Motivation, Villainy, and Double Takes

Motivation, Villainy, and Double Takes

In yesterday’s post procrastinating alone, I described how I was recovering from a less-than-productive weekend brought on by a feeling of depression. The key insight: I have been feeling rather alone in my endeavor to build things, and the resulting angst was dragging me down. It was difficult to admit that I, as someone who tries to be as independent and self-empowered as possible, was going through that spot of melancholy. But as many commenters pointed out, the blues, they happen and it’s part of life.

One of the main takeaways from yesterday was my recognition that I needed to create relationships that went beyond mere contractual obligations. While I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant, today I had an interesting online experience with a couple of people I’ve never met in person. We’re not working together, but we’re sharing some collaborative thinking in one of my Basecamp areas. I noticed that there was an odd after-school clubhouse feel to the entire experience, which was both unexpected and delightful. This further reminded me of an old friend, sadly passed on, who I used to scheme with on a daily basis. We spent hours outlining grand dreams in great detail, combining our love for media with the desire to make cool experiences for people; it was that daily conversation that kept my energy at a high level.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt that lightness of spirit, as opposed to the heaviness I had felt just 24 hours earlier. The funny thing was that the recent experience didn’t require tangible collaboration at all: It was enough just to scheme together.

Perhaps this is the secret. Read onward.

The Joy of Villainous Understanding

As a result of this insight, I have formed a new theory about villains in James Bond movies. You know how the mastermind villain tends to have the bad habit of revealing their plans to Bond, ultimately leading to their undoing? It’s been often mocked as a plot device, but I think one might explain it by recognizing a fundamental problem with organizational growth. Say you’re an evil overlord, with an insanely high IQ and the ambition and resources to match. You’re a self-made man, nothing beyond the well-disciplined grasp of your giant brain. But alas, you’ve had trouble staffing your evil operation with A-level co-schemers. For one things, your peers have their own evil operations going on, and since they’re evil you can’t really trust them in the first place (without leverage, anyway…mua ha ha!) Everyone else you can hire can grasp but a tiny fraction of your majestic vision, and can’t be trusted (company culture issues tend to elude evil masterminds). But Bond, he’s-a-coming to wreck your operation, and thus also validates its importance. Though you are on different sides, you would certainly recognize that you finally have an audience capable of understanding your vision without you having to (sigh) spell it out. Surely, such a person would…understand? I can see why a villain would give in to temptation…it would be such a rare treat to not have to explain yourself, and maybe get a reaction from someone that knows where you’re coming from.

Though I lack the single-minded focus of an top-flight evil overlord, I can still appreciate the value of a good co-schemer. I’m not sure WHY co-scheming is so important, but I do believe there’s a strong human need to share our dreams with a partner that “understands.” I would conjecture that part of the appeal of personal coaching stems from this desire: A coach is there by your side to help you achieve your goals, and though they may not participate materially in the work to be done, it is their job to understand you so they can effectively tell you what you need to do. This is essentially a form of scheming, which I’ll define loosely as having shared mind and vision. The stronger this bond, the more powerful the team becomes. Think of those people in your life with who you share that “co-conspiratorial commitment”: wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, best friends, mentors, coaches, teammates, and role models. Every one of these connections is (potentially) a foundational part of our identity, supplying strength that augments our own. It is exhilarating to tap into this energy, and terrifying when you lose it.

I could use me some of that mojo.

Looking Toward Goals, not Tail Lights

Yesterday Seuss left a comment creating an analogy between motorsports and commitment to task: “look toward the goal, not at the tail lights of the car in front of you”. Taking that to heart, it occured to me that I may already have a group of co-conspirators around me.

I’ve been very fixated on the tasks that I thought I needed to get out of the way, and have been demoralized because there’s so much to do. I also hadn’t keep my end goal in mind in a way that was easy to visualize. The forming of committed work and personal relationships is, I think, is my way of recognizing that I have been operating in isolation too long. My modus operandi should then be finding the right people to form those relationships with. I even know who those people are, and I’ve been aware of it for the past couple years: to be around positive, self-empowered, conscientious, and kind people.

As I look up from my planning notebook I’m somewhat embarrassed to realize that, um, those people are already here. I’m surrounded by kind, conscientious, positive-minded and self-empowered people; if you’ve been following this blog, there’s a very high likelihood that you’re someone who shares these values too.

Note to self: DUH.

I thought that I needed to build my lair first, so I could launch my plans and build something of note, and then maybe I could get the revenue and know what to do with it. That’s still important, but I can now move my focus back to the present instead of obsessing about “future Dave” and “future audiences”. But I’m forced to admit: if indeed positive-minded, self-empowered, conscientious and kind people like you are already here, I didn’t think this through and don’t have anything prepared. The first thought that comes to mind, though, is to find out who’s out there and what they have to say. I could be completely wrong about this whole “we’re already here” thing too, but I’d like to hear from anyone who thinks that there’s something to this.

If anything, it’s an interesting thought.


  1. Matthew Booth 13 years ago

    Hi Dave,
      I’ve read your blog off and on for the last couple of months. Your current topic – Motivation, Villainy, and Double Takes – is one of particulare interest so I decided to write a comment (my first one!).
      I’m only 24 but I think I do a fair share of introspection and examination of people around me. I have found that I often isolate myself because in my mind I have what I want figured out. I have a clear vision and, if I’m lucky, some groundwork for accomplishing that vision.
      The isolation comes from my desire to tell others of what I want but to retain my control. My experiences have led to me to automatically assume others will react in several negative ways:
    1) They will disapprove of the vision outright
    2) They will approve of the vision but disagree with my process
    3) They will approve of the vision and the process but either doubt the realization or value of my vision.
      It’s been rare (if ever) that I meet someone who flows with the way I think and work ( as a whole). I am usually left gathering pieces from friends or collaborators to form the whole that is in my mind.
      I think blogs and “personal spaces” online are good for attracting people who can connect with you. Those that return to your “space” are pulled by some sort of gravitational field. I am not forced to visit an online space, but choose to go there, usually because previous visits have aided in my visions or reaffirmed/unveiled something about who I am or how I operate.
      That’s why I enjoy your blog. I like your pictures. I often am made fun of for my “random” or pointless snap-shots. Your thoughts and thinking seem to, in some ways, flow in a way very similar to mine.
      From early childhood, I believe we are wired to seek acceptance and share understanding with our environment. There very action of recieving comments on your blog (except in the case of the nay sayers) infers that what you do and say as a blogger and creative individual is in harmony with others.
      We understand, maybe not all of who you are, but with enough people understanding the different parts, you are understood as a whole.

  2. sarah 13 years ago

    I have to agree with you—scheming is possibly the most important thing. Right now between life upheaval, a super-hyper-inquisitive two-year-old and “maintenance” work, scheming is about all I have time for on the “big” goals. But sometimes, just the scheming is enough (as long as I get to some practically application SOME day).

    And I have a few friends that I scheme with on a regular basis—maybe some of our plans will come to fruition, probably most of them won’t, but making them and having those talks keep us fresh, I think.

    Glad you are feeling better, btw!

  3. Lynn O'Connor 13 years ago

    As usual I identify with you, in better moods, in darker moods. I had a “mentor” who I was with for 37 years, and he died two years ago, at age 81. In some way I lost him a few years before his death. As he became sick, in the last four or five years of his life, I lost him as a co-schemer, and I was so preoccupied with trying to help him as he stumbled through the indignity of advancing age and illness, that I didn’t dare let myself mourn the loss, let alone even face it. Since his death I have gone through some very dark periods indeed, but only upon reading this tonight did I locate the nature of this loss. He was a brilliant man, we read Nature and Science together, we conducted research together, but most important we schemed together. I lost him as a co-schemer those years before his death, not only because of his physical condition but because of his mental condition. As he grew sicker he lost some of his finest values, some of his searching for the truth dimmed and he sometimes seemed more interested in shallower concerns that left me feeling deeply sad and disappointed. In the end, he had lung cancer that had metastasized to his brain, and some of the depth I felt the loss of was due to a tumor growing into the spirit of this wonderful human being. I mourned the loss of my mentor, and I felt guilty about my feelings of dismay in those last years, not knowing where the changes were coming from, not understanding. I have been coming out of a long dark time, living without my closest mind companion, including those years creeping up to his death. Now I know what is missing, beside this dearest person, it is my co-schemer. I think we are all around you, and you and everyone here is here for a reason. Loneliness may lie at the heart of it, but it is not loneliness for companionship, or for friends, it’s that loneliness for the co-conspirator. You are right, nothing is as energizing as working WITH someone who cares about what you are doing, as you are doing something together. I don’t know how I will reconstruct that –I think by writing on my blog (and here), by keeping my eye ahead on my sometimes fading goals, something will happen. I never know exactly why I look every night to see what you have written today, but tonight I have my answer. Thank you for your honesty, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. You reached out and held my hand this evening.


  4. Another great post, David.  I started writing a comment, and realized it would make <a>

    Here’s the gist of what I wrote, since I wouldn’t want to take the conversation away from here…

    I agree on the co-scheming piece, with two wrinkles. ;-)

    I had a mastermind group for years — we had conference calls, a forum, and worked with each other on the side as well.  Very successful, and the “sounding board”/co-scheming quality of the group was awesome.

    Our group dissipated early this year, and I’ve been solo ever since.  I’m just about to team up with two other fellows (starting next week, most likely), and it’s going to be great.

    But here are the wrinkles:

    The Need for Sovereignty

    I found each of us in our previous group had times when we were too reliant on the opinions of the other members, seeking validation, rather than support.  And that undermined our sovereignty as individuals with our own businesses, which had negative effects on our business’ growth.

    We were able to iron it out (for the most part), but “sovereignty” became a watched commodity for sure.  If one of us showed signs of not standing fully in who we were, one of the others would point it out, and remind us to embrace our knowing, our strength, our conviction, or whatever else was needed.

    <b>I Will Drink No Wine Before Its Time<b>

    The other wrinkle I’ve found with scheming is letting the cat out of the bag too early.

    When I was a kid, I remembered seeing the Paul Masson ads on TV with Orson Welles.  He’d go on about the exquisiteness of something or other, and then he’d say, “I will drink no wine before its time.”

    There are times when you have an idea, an epiphany, or even just the beginnings of a new understanding, and it’s coming together inside you.  It’s not ripe yet, but it’s exciting.

    But what happens if you spill that idea out before it has a chance to fully ripen?  What I’ve found is that the energy around it dissipates, like losing a head of steam that’s building pressure.  But the thing is, you need that internal pressure to bring the steamy idea to a head; without it, you fall flat.

    How do you know when an idea is ripe, and when it’s not?  Good question.  I’ve learned to feel the difference in myself, and what it amounts to for me is this:

    Do I have a solid grasp on it?  If I can’t explain the idea yet, then I haven’t fully grokked it for myself, and it hasn’t fully ripened.
    What do I feel is going to happen if I share?  If you can’t imagine sharing it without the idea falling to pieces, then wait on it.  You can always share it later.
    Is the energy around it starting to wane?  As much as you can “pick the fruit” too early, you can also hold on to it so long that it becomes mealy.  If the idea is starting to feel ‘flat’, then get it out there into the open, and see if your scheming revitalizes it.  If it does, great.  If not, then let it go; it probably wasn’t going to grow much anyhow.

  5. Nollind Whachell 13 years ago

    I’m along the same thoughts as Matthew and Adam.

    You’ll often hear people say to get feedback on your ideas as soon as possible but I think waiting for it to “ripen” just a little bit is a better approach (just don’t let it go rotten by waiting too long though). The main reason is that if you tell people about it too soon, you may get a lot of negative feedback which might depress you. However, if you’re willing to accept the criticism from those close to you, it might be good for your idea because it will give you the opportunity to strengthen it further before releasing it to the world.

    One approach that I’ve thought about for a very long time is based upon swarming. I kept thinking about it because I keep seeing people out there wanting to collaborate, yet still wanting to maintain their creative direction. The basic concept is that people gather when like minded concepts or challenges face multiple people but then they separate, returning to their normal direction afterwards.

    Some examples of this would be:

    <li>a group of townspeople gathering to protect their village from a wolf hunting nearby</li>
    <li>a group of scientists all working on a similar theory but from different directions, that decide to collaborate as a group when they all reach a similar obstacle</li>

    Or from the opposite standpoint (i.e. splitting up to solve a problem):

    <li>water trickling down a hill and separating to move around an obstacle and reforming on the opposite side (thus multiple directions are sought for a solution)</li>
    <li>a group of rescuers in a disaster zone splitting up to try find access to a building that is on fire</li>

    You could theoretically call this a “natural selection” approach because multiple people working on different approaches to a problem can potentially solve it faster than everyone just working on one approach. Once someone figures out the best approach and everyone else sees it’s working, the rest swarm and rush to help with that particular approach since they see it has the best chance for success.

    Therefore, no one is really in charge in these situations, it is more like small groups of like minded people just coalescing and gathering when needed and then separating afterwards (similar to the symbiotic nature of cells in the body). If anything, I think awareness is the one critical component for this to work effectively though. Without everyone being aware of what others are doing (or what is happening to them), then this swarming can’t take effect.

  6. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Matthew: Thanks for the thoughtful and reaffirming comment, man! You really speak for both of us.

    I like your list of the three negative reactions; I remember being 24 and feeling frustrated in a similar manner. I’d like to extend it through to the positive:

    4) They will approve of the vision and process, but they are not so moved to participate.

    5) They approve and they participate, but they have a different agenda that points to a different direction than yours.

    6) They approve, participate, and are aligned, but there’s a lack of complementary skills so progress doesn’t happen.

    7) They approve, participate, are aligned, have complementary skills, but don’t share your deepest values.

    8) It all works. Bingo!

    Items 5 and up are the ones that can generate some energy, and I think they’re probably all worth trying. It takes a while to work things out, and another factor is that our goals are constantly changing. In business, your business plan is a fluid document, seeking opportunities as they are uncovered. If anything, a business plan is a catalyst to create the increased likelihood of success, more than it is a recipe for success (my opinion). I think the same fluidity applies to our lives, as irritating as that can be. I’ve slowly learned to enjoy it, though clearly I have moments where I sort of lose it :-)

  7. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Sarah: Thanks for the kind wish, and for highlighting the importance of scheming. I think I need to form some kind of scheming group, to externalize the dreaming energy.

    Lynn: My heart goes out to you, and I think I know how you feel. He sounds like he was also a role model. It may be that what I’m describing as “scheming” is just one of the aspects of deep, present, and persistent friendship, but I think it’s worthwhile to think of them as separate from each other. I’m not quite sure why yet…maybe it will come to me later.

    Adam: Very interesting…thanks for providing that link to “sovereignty”. I think that’s really important. I’ll have to read up on mastermind groups…perhaps a format that will work is having limited-time groups, so there are natural periods of rest.

  8. Patrick 13 years ago

    I think it’s probably very likely that the people you want to be around are the people you’ve already met and spent some considerable time with; whether we like it or not, the people around us determine who we are, so chances are you have become like the people that you have surrounded yourself with over the last few years. You probably don’t have to look much further, but I think you’re right in your assessment that properly exploiting this resource is a matter of its own.

    Your theory about the joy of villanous understanding is very interesting. People’s desire to share their ideas with others probably stems from a genetic predisposition for a pack mentality. Bond and the villain are the leaders of their respective packs and it’s very lonely for them at the top, so the rely on each other for the kind of interactions that other pack members get from their peers.

    On the same note, it’s because the villain is so intelligent and nobody else understands him that he is a villain and not just one of the regular members of the pack. Like my dad always tells me, the problem with intelligent people is that they always think they are right.

  9. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Nollind: That’s a really interesting idea about swarming and creating loose collectives of aligned interests. It just takes someone setting a goal (or having one be obvious), and then let the collective(s) swarm toward it. Reminds me of the X-Prize. Could such a thing be applied in webspace? There really isn’t anything quite like it I can think of. Your point about ripening is very interesting too…I think my ripening process is to release something as soon as some aspect of it can be expressed in isolation. The Printable CEO forms are examples of how I’ve approached this.

    Patrick: That’s a very insightful observation. As much as I like to think I’ve retained my identity independently of external factors (and this is something I try to do), it’s unlikely to have been 100% true.

    I’m not sure, though, that it’s intelligence that leads to villainy, though I’d agree it’s a component of it. The rational, deliberate act to devalue other people’s quality of life in order to achieve one’s personal goals and desires is at the root of villainy. The nature of villainy gets fuzzier when it’s social goals substitute for pure individual desire…when there’s a blurring between personal ego and social goals, the result is hypocrisy, not villainy. If there’s a misalignment between those goals and those of a substantive majority, then that’s another form of villainy, but one that stems from a conflict of viewpoints rather than actual evil.

  10. JL 13 years ago

    One of the reasons I procrastinate is because of my need to be a perfectionist. When I start something, I often want to get it right the first time.

    For example, when I was back in school writing essays I would often spend several hours trying to come up with the perfect first sentence and paragraph. It was just impossible for me to move on if I didn’t get it just right.

    So whenever I start big projects, it seems so daunting because there are so many things I want to get done right. I’ll often just sit there and think of all the possibilities and conditions this project might involve instead of actually doing work.

    And I think that’s why working with others can make a perfectionist more efficient because 1) you have other’s to share the burden, and 2) when you have an external force applying the pressure, you’re more willing to move forward instead of dwell on making it perfect the first time.

    Here’s a really good quote from Michael Crichton:

    “Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”

  11. sarah 13 years ago

    David: one question on the scheming group (which is a great idea)—how can you overcome creative people’s urge to keep things secret for fear of being swiped? (Um, great sentence there, sorry, it’s late and all.) I mean, I work with people who travel with shredders to make sure not a single note gets into the wrong hands. Sometimes I think it’s warranted, sometimes not. I do know people who have had their ideas stolen after floating them (and at least one person whose casual conversations ended up in someone else’s acclaimed book), but if you keep everything to yourself you’ll just stifle. Any idea on how to overcome this fear?

  12. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    JL: I know exactly what you’re talking about…I think of that as “premature optimization”. WHen you’re working with others, you’re forced to externalize the project in the process of communicating what it is, and in the process of doing that oops, you’ve made your first pass! That’s a cool idea…thanks for suggesting it!

    Sarah: Excellent question…I think maybe it has to do with choosing ideas that are best suited to multiple people. Scheming implies a shared goal, while ideas that are designed for a single person probably aren’t good for a group. If you share an idea with your scheme group that’s intended just for you, you’re really CONFIDING, not scheming, like the evil mastermind confiding in Bond. That has its risks, as you’ve pointed out. I think it’s probably different when you’re with a group of people who are capable of executing an idea as well as you can, and then it’s a more competitive situation. The attitude I personally take is to think that I have more ideas than I can use, and more power to the people who can make something useful out of them.

    I guess I don’t really have a good answer, other than your scheming group should be comprised of people who have some sense of honor about ideas, and maybe the rules are clear about sources. Maybe one has to make sure that there’s no overlap in skill or territory in a scheming group. I’ve heard of business groups that structure themselves in a similar way; the members are all high-powered executives, but they each are in an unrelated business that doesn’t compete with each other. Thus, conflict of interest is not as much of a problem.

  13. sarah 13 years ago

    David: hmmm…but I would have to say that I and a few of my friends clearly “scheme” according to your description of the action itself, but not on shared projects. We scheme together about our individual ideas which we then go work on alone. It’s not collaborating because we don’t end up working together, but it’s more than confiding because we really do scheme with each other—looking at your new post I’d say it fits the definition all the way up to the part about it being a shared project.

    I’m not sure how what we do fits in with your model here.

    Maybe it’s because we do share a “Cause”—which is to move each other forward?

  14. Dave Seah 13 years ago

    Sarah: That’s an excellent point, and maybe sharing the cause is grounds enough to have a scheming group. If you’re sharing the cause, though, then who gets the glory shouldn’t matter right?

    There are some interlinked issues I think. Here’s some thoughts:

    <li>The motive behind sharing a cause is actualizing it in the world beyond the group. That’s important to everyone who shares the cause. The cause is greater than the individual.</li>
    <li>Recognition by the world isn’t an issue until someone gets a “disproportionate” or “undeserved” amount of credit. If the cause was truly what was most important, then it shouldn’t matter. But often times, it does matter because the cause (1) has been hijacked or (2) has been weakened because the underlying trust has been compromised.</li>
    <li>Though there’s the risk of having one’s ideas co-opted by someone else, the benefits of a scheming group is increased energy and excitement, which generally leads to more rapid advancement of the participants individually and the cause itself.</li>

    I haven’t had a good scheming session in soooo long, though, I’m sure I’m missing something that should be really obvious. Damn.

  15. Freds4hb 13 years ago

    First of all, you can know me as #4. (Who really wants to be #2?)

    Muha ha ha!!

    Bummer about the rough week last week, and my thoughts go out to you Lynn, they sounded amazing.

    The thing about the “evil collaboration team/group groupthink-squad” (as you know we’ve discussed this plenty Dave) is that you know exactly who you want to broach the subject of your various projects to.

    Yes, they likely do have their own projects as well.  What it is going to come down to is being a leader of your own group.

    I’ve been in this realm for a bit and the way to view it is that, for your projects, you are in control, just get them rolling.

    I’ll suggest a book, Serious Play.  Simply put though, the summary is “Prototype, Prototype, Prototype.”

    I, like you, have been planning, and planning, and planning.

    Well, I too have come to the to time that defines it all.  It says, “It’s time to do it”

    I FINALLY made one of my sillier prototypes yesterday (two models) and then came home today with a whole array of changes and implemented them in a new mockup in less than 10 minutes.  This was a concept I had in my head for over a year, yet it has evolved massively (in the proper direction) simply by me going out and getting the proper material to prototype in).

    Basically, it comes down to this.  Those of us who’ve been watching you (who in our own rights are probably evil geniuses) as well as you (a definite evil genius) have been waiting for the word go to find a way to help.  So pick some teams on the playground and start the game, your energy and excitement are all too exciting to useany other way.

    By the way, in terms of evil co-conspirator gear, I’d like to have an eye that either shoots lasers, or has a pencil sharpener in it. Either one of those would be cool.

    Rock on Dave!

  16. Randell 13 years ago

    Fellow schemer here.  Go Dave Go!

  17. Howard 13 years ago


    After the huge effect of the original co-scheming article of yours I came across, I just came across this one today and was yet again blown away. As if it wasn’t eerie enough reading the first article, in this one you explicitly mention personal coaching. I got into coaching for many reasons, but one that I have become aware of even more lately is because as a coach I get to scheme with my clients. As I mention late in the very long post of mine you inspired, My Scheme Team Dream:

    “It’s a testament to how much I love the very process of co-scheming that, if the relationship is enjoyable and generative, then, within my ethical boundaries, I can enjoy creating almost anything together. In my capacity as a coach and consultant, I love the process of applying my ideas and techniques to drive co-discovery and co-creation so much that it hardly matters what we’re working on – a business, a song, a thesis paper or someone’s life plan – as long as I enjoy the structure of the relationship. This is what allows me to work in that capacity with clients of all different types, and it can also allow me to work with partners and co-schemers of various types in other capacities.

    In a way, I am like a rather versatile catalyst. As I discuss briefly in my commentary “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”, my talents lie in the scheming process itself, and I often rely on others to assist in the concrete aspects of product or service creation. Many times, the content of the project stems from the particular talents of my partners, while I lend my operational and strategic talents to improve and hone their skills and ideas, channeling them into an optimal plan.”

    I absolutely agree that when you have a grand vision, it is a relief to meet anyone, even an opponent, who at least understands and appreciates the importance of it. In coaching and elsewhere, I often talk about the central importance of validation in a world that so often invalidates us (invalidation is right at the core, for example, of Borderline Personality Disorder, which I feel is the most crucial personality disorder in our culture). This post made me realize that people are so hungry for validation, they’ll even take the validation that comes from being opposed long before being ignored. This ties into the old saying that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And it’s why in relationships, many times, it’s worse when you get the silent treatment even than having a fight. At least a fight shows the other person cares.

    As I mention at the end of my post, it all starts with dialogue and communication and then letting the emergence process happen. You seem to have realized that in this post where you want to switch from focusing on end goals (results-oriented) to focusing on allowing relationships to develop, and, along with them, projects that embody and stem organically from those relationships (the emergent approach).

    I’m all about that emergent approach and still looking for my co-schemers. If Dave or anyone else is interested, check out my post and/or get in touch.