It occurs to me, in the shower, that a lot of my life is preoccupied by this question. It’s a good theme, for Malcolm Ocean. Whose job is this?
My “what if it were good tho?” YouTube series and website is about the role of design: how each day, people are pulling their hair trying to workably interface with systems, wasting hours of their life, and feeling stupid or ashamed because they can’t figure it out, when in many of these cases an extra couple of minutes’ thought on the part of the person who designed it or made it would have made the whole experience so smooth it would have gone as unnoticed as the operation of the differential gearing in your car that makes turns not result in wheels skipping on the ground as the outer one needs to travel further than the inner one. That guy just works! That problem is so solved most people never even realize it was ever a problem.
My app, Intend, is about the question of what you want to do with your life: about consciously choosing what your job is. It’s also about figuring out what to do right now, in light of the larger things you want to do, and differentiating something someone else wants you to do from something you want to do, so you don’t accidentally live somebody else’s vision for your life instead of yours. Moreover, it helps keep you from being saddled with dozens or hundreds of stale tasks merely because past-you vaguely thought they were a good idea or at least worth putting on a list.
My work in communication, trust, and the human meta-protocol, is about teasing apart the nuances of exactly who is responsible for what. Some of that has been focused around creating post-blame cultures, and I’ve recently come to a new impression that what blame is (aside from “the thing that comes before punishment”) that I could summarize as “a type of explanation for why something went wrong that assigns responsibility crudely rather than precisely and accurately-by-all-parties’-accounts”. In other words, it gets the “whose job is this?” question wrong, and people can tell.
My mum told me that as a kid I had a very keen sense for justice and injustice, and this feels related to how I think about the design stuff as well as other questions. My ethical journey over the last years has involved a lot of investigation of questions around what things are my job, and what things are not my job, and how to tell the difference. And how to catch my breath, and how to reconcile the fears I’ve had of not trying hard enough. And how to tell when the messages about how to be a good person are crazy.
A couple weeks later she texted me:» read the rest of this entry »
Ahh, year themes. For 2022, I chose the theme Deepening, figuring it would be a good fit with me settling down in BC, doing more deep work now that I finally had a proper office set-up for the first time in a year, deepening my relationship with my partner Sarah after years of difficulty there, and deepening into friendship & collaboration with my old friend Eric (the three of us had just started living together with the aim of creating an intentional culture node).
Instead, my marriage with Sarah ended and I ended up spending almost the entire year travelling.
And yet, much like 2020 when “Free to Dance” ended up not being much about physical dancing (which got locked down for covid) but instead being a beautiful description of my experience of moving out of the community I’d lived in for 7.5 years in order to be free to explore my Non-Naive Trust Dance framework (which itself is very much about fundamental freedom)…
…my 2022 was indeed very much one of deepening. Just… not in the ways I expected.
In early 2022, heading towards my 30th birthday in March, I found myself thinking about how many people find that birthday scary—I’m not in my 20s anymore! Oh no! I’m old! I’m supposed to have my shit together, and I don’t!—and yet I found myself feeling very ready to turn 30. I was settling down into a place for the long haul, I had solid relationships I intended to build on for the rest of my life, I was starting to think about kids, I knew what my work was (both my livelihood from Complice, and my life’s work with the Non-Naive Trust Dance) and I was ready to not be a “young adult”.
January and February went roughly as I expected. I connected more deeply with the friends I was making on Vancouver Island. I did some deep reading, such as Geoffrey West’s book Scale (top book reco from 2022 for sure). I wrote 21k words on a doc called How We Get There, describing a pathway to collaborative culture which I had first envisioned the same day I had the NNTD insight back in 2020. It was a bit too high-context to publish, but I shared it with some friends and I might edit it into an ebook at some point.
I went to a really cool weekend event on Salt Spring Island called Deep Play Immersion, which was a dozen folks exploring mashups of Improv Theatre, Internal Family Systems, and Circling, by a fascinating guy named Aaron Finbloom. It was there that I discovered that apparently some young part of me thinks that when people (including me) aren’t talking, they in some sense don’t exist. This might explain why I love talking and find silence difficult.
In the meantime, since I love talking, I started making videos and posting them to youtube! Almost entirely single-take no-edit videos, ranging from 3 to 20 minutes long. This seems to be a really easy way to get more of my ideas out there, especially ones that don’t feel refined enough to make into a blog post. These videos feel a bit more ephemeral somehow. I’m at 54 videos out of an initial target of 100. I lost some momentum in the 2nd half of the year but I’m stoked to pick it up again and I’m sure over the coming years I’ll post hundreds of videos. It’s a cool medium.
In early March, I went to Vibecamp in Austin, TX. It was my first trip after the pandemic, and I was stoked to meet friends new and old, and to explore doing things like singing and dancing that we can’t do on the internet.
This is where the year took a turn in a totally different direction.» read the rest of this entry »
About 10 years ago, I set a goal to not have to get a job when I graduated from university 3 years later. My rough plan was to start a small software business that made me enough money to live on so I could do whatever I wanted. It took me another year to actually start working on that goal, but I achieved it!
I built Intend (originally called Complice) an intentionality app that helps people set goals and work towards them each day even when what they need to do each day is very different. It’s based around the idea that regular inquiry into what you’re doing towards long-term goals makes a big difference in your ability to steer towards the futures you want.
After I hit ramen profitability, I grew the business a bit more, but it hit a plateau. While I never really decided to stop growing it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the growth stopped right around the threshold of wealth that I was used to as a kid growing up: definitely enough money for basic things and healthy food, but not like… extra. More concretely, about $50k in subscription revenue, with very little required work—the famous four-hour work week.
It’s hard to express how awesome this has been. I get to do weird illegible things like prototype a new cultural platform for humanity, without convincing anyone else that they’re worthwhile. I like to say that for something fairly highly rated, passive income is still underrated—at least for me. Some people feel the need to have external structure in their life in the form of a job, but not me. I like waking up every day and broadly doing what I feel like doing, or what seems to need doing based on my own personal assessment.» read the rest of this entry »
I had a concept that my 2021 would be called Always Already Dancing, and while that has been a background theme in various ways, there’s been a much more prominent theme, which is Catching my Breath.
The most overt element of this is that I began taking weekly days off, where I begin the day with nothing scheduled, no intentions, and no open browser tabs, and then I do whatever I feel like all day. I also aim to not add anything at the start of the day as a plan for later in the day, but to remain in improvisational flow, just doing what I’m doing right now.
But the underlying thread of catching my breath is one that’s woven through much of the last year on various scales, so here’s the story of my year of catching my breath, told in some semblance of chronological order of when certain elements arose, although many were happening in parallel throughout the year.
As I wrote in last year’s review, 2020: Free to Dance, my partner Sarah and I moved out of the culture incubator I’d been living in for 7.5 years in Waterloo, ON, and out to British Columbia on the west coast, where we’re working on creating a new culture incubator in Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island.
The need for a new culture incubator emerged not just out of us wanting to be in BC’s climate, but from some divergence in how we saw the incubation process needing to work. We’re still, as far as I know, basically on the same page about what the new collaborative cultural platform that we’re aiming for looks like when it works, but we’ve got a different idea of how to get there and how to operate in the meantime.» read the rest of this entry »
In my 2019 yearly review: Divided Brain Reconciled by Meaningful Sobbing, I experimented for the first time in a while with setting a theme for the upcoming year: Free to Dance. And lo, while I didn’t think about it that often, it’s proved remarkably relevant, in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.
The original concept of the phrase came in part from having just picked up Bruce Tift’s book Already Free: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy on the Path of Liberation, which by early January I could tell would be a major book of my year. Another related dimension of it was something I realized in doing some of the emotional processing work last year, which was that parts of me sometimes still kind of think I’m trapped at school where I’m supposed to sit still at my desk, among other indignities.
The other main piece was observing at a couple of points that I sometimes seem to move through the world as if I’m dancing, and other times much more heavily. During an exercise at the Bio-Emotive retreat midsummer, we were asked to reflect on a question something like “how would I be if I were showing up most brilliantly/beautifully?” And what arose for me is something like “I think I’d always be dancing.”
So all of these layers mean that the social isolation of the pandemic didn’t put much of a specific damper on this life theme, even though I was hardly free to go to dance events (except some lovely outdoor bring-your-own-partner contact improv events that a friend hosted). I had been intending to travel the world a bit, to San Francisco, perhaps Austin, perhaps the UK, and none of those visits happened.
What did happen?» read the rest of this entry »
My recent yearly reviews have gotten very long & complex. For 2019, I’m just going to reflect on a few major learning arcs I went through.
The post is structured as an expansion of the six-word story in the tweet above (“divided brain reconciled by meaningful sobbing”) which I’m first going to do in paragraph form before elaborating one layer deeper:
Essentially, I came to understand that the major oscillation I’ve had in my mindset learning process over the past few years can be characterized as being due to my right hemisphere understanding things that my left hemisphere doesn’t, and not knowing how to relate the two perspectives coherently. That produced major changes but there were still some core fears that kept driving me back into the old perspective. I then did some intense work illuminating & transforming those emotional schemas, using techniques from the Bio-Emotive Framework and other systems, and I feel a lot more spacious now.
Back in February, I watched an interview of Iain McGilchrist talking about a new model of what’s going on with brain hemispheres. This is a topic that’s gone out of fashion since the misguided oversimplified models of the 1950s, so it took a psychiatrist being fascinated in his spare time for 2 decades, for someone to come up with an actually useful overall model (as opposed to just “well, these modules are in the left hemisphere, those modules are in the right.”).
The basic jist is a shift from asking “what do the hemispheres do?” to instead asking “how do they see the world? what kind of world is it, and what kind of relation do they have to that world?” This, not incidentally, is more of the sort of question a right hemisphere would tend to ask, as it orients in a naturally relational way vs the detached stance of the left hemisphere.» read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been experimenting with something new for my new year’s reflection: typing in the dark with my screen off, answering the question “What choices did I make last year?”
I’ve got over a hundred lines, each starting with “I chose”.
I think it’s worth reflecting on the impact of the choices as well, but I’ve started just by listing them. Maybe I’ll go back and try to think about the impact of some of these choices, but of course it’s very hard to actually run the counterfactuals, including what would have already needed to be different such that I would have made the other choice?
So far it’s been a very rich process. This article has two parts: first I’ll remark briefly on my experience doing this private reflection, and then I’ll share five choices that I made last year. The latter section represents my 2018 Yearly Review blog post, and also has some in-depth reflections on relationships and productivity.
Some periods of weeks have no notable choices in my memory, even though everyone is always making choices continuously. Other times, I’m very aware of a dozen choices I made on just one very intense day or weekend.
Some choices need to be made continuously & ongoingly, such as the choice to maintain a habit or to achieve something that takes a lot of planning or preparation
Some choices didn’t feel like choices at the time! This has a few variants:
Some choices were very historic/monumental: they really felt like they could have gone either way and my life is forever changed because of what I chose.
Other choices felt inevitable but there was still a moment of the choice becoming real. (eg when someone says “I do” at a wedding altar… by the time they’re there they’ve already chosen, and yet it’s still meaningful to enact it with that speech act)
In addition to the 5 year mark, this is also timely because I just heard from the instructor, Val, that after lots of evolution in how it was taught, this class has finally been fully replaced, by one called Presence.
The Againstness Training was an activity designed to practice the skill of de-escalating your internal stress systems, in the face of something scary you’re attempting to do.
I had a friend record a video of my training exercise, which has proven to be a very fruitful decision, as I’ve been able to reflect on that video as part of getting more context for where I am now. Here’s the video. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching! If you have, I recommend you nonetheless watch the first 2 minutes or so as context for what I’m going to say, below:
It’s January 31st, 12018, as I type this. I told myself last night that I would either write a yearly review today, or not at all. It feels hard to figure out what to say about my past year. My life is rich and complex and wonderful and challenging and… hard to summarize.
Yet I feel like I don’t want to break my chain of yearly review blog posts quite yet. So here I am, writing… something. If I were to ask myself, “Aside from breaking the chain, why does this yearly review post feel important?” …the main answer is that there are things about my life that my blog readers don’t know, that might be valuable context for anyone who is following the story of my life.
This itself is a sort of strange experience. I know who some of the readers of my blog are—some friends, my housemates & other Upstart collaborators, and of course my parents—but I don’t know most of you. And yet even the people I know most closely still learn a lot about me from reading my blog, which suggests that if you’ve been reading most of my blog posts the past year or two, you also know a lot about me.
And if you haven’t? This is a challenge I face in all of my blog posts: to what extent can I assume that people will have read the previous ones? Or to what extent will they have remembered it anyway?
For instance, I didn’t remember until I re-read it just now that during last year’s review I said:
I’ll tell you if/how [using the Holocene calendar] affects my thinking during next year’s yearly review, after I’ve been using it for awhile.
So I guess I’ll do that. (For context, the Holocene calendar is like the one you’re used to, but starts 10,000 years earlier, making this my 12017 review instead of my 2017 review.) The short answer is that I don’t think it’s affected my thinking very much, and I found it to be not at all something worth creating extra confusion publicly, so it’s mostly a thing I’ve been using in my personal notes. I continue to enjoy it aesthetically though. I do think that when I first started using it it gave me a dramatically increased awareness of something like [where I am in history]. And now using “2017” to indicate the year feels like one of those graphs with the scale lopped off in a confusing way. “12017” of course also lops off most of the past, but it at least doesn’t lop off much history.
One thing I have often written about in my yearly review is what I learned that year. One of my biggest learnings of 12017 has already been thoroughly covered though, in Transcending Regrets, Problems, and Mistakes. That article tells the story of how I spent the year learning a very core skill: not imagining that the past should have gone differently, or even in some meaningful sense could have gone differently. Similarly, I could point you at Towards being purpose-driven without fighting myself to indicate a milestone partway through another major learning arc in the past year (disarming my internal conflicts) but I want to write about that in more detail in its own focused posts, so it doesn’t make sense to focus on it here. Nearly all of my blog posts in the past year have some sort of learning like that.
I notice, as I’m writing this, that I almost feel kind of defensive. As if I’m writing this post in an attempt to prove that it’s impossible for me to write an adequate yearly review.
Maybe I’m overcomplicating things, and a simple chronological approach would allow me to say whatever needs or wants to be said, on a month-by-month basis. I’m sure lots of things will yet be missed from this, but it seems better than nothing, and I don’t feel so defensive about it! 😀
The first major project that Benjamin and I did after he joined Complice was we ran two Goal-Crafting Intensives, which went awesomely. It was a great proof-of-concept for running events like these, and we’ve since planned and executed three more a year later, and are planning some other workshops in the future.
We then participated in » read the rest of this entry »
I wrote a post last year on two different kinds of expectations: anticipations and entitlements. I realized sometime later that there is a third, very important kind of expectation. I’ve spent a lot of good time trying to find a good name for them but haven’t, so I’m just calling them “the third kind of expectation”. On reflection, while this is unwieldy, it is an absolutely fantastic name by the sparkly pink purple ball thing criterion.
First, a recap on the other two kinds of expectations in my model: anticipations and entitlements. An anticipation is an expectation in the predictive sense: what you think will happen, whether implicitly or explicitly. An entitlement is what you think should happen, whether implicitly or explicitly. If your anticipation is broken, you feel surprised or confused. If your entitlement is broken, you feel indignant or outraged.
I made the claim in my previous article that entitlements are in general problematic, both because they create interpersonal problems and because they’re a kind of rationalization.
Since then, some people have pointed out to me that there’s an important role that entitlements play. Or more precisely, situations where an angry response may make sense. What if someone breaks a promise? Or oversteps a boundary? It’s widely believed that an experience of passionate intensity like anger is an appropriate response to having one’s boundaries violated.
I continue to think entitlements aren’t helpful, and that what you’re mostly looking for in these situations are more shaped like this third kind of expectation.
I'm Malcolm Ocean.
I'm developing scalable solutions to fractal coordination challenges (between parts of people as well as between people) based on non-naive trust and intentionality. More about me.