Photo by Simone Peerdeman.
It took me ten years to understand what it is I am actually doing today.
Ah. The Story of Self. The story we have in our heads of how we came here and where we will go. I talked so much about how our narratives shape the way we make sense of ourselves in this world, that it becomes ridiculous.
There is a difference between talking about theories (offering a nice safe distance) and your own narratives (waaaaaaaah). Your own way of sense making. So yes. Ten years to understand what it is I am doing. To be more precise, I provided that answer 10 years ago. But I only discovered recently that it wasn’t a footnote but the main dish.
“The most difficult and most rewarding challenge of my work is how to be both a mapmaker and a traveler. My maps, or theories, on shame resilience, wholeheartedness, and vulnerability were not drawn from the experiences of my own travels, but from the data I’ve collected over the past dozen years — the experiences of thousands of men and women who are forging paths in the direction that I, and many others, want to take our lives. As I discussed in the talk, I’m a surefooted and confident mapmaker. As a traveler, however, I stumble and fall, and I constantly find myself needing to change course.”
So it’s one thing to show a map of the world. It’s another thing to show where you are located on this map and where you are heading for.
Lori and I explain ourselves more than often what it is we are actually think we are doing.
“I suspect that what we’re ultimately doing is documenting an emerging human culture that we recognize we’re part of and want to get closer to/learn more about/reveal to ourselves and others. I don’t have a name for this culture yet but I know it involves work as play; life and work as a beautiful, messy whole instead of as separate, needs-to-be-balanced parts; humans recognizing their potential as creators; humans getting more comfortable moving as collectives, individuals, and the space between; getting closer and allowing our lives to become exponentially better together.”
It took me ten years to understand what it is I am actually doing. Today.
In 2002 I published my first book “The Microwave Way to Software Project Management”. On the cover was a drawing of a girl that looked like Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video game, and got the name Sofi. The idea was: “look how cool this Project Management stuff actually is.” Taken from the actual introduction:
“Sometimes I wish the job of software project manager has more danger. Walking around, shooting from the hip to your opponent. Employees in fear, ‘cause there’s a new project manager in town. Something like that. Sometimes I wish the job of software project manager is cool. In the 1995 movie “Hackers” actor Jonny Lee Miller is painting his laptop with camouflage colors. Cool. Mine is black, sadly. But there is danger. It is cool. That’s why being a software project manager is the choice of Sofi. Sofi is the new heroine we desperately need in our profession. It’s like Lara Croft is kicking some programmer butt.”
Oh my. I was young.
At the time I thought the main dish was “project management”. But in hindsight it wasn’t. I was dressing up the topic project management because the traditional way of presenting didn’t feel right to me. I used language and images that actually made me personally more connected to the material then the dry technocratic jargon I associated my profession with.
In the mean time I am having fun working as a project leader collaborating with many nationalities, within different cultures, and with an increasing role for digital communication.
I am really interested why we do what we do within projects. In the summer of 2007 I had a month between jobs. It was raining, as summers do in The Netherlands, and I had too much free time on my hands. I spent that time on the Internet. I decided I wanted to start a blog. And I did. I called it “The Project Shrink”. I was going to use psychology, sociology, complex adaptive systems and many more incredibly smart domains to hack into project life and to come up with the ultimate explanation on why it is what we do in and around projects.
Things turned out differently than I expected. It turned into a 5 year experiment about communication and culture. I immersed myself in different ways of writing on the blog (634 posts), different ways of using video (101 videos), different ways of doing presentations, experimenting with doodling and experimenting with language.
The insight I got was that not everybody likes to receive information the same way. That the language used, the story told, the visuals provided and the medium used matter. A lot.
It is the lesson I already practiced in “The Microwave Way to Software Project Management”. Traditional text books didn’t provide the culture (emotion, feel) that was a right fit for me. Change the story and design, and we do a whole lot better.
It turns out, for me, ten years later this is increasingly becoming the main dish. And not just a paragraph in the introduction.
The problem when discussing this topic is that this implies that there is not one best way. There is not one story. I guess that is why I came up with so many exercises to help people tell their story. That is why I am so fond of theories. Theories provides structures, maps, that help us to explore angles of our stories we didn’t consider before. Theories are not final explanations. They are lenses to our stories. And I love them for that.
You can’t tell in advance exactly which design is effective for a certain story. It emerges in the dialog.
That is a big lesson I learned in creating Different Work with Lori Kane. We experimented a lot with the different ways authentic stories can be captured and told. Even the way you string these stories together is a container for culture. We created a full color, multi media, highly visual, almost glossy look and feel at DifferentWorkBook.com. And also a more raw, text heavy, black and white illustrated Kindle version.
So. What do I do?
- I help people find ways to enjoy the diversity of human interaction in groups so that they can get out of their own way and achieve their goals.
- I build homes for people’s stories. I work together with amazing storytellers and co-create collections of written narrative stories, interviews, artwork, visualizations, videos, and sound so that the stories become almost as compelling as the storytellers themselves.
- I help co-workers document their culture. And use it as a vessel to help others get there. Or for themselves to get somewhere they want to be.
- I am documenting co-working cultures to show the awesomeness in collaboration around the globe and in my own backyard.
- I am pushing my own authenticity and vulnerability in storytelling and design and keep learning.
This is what I do. Dammit.