Issue #7: Mid-Term Review

What I've learned over the last six weeks and what I'm hoping to learn in the next six weeks

I’m currently on a flight from DC back to SF after delivering a client workshop. A hot topic of conversation was novel coronavirus because the company had just imposed a travel ban for employees the evening before. I’m heading to Arizona tomorrow to lead another workshop and our program lead just sent our an advisory telling people to feel comfortable cancelling their attendance in light of personal fears and organizational travel bans. As more and more cases will be surely be diagnosed over the next several days, we will all have more opportunities to rethink and relearn how we work and negotiate daily life as the public sphere shrinks. And it’s in the spirit of learning that I wanted to take the time to review what I’ve learned thus far.

Self-intimidation is real

I started this project to overcome my perfectionist tendencies. And while I’m proud of how consistent I’ve been in spite of an insane schedule and two bouts of sickness, this exercise of sitting down, quieting my inner critic, and organizing my thoughts is hard as hell. I question everything about what I write.

To get through that self-intimidation, I tried a few different things. First, doing a bit of pre-writing, or notes about signals I’ve noted that week so that I’m not staring at a blank screen when I really sit down to write. I’ve also played with the format of my writing a bit to see if there was a setup that I was more naturally comfortable with.

Lead with questions

Part of the pressure I’ve felt comes from a desire to have answers: a conclusive vision of possible futures of belonging. But as I look back over the last six weeks, that’s unrealistically high bar to get over, especially at this point in my learning process. To reference Donald Rumseld, there are too many unknown unknowns at this point to have a perspective. So I’m going to shift toward leading with questions that I have:

  1. In what ways is mutability shaping the future of belonging? In other words, how fluid or rigid are the definitions around who belongs over the next decade?

  2. What responsibility or liability do individuals, machines, communities, and collectives have for addressing non-belonging?

Make breadth clear and defined

Not sure that this is the most noteworthy insight, but I think it’s one nonetheless worth noting. Recently I’ve been reading Scott Young’s Ultralearning where he outlines nine principles for mastering hard skills quickly. The first principle, metalearning, requires you to examine the experts that have come before you and develop a map of the subject or skill that you want to learn.

In Young’s case, he used metalearning together with the other eight principles to learn MIT’s entire computer science curriculum in less than a year. In my case, my scan provided less of a map and more of an inventory. So I’m planning to make a visual that shows the spaces and interconnections of how belonging is defined and understood. I’ve also started to organize and centralize signals that I’m finding to make it easier to make connections in future writing.

Dig into underexplored arenas

When I look back at many of the signals and potential disruptions I have explored so far, many have explored the changing nature of belonging along interperesonal lines. To a slightly lesser extent, I’ve also looked at how we find belonging in technology as well as how machines shift how humans belong to each other. Areas that I’m eager to dive into more: how we belong within our natural, digital and built environments and how climate volatility may shake up those notions of belonging. I’m also curious about how our notions of place as embodied by culture and civil society (ie. more of human relationships as a collective) either foster or impede belonging.

Incorporate more collaboration

When I look back to past projects and my business, I realize that I didn’t bring in outside perspectives and insights early enough and often enough. In the spirit of all of us going on this journey together, I have two questions for you as a reader and subscriber:

  • What are your interests in the future of belonging?

  • What are 1-2 questions that must be addressed to have a future that includes more belonging?