting more and more connected through things like virtual co-ops, sharing scripts, open source APIs, Wikis as well as social networking and how this is creating a cultural revolution and a new type of socialism. This short quote sums up the shift that Kelly describes;
“Instead of faceless politburo* we have faceless meritocracies where the only thing that matters is getting things done”
It got me thinking about the quiet army of people we know, who in the last two years, have made the brave leap out of established corporate jobs into the brave new world of digitally connected wiki working. One person we know works from his poorly insulated garage, one from a very compact, very well organised desk space in the corner of his living room and another from a small room above a shop. Jon has recently converted his attic into an airy and stylish office space, complete with sea view, and last year my third bedroom had a utilitarian make over so when we’re not working in a traditional office we too have somewhere else to pursue our passion.
Alongside our more conventional partners what our growing network of individuals has in common is that they are self motivated to work autonomously and flexibly whilst also relying on each other’s specific skills and know-how to provide the best in communications planning, web development and digital marketing to their clients.
Here’s another wordier quote from the article;
“Digital Socialism is without state. Old school socialism was an era of enforced border, centralised communication and top heavy industrial processes. The new socialism runs over borderless internet. It is designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralisation. It is decentralisation to the extreme”
With the help of things like Skype calls, instant chat, Google Docs, Dropbox and the project management tools we have developed between us we all feel better connected, better supported and consequently more responsible to each other. It’s an exciting time to be running your own business. We feel lean and nimble and more than ever we’re enjoying getting things done.
*I checked a thesaurus for the true meaning of politburo – supreme policy-making authority