Webstock 2014 – A Poetic Reflection

On the shore of Windy City,
within a theatre grand and proud,
we gathered.

Caffeine-laden, seated there,
notebooks readied, pens to hand,
we waited.

And here we learned, and listened, and noted:
Theremin’s Thing, Celebrity-as-mythos,
Apocalypse rehearsals.

Fearful futures displayed, and hope.

Gaps in the aethersphere,
in which are found magic;
dangerous and wild and wonderful.

The path of ease was offered, rejected, quit,
spurned for its high cost.
The damage it wreaks, and has wrought.

Perhaps at this point, you feel that
poetic structure has failed me.

That’s the point.

Webstock is, on paper, a conference.
There is a form – speakers and talks,
in a schedule.

The form is a lamppost. It provides utility,
yes. Familiar & predictable, it binds
our attention.

Yet, the purpose is not the lamppost:
It is the light.

Webstock shone brightly.

And now, so must we.

Alex Hillman – What can Coworking teach us about the Future of Work? (#betterworktour 2013)


  • Where do communities come from? All too often, we see fully formed things, and forget that they haven’t always been this way.
  • The heart is people, not space – “There can be no collaboration without collaborators.”
  • Trust is the most valuable natural resource for communities
  • Optimism is a fuel that drives; it changes the scale of your perspectice, goals, and actions
  • Choice makes an enormous difference. If everyone has chosen to participate, it’s a totally different ball game
  • People don’t care about the things they share, unless they care about the people they share them with
  • Culture must be shown, not told; owned, not assigned.
  • Sharing a worldview & common purpose is super critical.
  • Worldview is polarising – it is a powerful (and useful) filter for the people who want to join your community.
  • A community which is merely a well people come to drink from, is a depleting resource, and an unhealthy community.
  • The bigger/fancier/more polished the space, the harder it is to see the culture, the people, and the community.
  • Look past the place … see the people.
  • Sometimes, friction is good, e.g. an empty coffee pot (rather than refilled by staff) prompts people to talk to others to learn to make coffee. Thus both building a new connection to the community, and beginning to contribute to it in a new way.
  • Empowering community members: “We should do <x>” “That sounds great! What do you need to be able to do it?”
  • Indyhall’s design principles (for desk layout etc…)
    • Make it hard for poeple to sit by themselves
    • Increase the odds that people will sit next to new people
    • These are intended to “accelerate serendipity”
  • Convert the change-resistant to be your evangeslists. Help them see the value that they personally have gained from the changes.
  • “If it’s important to you, here’s an opportunity to get involved & use your interest/passion to help everyone.”
  • The connections & relationships between people are the most important thing for a thriving community.

On Falling from Horses, and wallowing in the Mud

I have fallen from my horse.

And here in the mud, I’ve learned something strange:

It is not the bruises that bother me, nor the scrapes & scratches.

It’s the embarassment, that I’ve failed – and it feels like everyone can see.

It’s the lost opportunity – my horse has run on without me, and my own two legs will never carry me fast enough to catch up to it.

And it’s the fear – that maybe everyone else will think I belong in the mud, that I never deserved a horse in the first place.

Looking ahead, I see everyone else riding confidently off into the sunset, and am convinced that they are all secretly laughing at me. That I alone have fallen into the mud, and will never again rejoin the company of riders.


Mud blind us. It paralyses us with fear, guilt, embarassment, loss, and isolation. It turns our own faculties against us, deceiving us until we begin to wonder if we deserve to be trapped here in the mud-puddle for all of time.

And so we worry.

“If I stand back up again – if I try to catch my horse, or saddle a new one – I’ll only end up falling back into the cold slimy mud.”

It sounds so reasonable, so sensible, so very mature & clever & careful.

But when you’re reasoning from the mud-puddle, there’s only one truth that matters.

You’ve got to get back on your horse.

Clay Johnson – Industrialised Ignorance (Webstock 2013)


Industrialised Ignorance

Transcription and further thoughts:

  • We all know Pop Culture … but we know very little about what is troubling our own communities.
  • How then are we supposed to improve them!
  • We created huge companies to make popular food for us. (Pizza tastes better than Broccoli)
  • Likewise, we created huge companies to make popular information for us (Opinion tastes better than News)\
  • We value feeling like we’re right (and being told that we are right) over being informed.
  • Ignorance is not just a lack of information, but also due to our exposure to affirmatory information.
  • Consider putting yourself on an Information Diet …
  • … and realise that your information choices have social consequences.
  • Every click, every view, of content on the net biases future content creation.
  • Because information is provided to us as a money-making venture, providers will solve the equation for maximum profit, via maximum popularity.
  • Keys to a positive Information Diet
  1. Be aware of what you consume
  2. Pay attention to local things
  3. Be a producer
  • By starting your day with creation, instead of consumption, you set the tone for your day as one of action, not mere reaction.
  • Work on stuff that matters.

Make That Decision

… you know the one I’m talking about.

The one the swirls behind your eyelids when you’re trying to sleep.

The one that changes your mood completely when you think about it as you munch on breakfast.

The one that you fret about, and worry you might choose wrong.

Don’t be reckless. Sit down, do the research, talk to the people your care about. Work out the costs, understand the risks, know whyyou need to choose.

And then, decide.

Maybe you choose one way, maybe the other. But life is too short to leave important choices languishing forever on the backburner of indecision.

Don’t let it hold you captive anymore.


Make that decision.


Footnote: As I was drafting this, Seth Godin’s latest blog post landed in my email. If you’ve a decision you need to make, he has some very good advice, right here.

Rescue your design discussions with UX principles

This meeting has been going for hours.

It’s nearly lunchtime.

You’re starving.

And still no-one is able to come to a decision on your new designs.

“I think we should use a darker blue.”

“Wow, those rounded corners really improve the user experience, don’t they!”

“I really think that this flow needs to be more intuitive to the user.”


What’s in our UX future?

All too often, when we present a design to others, the discussion seems to get out of control.

Each person has their own, strongly held opinions on what the solution should look like – and sometimes it seems that everyone is trying to solve different problems, too!

This is where UX principles come in.

A UX principle is simply an answer to the question “What will our product be like?”

It doesn’t delve into how you’ll build the product.

But it helps you choose between different ‘how’s.

Valuable discussions

As you create a set of UX principles, they can foster discussions about the priorities inside a project, “We value this aspect of our UX, over this other one.”

They serve as a vehicle for building shared understanding, for gaining agreement that “yes, this is what we’re trying to achieve” – especially if you create them working together with the other members of the project.

And, best of all, they can help you end that nightmare meeting.

“Well, we all agreed that it was really important that ‘The next step must always be obvious to the user.’ Which of these design decisions gets us closest to that goal?”


(and lunch!)

If you’re interested in learning more about UX principles and how to build them, I highly recommend Jared Spool’s excellent article on creating great principles here.

A candid self-assessment: Ignifluous vs. 30×500

An understatement

So … I can be the stubborn sort. From time to time.

Particularly, I can be petulant when it comes to changing things about myself. It is a flaw that I struggle against, and one of my weapons in this fight is throwing myself into challenging situations. Put myself in places I can’t help but change and grow, as it were.

Which is why (among myriad other reasons), when I discovered Amy Hoy’s incredible 30×500 Launch Class at the beginning of 2012, I knew that I HAD to take it.

And that equally, I needed to succeed at it – not to prove anything to anyone, but because I needed it – no matter what it took.

30×500 is an all-consuming whirlwind of mindset change & personal growth – and teaches you the foundations for building a product business that is successful, sane & humane.

And it is HARD.

Realistic hope

But – and here’s the thing – it is good hard. It is the kind of hard that keeps you coming back for more. The kind of difficult that keeps you awake late at night, as you brainstorm new ways of tackling the challenge.

It is honest. Amy never paints 30×500 as a comfortable cruise, or a rosy prance in a field of wildflowers. Realistic pragmatism is the name of the game at Camp 30×500 – and it’s not always comfortable seeing yourself in the unflattering mirror of reality. But it is worth it – if you don’t realise something is broken, you don’t have a hope of fixing it.

But 30×500 is not a futile escape attempt from the Steamroller of Despair. There is a clear path laid before you, in carefully curated detail, that makes it obvious that, “Yes – that is actually possible for me to achieve, if I just keep going”. It sets lofty goals, and then shows you concrete steps to get there.

Add to that a hugely supportive community of new students, returning students & alumni. For me, part-way through the course at the moment, this has been critical. I’ve stumbled repeatedly, gotten stuck, fallen behind, been stubborn – and every time the class has been there to listen, share experiences, and help me to get back on track.


I’m about 2/3rds through 30×500 at the moment, deep in a frenzy of research & analysis. At this point, I’m very aware of my shortcomings – and very confident that if I keep putting in the work, keeping working forward, and stay connected to the class, I will overcome them. As Amy puts it,

“Rules + Process + Effort = Result”

30×500 has offered me hope, and shown me a clear, sensible, pragmatic, repeatable approach to get there. It’s presented by a talented teacher that really cares, and is taken alongside a group of amazing students at different stages of their journey.

It has changed the way I think in ways that are already proving immensely valuable to me.

And slowly but surely, it is helping me replace my petulant stubbornness with productive determination.

What more could I possibly ask for?

(If you want to learn more about Amy’s 30×500 course, check out her website, http://unicornfree.com/)