The lost city of Bayocean

If you enjoy watching short documentaries, and you’re interested in learning more about Oregon, you might check out the Oregon Public Broadcasting show called Oregon Field Guide.

Tonight I watched a really interesting and very sad episode about the lost city of Bayocean, Oregon. Apparently in 1907, a family of real estate developers founded a resort town on a spit in Tillamook Bay, which they marketed as “The Atlantic City of the West.” The town was built, lots were sold and things were thriving… until a single jetty was built on the north side of the bay entrance. Because a southern jetty was not built, ocean currents immediately began eroding the land that Bayocean was built on, until eventually the town had to be abandoned. Everyone who had invested in the town or bought their retirement home there… lost everything.

Stories like this always make me so hungry for more detailed background on how these civil engineering decisions were made, and what motivated the people who made the final calls that basically condemned an entire resort development. (Not that I think it was necessarily the wrong decision; just because something is built doesn’t mean it has the right to exist or should be prioritized over other things that have also been built, or y’know, people.) 

Seemingly simple decisions can result in so many unforeseen consequences, and can affect people who weren’t considered when the decision was being made. I wonder what the relevant Army Corps of Engineers leadership regrets about Bayocean, if anything. (Maybe nothing at all!)

Dancing with production

I always enjoy the excellent podcast Hurry Slowly (hat tip Josepha Haden Chomphosy for the recommendation), and a recent episode called “Are you Satisfiable?” really resonated with me this week. The episode centers on the ideas of writer, facilitator, and activist adrienne maree brown, who recently published the book Pleasure Activism.

The whole interview is wonderful, but this particular passage caught my attention:

I think in the workplace, it’s been interesting to see how that kind of thinking, like “oh everything should be scheduled and controlled and managed,” moves us further and further away from the natural and organic rhythms at which creativity and miracle actually want to happen.

And I’m getting curious and interested about spaces that are starting to adapt to… what does it mean to acknowledge that we have organic human beings, um, in these places, and that there are processes that have an organic pace to them….

There’s something about being in right relationship to change that acknowledges that not all change is mean to be driven; some of it is meant to be experienced in other ways. And that perhaps the changes we’re in now, which are climate apocalypse changes, perhaps those changes are only happening because we’ve been trying to drive production, and instead we need to slow down and learn to dance with it, dance with what’s happening in the world, and I’m really getting curious about that.

adrienne maree brown, on the Hurry Slowly podcast “Are you Satisfiable?”

Personally, I am very comfortable when everything is scheduled and controlled and managed, but have found that I am much more able to think creatively when I am not scheduling and controlling and managing.

Likewise, I frequently find myself with a seed of an idea, that escapes me when I try to force it into being. If I leave it alone, though (I think of it as allowing the idea to gestate in my “back brain”), the seed is much more likely to grow and bear fruit. It resonates with me that my organic brain might best create on an organic pace.

I also love the idea of dancing with production, rather than trying to drive it. So much of technology work — development, design, documentation, support — is creative work. What could happen if more respect and space were given to the non-linear, non-schedule-able process of creation?

Innovation and Empathy for Loss

In reading Megan Risdal‘s excellent article, Reflections on Stack Overflow: Building Successful Communities, I was struck by a particular passage:

Have empathy. Loss aversion is a very real thing. Even if simplifying something is the best thing for users by all other accounts, taking something away still hurts. And this impacts not just end users, but the people who originally worked on a feature. You can have empathy by understanding how they use the feature and asking about the historical context around its original creation.

– Megan Risdal, Reflections on Stack Overflow: Building Successful Communities

Here’s a good definition of loss aversion:

I think technologists in particular — because we are so fond of innovation — tend to look down on people who express aversion to loss. That disparaging attitude isn’t very respectful, and thus doesn’t lead to very respectful or productive conversations.

Certainly, change is a part of life, but likewise every change is a kind of a death — perhaps the death of something that should die, but any loss can cause deep sadness… and even a crisis of belonging. When innovating, it’s worth asking yourself whether you can find a way to give people the space to grieve the loss associated with the change, holding space for their pain, rather than just brushing them off as short-sighted enemies of progress.

Talking leadership, events, and open source with Cory Miller

I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with my friend Cory Miller about leadership, event organizing, and open source today. Check out that conversation if you’d like to hear about the three epiphanies that have changed the way I think about my work!

Cory has a ton of great content on his Youtube channel, too — he’s a wise leader with a strong sense of ethics, who has also shared some important insights around mental health in the tech entrepreneur space. If you care about those things too, check out his body of work; it’s great.

Successful Givers

My job is all about helping people:  I help WordPress volunteer community organizers make great events for their local WordPress community members. I’ve done this work for over 4 years. There’s been wonderful and difficult times for me in that time, and I am still passionate about what in-person events do for the WordPress open source project.

So this week my enjoyment of Krista Tippett’s interview on her show On Being of organizational psychologist Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, was also relevant to my (work) interests. I started thinking a lot about how I give to people in my life, how to deal with people who are entitled or bullies, how to recruit volunteers and do fundraising work in my job, and whether I model generous behavior to my kids.

Below are some of my favorite quotes from the podcast, and here’s the whole podcast, which I highly recommend listening to. (You could also read the transcript.)

On successful givers and failed givers (SO MUCH THIS FOR ME):

Dr. Grant: And that always begs the question, what’s the difference between the failed and successful givers?

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Grant: And I’ve gotten a lot clearer about this since I wrote Give and Take. I think that it fundamentally comes down to the choices we make every day about who we help, when we help, and how we help. So the “who” is, I think, pretty simple. Failed givers are the people who help anyone. Successful givers are much more likely to be thoughtful about what is this person’s history and reputation like? Before I go and overextend myself and give you 17 hours, I might want to find out if you’re likely to take advantage of me.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Grant: And exercise just a little bit of caution or self-protection there. The “when” is basically about protecting time to make sure that you achieve your own goals. One of the mistakes that failed givers make is they drop everything for any request that comes in.

Ms. Tippett: Right. Right.

Dr. Grant: And what you see with successful givers is they’re much more likely to prioritize and say, “OK, I’ve got these windows blocked out to make sure I can progress on my own tasks.”

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Dr. Grant: “And then I have other periods of time set aside to try to be helpful and responsive to others.”

Ms. Tippett: So there is a balance between the concern you have for others and the concern you have for yourself, the value with which you also hold yourself.

On giving critical feedback (this reminds me of some under-appreciated people in my community, whose feedback is always so spot-on but not always valued because it’s critical):

Ms. Tippett: Another thing that I found really interesting is that this giver profile — that these people, it doesn’t necessarily correspond to outer veneer, like, who would come to mind as the most cheerful and nice, in terms of presence and affect.

Dr. Grant: This is also a surprise to me.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Grant: I tended to associate agreeableness with generosity.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Grant: So the agreeable people are the nice, friendly, welcoming, polite — and I just assumed if you’re nice to somebody that means you care about them. But there’s this whole class of people who would actually score in the data as disagreeable givers. They might be gruff and tough on the surface. They’re skeptical, critical, and challenging. But at the end of the day, they have other people’s best interests at heart. And they’re actually, in my experience, the most undervalued people in our lives.

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Dr. Grant: Because if you’re a disagreeable giver, you’re the person who gives the critical feedback that nobody wants to hear, but everyone needs to hear. Right? You’re playing devil’s advocate, you’re asking tough questions, you’re challenging…

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Dr. Grant: …the status quo, and we need to appreciate those people much more in our lives than we currently do.

Ms. Tippett: This one is so interesting because on the surface it’s a little surprising. Then the minute you start thinking about it you think of those people who, as you say, might be gruff or stern in a way that makes you rise to the occasion, but who also have huge hearts. And you always know that. And you’re right, they’re kind of these bedrock people.

Dr. Grant: They are. And there was a software engineer at Google who had a great way of describing them. He said, “Oh, a disagreeable giver is somebody who has a really bad user interface, but a great operating system.”

On “takers:”

a lot of people think that power corrupts, but I think, if you look at the evidence on this, it’s more likely that power reveals — in the sense that if you’re a taker, you don’t have to pretend to be a giver once you’ve gained a lot of status and influence. Now you have the freedom to express your values. And so I think what happens is takers often rise by being fakers, and then you get to see their true colors once they’re in a top leadership position.

On meaningful connections at work (and food, and how eating together creates connections):

Ms. Tippett: And you wrote, “Whether we bond at work is a personal decision, but it may involve less effort and vulnerability than we realize.”

Dr. Grant: Yeah, this is from one of my mentors, Jane Dutton, who studies high-quality connections in the workplace and finds that you don’t have to have a long-standing relationship to experience a genuine sense of connection. That even just a single interaction marked by mutual respect and trust is enough to energize both people. And I think if we thought about having more high-quality connections, more moments where we just treat each other with respect and trust, and we open up a little bit, it actually becomes the foundation for having meaningful interactions, even if we don’t call somebody a lifelong friend.

Ms. Tippett: And, interestingly, you say that, in terms of how a workplace would generate this, is not about, like, having mixers, or having special events, but meals, which is so obvious. I have to say, we moved our show into an independent production two years ago, and I think one of the most — I mean, we have a wonderful, open, hospitable space, but we have a kitchen table, right? And that the fact that some combination of us have lunch together every day. I cannot imagine this workplace without that. And I’ve never been in a workplace that had that before. But it’s so obvious, isn’t it? I mean [laughs] we know as human beings that relationships happen around meals.