Thursday, April 26, 2012

Speak Up

I was recently listening to a podcast from Penn’s Sunday School, in which Penn Jillette, half of the brilliant and prolific magic duo Penn & Teller, was discussing how he learns with his co-host Michael Goudeau.  I’m going to be paraphrasing, here, so bear with me.  The spirit of what he said was that it’s easiest to learn when you’re outspoken

The point he made was that if you are outspoken and take a position in public, any position at all, people will invariably come out of the woodwork and tell you you’re wrong.  Even if you have the moral or factual high ground, there is someone out there that disagrees with pretty much any point of view.  And on the internet, it's a given that people are just waiting to tell you you're wrong about something.

In listening – honestly listening, not just patiently waiting to argue back – you learn more about your position, and if you’re a humble person, you may even change your opinion in the face of greater facts or more persuasive argument.  Either way, it's a way to guarantee you'll hear an opposing point of view.  You might also get some people arguing on your side and help you understand your own points better.

Note: changing your opinion in the face of more information isn’t flip-flopping.  It can be perceived that way, but no one knows everything.  We all make assumptions that underpin the opinions we hold.  Arguing the same position in the face of better evidence isn’t sticking to your guns, or digging in.  It’s ignorance.  Be willing to have your mind changed when you have a discussion.    Be open to the idea that the opinions you hold today are based on some pretty shaky underpinnings.

I’m a fairly big fan of Scott Hanselman.  He’s an immensely talented polyglot who currently works for Microsoft and is able to put himself publicly out there in a dozen different directions (blogging, twittering, open source projects, conference talks), all while being an active family man.  His talks can be quite inspirational, and recently I watched the one he did on productivity and information overload.  One of the things that he said resonated with me was the need for every developer to have and manage their personal brand, and maintain some kind of public life. 

I’ve heard both sides of this one.  Scott has a good description of Dark Matter developers that describes the other side of the coin pretty well.  Folks that don’t feel the need to have a public persona.  Folks that don’t want to be searchable.  Folks that aren’t worried about being found on Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social media site.  Folks that, like dark matter, aren’t visible.

The thing about being invisible is that you’re not part of the larger conversation.  You’re living in isolation.  You are not speaking up and getting feedback.  You’re not evolving your opinions.  That’s okay for some folks, I suppose.  And for a long time it's been good enough for me.  

But not anymore.  What really changed for me was attending Codemash this year.  It's a most excellent time, and at that conference, I found myself in the company of professionals who just loved technology, and loved code.  I learned a lot from the sessions, and realized that being part of the community was really important. It made a huge difference to me.  It may be almost responsible for changing me from a dark matter developer into a community contributor.  Well, that and my recent membership in the Cult of Do.

So I'm speaking up.  This blog is part of that.  Part of my commitment to being involved in the ongoing conversation.  Please feel free to leave comments.  Please feel free to find me @kevinpdavis on twitter.  I'll keep posting here as I have new thinks.  More than anything, I'm going to allow this blog to allow folks I don't know to find me and get to know me.

There are other ways to speak up.  Actions speak louder than words, so I'm contributing as much as I can to That Conference.  This may be the first year for this new conference, but I'm positive it's going to be awesome.  Sessions will be announced in less that a week, and I am already excited about the huge variety of talks and topics we're having, including Scott Hanselman himself.

The Cult of Do

I've been having a hard time putting into words a growing feeling I’ve had for a long time. The primary vibe to this feeling is that there is a state of simply existing that many people are

I have often associated this with people who spend all their time in the evenings on the couch watching TV, playing video games, or some other passive entertainment activity, but I have come to believe that it goes deeper than that. I do enjoy entertainment. I love movies, certain TV series, and video games, but I get the impression that for some people, maybe a majority of people, life is just a series of delays preventing them from getting back to the couch.

I also think this type of sedentary attitude toward life is addictive. One great TV series turns into three others that aren’t that great, but are similar enough to one that is to pass the time with until the new season starts.
I have always been impressed by people who seem to have a neverending list of adventures in their lives. These people don’t just exist. They don’t simply wait to be entertained. They create, they try new things, they make, they do.

Some of these people are found in technology.  People like Scott Hanselman, Clark Sell, Brandon Satrom, Rob Conery.  There are people not in technology, like Ze Frank, Ray William Johnson, iJustine.  All these people are personal heroes of mine.  I'm sure there are many more, but these are some of the biggest influencers and motivators for me.  I'm sure they all have their moments where they're not doing something, but man, the influence they have, the inspiration they provide; they really multiply what they do.

I’m not saying that I always find myself in the category of doers, but that I always aspire to be. I find myself believing that having new experiences is the single most important thing you can do, and there’s some evidence to back that up. One of the current theories about why life moves so fast as you get older is that rut you find yourself in doesn’t contain many “firsts” and those “firsts” form deep memories. The secret to feeling as if you’re really living life may quite seriously be to continue to do new things, no matter where you are in life.

As an example, I had an idea for a Halloween costume, but to pull off the costume, I would really need to dye my hair a very odd color. Now, I work in an environment where such a thing would not be acceptable, so my costume would have to be short-lived. I could have gone with a temporary coloring, or settled for the wrong color, but instead, I used a permanent bleach kit and a semi-permanent color to get exactly what I wanted. When it was done, I shaved my head so I could go to work. Bald is better than bright green where I work.

People asked why. Of course they did. It’s kind of a bizarre thing to do. Yes, I could have gone subpar on the coloring, but when it comes right down to it, I wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it right. Because it was doing something new. By going this route, I got to do three new things, have a pretty excellent Halloween costume that was very fun to wear, dye my hair a really odd color, and shave my head down to stubble.

After the fact, I feel this as a transition in my life. An acceptance that I wanted to be part of the “Cult of Do.” I told people that my new motto was “Never miss your opportunity to do something stupid.” What I was really saying was “Never miss your opportunity to do something”.

Do things that other people are afraid to do.

Do things that other people think are stupid, and challenge their whole notion of odd.

Do things.

The Cult of Do. Join me.