Going Solo? You’re still in the Rat Race

Many of us strike out as consultants, freelancers, entrepreneurs, or artists to escape the rat race – to get away from the pressured, constrained, exhausting, repetitive life that is ‘regular’ work.

Here’s the thing we don’t realise – we’re still in it.

We may not be doing those same things in step with those hundreds of others: chasing the cheese, sitting at the same desk; waiting for the same train home.

But we’re still in our own rat race. 

Focusing on being productive.
Putting in the hours into unglamorous work.
Getting into routines.
Adhering to standards.
Dealing with feelings of futility.
Chasing the tail. 

Some of it feels even worse than the rat race we’ve left behind. But much of it helps us.

So, the bad news is if you’ve left the rat race, you’re probably still in it.

The good news is you can choose the maze – and the cheese.

Why we need to get rid of ideas

On this week’s episode of his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin answers a listener question about focusing – more specifically, how to focus when there are so many ideas that appeal.

One way is to to blog; not as a way to just share ideas, but also to get rid of them – to stop carrying them around.

I suffer from creating, collecting, and carrying around many ideas. They probably weigh me down more than I’d like to admit. 

So you’ll be seeing more ideas on this blog. Partly because I want to share them, but also because it’s a good way for me to get rid of them – to lighten my own load and to focus. 

In one way it sounds selfish, but I hope it will prove to be the opposite – more ideas to give away to others, and more space for me to focus on doing good things for others.

Let’s keep getting rid of ideas.

Becoming a wizard

Regular readers may know two of my favourite podcasts are ’The Moment’ with Brian Koppelman, and Seth Godin’s ’Akimbo’.

Every year or so, the two get together on ‘The Moment’ for a discussion revolving around the themes of showing up in the world and going out and doing creative work.

In one of their episodes, Brian calls Seth ‘a wizard’. [1] 

It’s part of out of awe and respect, but possibly even more out of frustration and exasperation. 

How can mere mortals even imagine being so disciplined, creative, focused, insightful, and concise?

The word ‘wizard’ really hit me.

Magic, mystic, wisdom, mastery. Building hard earned skills, teaching others, able to wield great power but being self-aware enough to act in a judicious and measured manner.

Being a wizard is pretty appealing.

We ourselves may never quite get there, but what are some of the steps along the way?

What does thinking like a wizard do for us? 

And how can we start practising like one?

After all, there’s got to be a source to the sorcery.

[1] I’m not on first name terms with either, but using last names feels so…well, formal. And this blog ain’t formal.

Empty Tank

On June 1st 2015 I broke out alone again.

This month marks the end of the fourth year as an independent.

It also marks the very first time the tank has been empty.

There’s not enough left in the tank and the pipes to give the engine what it needs to keep going. As you may have guessed, I’m referring to the tank we call money, cash, currency. And the pipes are the cash flow.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some close calls. Projects getting cancelled, people paying late, underestimated tax bills landing on the doormat with a thud.

This time though, there isn’t enough. There’s still fuel coming in, but it isn’t getting pumped around quickly enough. I have a piping issue.

It’s stressful, no doubt.

There isn’t just one tank though.

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Coaching for creative inspiration

A key component of a coaching certification program is to get coaching.

Not ‘get’ as in ‘understand’, but ‘get’ as in enrolling with a coach. Becoming the client.

There are some obvious benefits to this: learning new techniques and approaches from another coach; putting yourself into the shoes of a client; getting a better sense of the flow and arcs of individual coaching sessions and longer-form engagements; and, of course, being able to get coaching on topics of your choice.

In my coaching program we engage with two types of coach: a peer coach, and a certified coach.

A peer coach is a fellow student in our cohort. Peer coaching sessions take place each week, with each of us rotating between client and coach over a 1 hour session (so we get 30 minutes each as a client, and 30 minutes as a coach). The peer coaches rotate every 8 weeks or so, but many of us keep our previous partners and end up doing several sessions each week.

Our work with a professional coach entails a minimum of 6 sessions with a graduate of the program who is now a certified professional coach. In these sessions we’re the client, no rotation – so a full hour of being in the client’s seat.

An unexpected but delightful bonus of doing this level of work as a client (2-3 hours every week, and sometimes more), is the compound interest on my creativity.

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Overrated Mentors, Underrated Coaches

Mentoring and coaching often get thrown into one bucket. On the surface they sound pretty similar; practices that help people make progress. 

However, go down a layer or two and there are a host of differences (I wrote about these here).

Broadly speaking, mentors are people who have trodden a similar path to the one currently facing the mentee. They’re often successful people who are in a position to dispense wisdom, advice, and guidance.

A lot of people are seeking mentors. But mentoring has a few big problems associated with it.

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The Rotation

Menlo Innovations is a software company based in Ann Arbor.

They’ve become well known for staying true to their innovative title – not only in the work they produce but in the way they do the work.

One example is in pair programming. This isn’t anything extraordinary on its own; in fact it’s now common to the point of being standard practice at many technology companies. 

What Menlo did a little differently was the rotation.

Each week one of the pair would rotate out and someone new would rotate in.

But the difference wasn’t the rotation itself. It was about who rotated and the outcomes that created.

Every so often, someone with no technical knowledge would go into the rotation. A marketer, a human resources manager, an intern.

And just like the pairs before them, they’d pair program alongside another programming.

Why do this?

It was surely incredibly inefficient. Projects would fall behind, other work would fall by the wayside, and team members would become frustrated.

The rotation of non-technical people into the programming pairs meant that everything had to be simple.

It meant there was no excessive terminology, overly complex systems, or hidden or hoarded knowledge.

It meant diverse perspectives, ideas and experiences came together.

It meant everyone could learn, and everyone could teach.

It meant everyone could tell the story of the company, of the work, and why it mattered.

Rotation is something we could probably use a little more of.

Ghosted: from URL to IRL

This week the video conferencing company Zoom announced its IPO.

In the Forbes profile of its founder Eric Yuan, this nugget jumped out at me:

For his IPO road show, Yuan deigned to make the 50-mile trek from his San Jose headquarters to San Francisco for a single investor lunch—and then bolted back to work. Everyone else, money manager big or small, met with him virtually, over Zoom. When Yuan flew to New York for the IPO, it was just his eighth work trip in five years. 

8 work trips in 5 years.

A lot of us may do that in 1 year. Some of us do that in 1 month. A few brave souls would do it in a couple of weeks.

Whether by cause or effect, a common frustration I’ve been hearing of late is a lot of in-person meetings getting repeatedly rescheduled at short notice or just shelved completely. 

There are likely a few factors at play here: a renewed focus on protecting time; the increased stress and overwhelm that seems to be part and parcel of modern work; wider shifts in our culture; and the wealth of communication options that contribute both positively and negatively to all three of the others.

For those of us who place great value on in-person connections, these shifts can be troubling. 

Video technology like Zoom is an incredible enabler, and nearly flawless in quality, but it’s still not the same – and until we truly do enter the matrix, won’t ever be.

The question now is about making choices.

Where and when do we keep pressing ahead to bring people together in-person and risk the ghosting, rescheduling, and disregard for time and energy? 

And to what degree do we accept that remote is the future, and lap up the efficient, convenient, but 2 dimensional utility it provides?

Two Tunnels

Imagine your primary area of focus as a tunnel you’re digging. You may be digging into clay, sand, soil, or rock.

If you have two areas of focus, you’ll have two tunnels.

They may start far away or close together.

Digging two tunnels simultaneously is almost definitely going to be harder than digging just one, but there are factors to consider: the tools at your disposal, the type of earth you’re tunnelling into, some secret tunnelling knowledge you may possess.

The two tunnels could be dug in sync, sit parallel, veer away from each other, or end up converging. They could end up doing all four.

As for where these tunnels go – it’s often hard to say, especially when we’re starting out.

But it’s worth being as sure as we can that there’s light at the end of them, and we have a lamp to guide us as we dig. 

Trademarks exist to identify the origin of some kind of good or service – the origin being the business that serves as the commercial source of that good or service.

What we often miss is that there are two types of trademarks – a trademark and a registered trademark.

While an unregistered trade mark offers some legal protection to the owner, registration offers far more.

But beyond protection, trademarks are also a type of signalling.

In service businesses like consulting they’re increasingly applied to models or frameworks.

The trade mark says that time and expertise has gone into the idea’s creation. 

That we took the time to register this concept as a trade mark.

That you should trust us because of it. 

That it’s worth paying a lot of money to access what lies behind the ™.

In these cases the trademark isn’t really there to protect the IP at all.

It’s there almost solely as a way to differentiate, to increase the perceived value of the service, and to signal.

And it often works.

We could think of Open Source being the opposite of a trade mark. 

But it’s also protected – by its community. 

And it’s also a signal – that we’re open, inclusive.

Wherever we look, there’s more protection – and more signals – in place than meets the eye.