Groundhog Day Resolution Review 6-6-2009: Two New Personal Rules of Thumb

It’s been a pretty BUSY couple of weeks since officially finishing my last project, but it’s difficult to say exactly what I’ve been doing. Even more strange is that I’ve felt very productive despite the lack of progress on many of my long-standing business goals; I would say I’m in a happy haze of non-planned productivity, guided by a sense that I’m on the right track. In fact, I completely forgot to do my Groundhog Day Resolutions review on the 6th, which is something I usually remember when I’m feeling kind of anxious about my productivity. In last month’s GHD review, I made the following statement of purpose:

[…] My best guess: be a universal designer with a transparent process built upon three core ideas:
  • storytelling as a driving design element
  • the use of investigative reconstruction in the discovery phase of the design process.
  • audience-validated scientific creative methodology

The original plan was to write up a lot of process documentation and build-out a section of the website to link it all together. The expectation was that this would make it easier for prospective clients to see what I could do and how I approached the work. What I ended up doing instead was spend a lot of time talking to other entrepreneurs in a group I founded called The Collective. And to my surprise, I’m finding that this experience has helped cement my ongoing business strategy to what may be my essential talent: connecting stuff together.

assembling a collective

“The Collective” is a group of local people that I thought should get to know each other because I thought they all had a similar “energy”. Here’s the current mission statement, slightly revised because I can’t help but edit stuff on-the-fly:

  1. To discover what’s hidden and inspiring in our local community, sharing the best and weirdest nuggets with people who really need and want to know.
  2. To connect individuals with the desire to bring ideas to life with an audience of supportive, talented, and eclectic peers.

After getting back from Taiwan, it was really important to me to start having regular meetings again. What I like about our meetings is that the purpose is no more than bringing people actively in the moment of facing a personal challenge, and yet everyone comes away with some useful nugget of information, idea, or insight that somehow begets more action. It is similar to the effect that I got from my old New Media Group (now defunct), but this group is explicitly designed around a core of sharing stories about our current actions, as opposed to being about a specific technology or professional field.

What I learned from the New Media Group holds true with The Collective: it doesn’t take very much to create a group beyond volunteering to meet with people. By default, that makes you the leader, and after that it’s all about the interest you can pour into the membership. What makes a group viable is finding the core participants that also add energy to the group; without that, the group will not be self-sustaining or fun. Since this group formed based on recognizing that there were people I knew who already had the right temperament, we started out with a strong core.

In the past, I would have said that finding people that really click together is an extremely improbable event, requiring a lot of luck and a favorable locale in a creative urban environment. But by applying the second rule, you can attract them.

create value every day, and make sure people see it

You’ve heard the expression that “results matter”, and not surprisingly a lot of energy goes into making sure that those results don’t get screwed up. We spend a lot of time agonizing about perfectionism, best practices, process, and correct decision making.

Now, I happen to love all that stuff, and when it’s time to get focused and produce this is an attitude that is good to have. However, if you are trying to grow your opportunities (which as a freelancer, I surely desire), then focusing on perfecting your processes isn’t going to help because that’s stuff that is hidden or unparsable to your prospective audience, who are not experts in your field. So the obvious move is to properly explain it, which is a good thought but ultimately wrong. Spending a lot of time talking about process, scrambling to findi the right superlatives to conceptually frame your excellence in the marketplace, may make you sound competent but it doesn’t create the impulse to buy. It merely creates the opportunity for you to continue to try to convince people that you can do what you say you can do, and that you are who you say you are.

The other way to do it is for people to come to you because of something they have seen, or through word of mouth. Something so intriguing that they have come to seek you out to inquire after it. This is, I think, the ideal scenario. The question is how to get there.

In the very first Printable CEO™ form, The Concrete Goals Tracker, I emphasized that for any of my actions to move my business forward, they had to fulfill the two criteria of tangibility and being seen. If your activities don’t produce something tangible that is seen by someone other than yourself, they are supportive (which is productive) or a waste of time as far as your goals are concerned.

After spending the past few years creating productivity forms based on this idea, I’ve come to the conclusion that opportunity comes from the pursuit of just two actions:

  • Creating something I can see, touch, or evaluate with my own senses
  • Actively making the effort to show what I’ve made to the people around me

I remember once asking a fine artist painter what they hoped to “achieve” with their work. He looked at me funny, knowing that I was an ignorant engineer who had somehow tricked his way into Art School, and said that he was happy for the audience to provide their own interpretation. He was creating a work that would encourage new thoughts, making connections between experiences they’ve had with the piece that he had created for his own mysterious purposes. The art, for him, was in the interaction. And so it is also with creating tangible artifacts to share; people will find their own uses and bring their own interpretations with them. But if they like it and see possibilities for integrating your work into their life, you are in the unique position to offer it. But they have to see it first. And for that to happen, you’ve got to make it and then go out of your way to show it.

Adding the lesson of The Collective to the previous two actions:

  • Endeavor to recognize, create and show things that add value to the world and its inhabitants

Without this statement, the tangibility and showing are really just random shots in the dark. I got lucky that some of my writing and projects on this website caught the eye of people, and that experience of having mattered to a few people fired me up to do more. I made sure that what I made mattered to me first, and then I shared them in the hopes that the works would trigger useful applications in whoever happened to come across them. What is new for this month, though, is actively endeavoring to add value to specific people in my local network of entrepreneurs. There is something magical about that which I haven’t completely sussed out; it may just be that people are social creatures, and by creating these bonds I am fulfilling my need for connection. The statement is also, perhaps, the foundation of true design as I would like to practice it.

wrapping up

So what am I planning on doing for the next month until 7/7/2009?

  • Continue to hold Collective meetings for local energizing.
  • Get involved in other people’s projects by knowing what they are doing (in essence, helping them “show” what they’re making so I can communicate this to other people)
  • Resurrect the stalled freelancer network project, but this time I will apply the criteria I describe to create a dossier of freelancers based on my own assessments and personal interviews. I just like to know what’s going on, really, but I also need to know who my go-to developers and designers are. My rolodex is awfuly thin.
  • Chip away at the description of what I do, but from a connection-making perspective. I still need good materials that describe what I do,. and that also applies to fixing the website. I’m kind of resigned to this being a long-term project, but with the first three items on this list, I think my motivation will rise because I’m immersing myself into the business of others.

Dave out!