Paul Graham has a great essay on why open source is so successful, and in the process explains very clearly why I loathe jobs.
To me the most demoralizing aspect of the traditional office is that you're supposed to be there at certain times. There are usually a few people in a company who really have to, but the reason most employees work fixed hours is that the company can't measure their productivity.
The basic idea behind office hours is that if you can't make people work, you can at least prevent them from having fun. If employees have to be in the building a certain number of hours a day, and are forbidden to do non-work things while there, then they must be working. In theory. In practice they spend a lot of their time in a no-man's land, where they're neither working nor having fun.
I'll work my ass off for a customer, but I resent being told what to do by a boss.
I see the disadvantages of the employer-employee relationship because I've been on both sides of a better one: the investor-founder relationship. I wouldn't claim it's painless. When I was running a startup, the thought of our investors used to keep me up at night. And now that I'm an investor, the thought of our startups keeps me up at night. All the pain of whatever problem you're trying to solve is still there. But the pain hurts less when it isn't mixed with resentment.
I had the misfortune to participate in what amounted to a controlled experiment to prove that. After Yahoo bought our startup I went to work for them. I was doing exactly the same work, except with bosses. And to my horror I started acting like a child: I became sullen and rebellious. The situation pushed buttons I'd forgotten I had.
I've been self-employed for the last eight years, with occasional on-site contracts that to greater or lesser extents drove me up the wall. The clients I have had who have given me troubles have all been ones who treated me like an employee, and nothing makes me more resentful and more bullish than being treated like an employee. Taking you for granted indicates that the client believes that you are in a master-slave relationship, rather than a relationship of equals.
A good client is one who works with you, not one who expects you to work for them. A good client realises that, unless you have a specifically exclusive agreement, you have other clients and other responsibilities all of which are of equal importance. A good client wants you to honour your commitments to other people, because they recognise that that is part of what makes you a good consultant, rather than trying to persuade you to ditch your other commitments so that you can put them first. A good client is one you can collaborate with, learn from, teach, and with whom you can create a sort of creative, positive symbiotic relationship.
Good clients are rare.
I never knew that to some people, 'looking for work' == 'being a hooker', but apparently so:
“I just thot you might like some feedback from someone else w/ a lotta time on their hands. The Welsh emphasis caught my eye, tho I would imagine you're much better at singing than Geology. I was saddened (a little) to learn yu are looking for work, because it seems so universal & a lesbian I met yesterday, looked for work (she claims) only went to hooking to make ends meet. Around here, (mtns of North Carolina), there are tons, no wait, tonnes of young people looking for work, I think. They carry skate bds, and wear raggedy clothes, & appear to be unbathed, but you appear more employable in yr picture, I am past employment, soon to be 74 yrs, retired in '94 but if I hear of anything, you may be among the 1st to know.
“I don't think hooker is a good option.”
I'm touched that one of my readers, somewhere out there on the hinternet, felt moved enough by my plight to email me this caution, but can I just make it clear that on any blog posts or websites wherein I may have said 'I'm looking for work' I don't mean 'give me enough money and I'll shag you'. I mean, I'm a freelance, and I'm open to offers.
Oh, wait, that sounds worse…
Sitting here in departures in JFK, after a ludicrously early start and a flight over from San Francisco, during which I watched Henman fuck up Wimbledon for another year. Can't believe I've missed the first week of tennis – what poor timing. Not much battery left on the laptop, so figure I had better use it whilst I am still awake enough to do so.
I have to say, I am sorry to be here. I really fell in love with San Francisco – it's such a great city. Not that I saw much of it, to be honest, because I spent most of my time in meetings rooms and offices and the conference. If you're wondering what happened to my 'holiday', Technorati Live 8 happened to it. As I was in San Francisco, and as Technorati needed a temporary geek wrangler, they asked me to help out. It was great fun to work with everyone at T'rati – they are not just cool people, but fun as well. They're doing good stuff behind the scenes there, and I hope I get the chance to work with them again.
If you have been following my Supernova posts over on Strange, then you'll know that I had a fantastic time at the conference. I have had really good feedback from the Business Blogging Workshop that I moderated, so that seems to have gone down well. I have an audio recording of the sessions and will post that as soon as I can. I don't think anyone recorded my second appearance with Ross Mayfield and Mary Hodder in the Backchannel Round-Up panel, which was about as chaotic and all-over-the-place a panel as I have been on.
Some of the sessions were really great – highlights included stuff about telecoms/VoIP and Linda Stone's session on attention. But, as usual, the best bits happened in between sessions in the hallway. I finally got to meet David Weinberger, who is just the loveliest man and with whom I wish I could have spent a bit more time talking about the future of blogging. Joho the Blog was one of the first blogs I ever read, along with Nic Dafis' Morfablog and Neil Gaiman's blog, so it was so cool to meet David at last. (Of course, this means that of the three biggest influences on my early blogging 'career', I have only Neil yet to meet. Anyone's guess if that every actually happens, of course.)
I also got to yap at everyone and anyone who would listen to me about business blogging and the like. You can see me in action on CNET, talking to David about how I think blogging will develop and how it will affect people's lives. I was also interviewed by Internet News about marketing and blogging, and did a podcast on PodTech.net about business blogging. I also did another video interview with Jonathan Marks about blogging, and as soon as I have know if/when that is available online, I will let you know.
[On the plane now, battery holding out.]
Shock of the trip, however, was the email I got telling me that I featured in the top 150 blogs, as published in/on AlwaysOn. Chocolate and Vodka is one of the 50 'Honourable Mentions' – i.e. blogs that didn't quite make the top 100 but which for some reason someone found fit to mention in the list anyway. It's kind of odd to think that this little blog, so aimless and rambling as it is, should make it on to anyone's list, so I'm chuffed. Welcome to anyone who came here via AlwaysOn.
Getting about a bit, eh?
Anyway, have acquired a new client whilst in SF too, which is great and if all goes well it might mean a few more trips to The City. More news on that as and when. It did mean, however, that I had to cancel my day in New York, so apologies to Dan, Andy and Michael for not being around when I had hoped I would. Next time, I promise.
Huge thanks to Adam Hertz and Maciej Stachowiak for being most gracious and lovely hosts and for providing me with unlimited wifi, and to Kevin Werbach and Jeanne Logozzo for inviting me to Supernova and for giving me both the opportunity to speak (twice at that!) and the damn fine excuse to go to San Francisco at last. And thank you to everyone I met – everyone was so friendly and charming. I feel like I finally found my peer group.
Earlier in the year I managed to procure the domain suw.org.uk, the only half-decent suw-related domain not being squatted by gangrenous dogs. Since then I've been gradually adding bits and pieces to it for the edification and entertainment of future clients. Ergo, I would like to present to you my repository.
Don't be fooled – although the opening page is a blog, it's not taking over either from ChocnVodka, or Strange Attractor. I'll only be blogging work-related stuff there, and most of that will probably be cross-posted.
My good friend Mooc, or Michael O'Connor Clarke as he's also know, (and yes, I know that should spell MOCC, but MOOC suits him better), is looking for a job. If you know anyone who wants to hire a flack, please consider Mooc. I can attest to his infinite knowledge of flacking, his good character, his sharp wit, and his kindness. And he's a great for a good chinwag.
Please note: I am not being paid to say this. Yet. I'm hoping for a percentage, though.
Whilst I'm at it, I could do with more paid work too, as could Shelley, apparently. What is it with blogging and being broke? Are the two so intimately entwined? I wonder what a survey of the blogosphere would throw up? I have long suspected that those who are happily employed feel less urge to blog, although a suddenly silent blog usually implies too much work or some other crisis. I know I've felt less inclined to blog whilst wading through armpit-deep shit, but that should at least be over soon.
You know, if I ever became suddenly rich, I would start a Research Institute for the Terminally Curious, which would be a philanthropic centre for extra-academic research and poking about. I'd give grants to interesting people with just the remit to go forth and do stuff. The world needs more philanthropy.
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. No more than a couple of weeks ago I was sitting on a plane on my way to Vienna when the steward announced that if there was a Mr Lee Bryant on board he should raise his hand. Knowing we had mutual friends and were both heading to BlogTalk2.0, I went over to say hello.
Today I went up to London to meet up with Lee, his business partner Livio Hughes and the rest of the crew at Headshift, with whom I am delighted to say I will now be working.
In what has to be the co-incidence of the year, when I turned up at the Headshift offices at Butlers Wharf – a place I used to walk through daily when I first moved up to London in order to cross the tube zone 1/2 boundary and save myself 70p – I was greeted by Sigrun, one of my fellow Zoetropers. Who would have guessed?
I take all this as a good omen, myself.
So, what will I be doing at Headshift? What I’m best at – writing, blogging, talking to people, getting my head round the bigger picture and communicating it to anyone who will stop still long enough.
I am very excited about working with Lee, Livio and the guys. Not only are they a sterling bunch of people, they are also doing what I consider to be some very cool work using blogs and other tools as a way to create social knowledge networks within organisations such as the NHS.
I like their approach to the whole issue of knowledge management (a jaded term that really doesn’t do them justice). For them it’s all about finding out what the people who actually use the tools need to do and then figuring out what will enable them to do that. It’s good, solid, bottom-up emergent behaviour thinking, the sort of thinking that most companies appear to be allergic to.
Lee and Livio gave me a run through of what they’re doing, the projects they have ongoing at the moment and an overview of the way they work. I felt a wee bit like the recipient of an over-zealous Vulcan mind-meld as I tried to take it all in, but in a good way, obviously.
It’s going to take a massive brain dump and a lot of mind-mapping for me to get my head round all this new data, but I can’t say how much I am looking forward to getting my teeth into it. It’s the first time I’ve felt really excited about working with a company in ages. Good feeling.
Disclaimer: And I’m not just saying that cos I know they read my blog. Honest, guv.
It would be so much simpler if I just lived there. Unfortunately, I'm committed to spending two months looking after my parents' house and cats whilst they bugger off to Australia on holiday. Alright for some.
Me? Bitter? No…
Anyway, back tomorrow, if I can figure out how to get from Ringwood to here without the aid of someone to give me a lift. Oh, the joys of being a non-driver living in the arseendofnowhere.
In case you were wondering, the discussions went well. I am a happy bunny who should soon have a stable income. More details as they're confirmed.
Managed to catch the last part of the Social Tools in Enterprise Symposium in London yesterday, which comprised the last section of David Gurteen's Social Software Cafe, and Euan Semple's presentation about the use of social tools internally at the BBC. Very interesting stuff – Euan's a good presenter, as I suspected he would be.
The fun bit, though, was going for dinner afterwards. Had the chance to catch up with Lee Bryant, Anu Gupta and Phil Wolff, all of whom I met last week at BlogTalk. Also saw George Por, Matt, whose baby STES was, and his business partner Paolo. The fun bit, though was meeting Stowe Boyd, who is just a darling and seeing Doc Searls again, who is even more of a darling.
I was delighted to find out that Stowe's name is as much a creation of beneficent chance as mine is. My 'w' came from a typo some 10 years ago; Stowe's first name came from a novel shortening of Christopher, with a 'we' added a little later.
Hm, this has made me realise that I don't know why Doc is called Doc.
Anyway, after dinner we all pitched off down the pub to continue the conversation – which appeared mainly to involve hassling Matt – with eventually just Stowe, Doc, Greg Narain and I left. It's been a long while since I gave thought to matters geological, but with Doc being very knowledgeable about the subject, and Stowe just as clued up, we had a great conversation about earthquakes and the human obsession for trying to tame nature. As I was trying to keep up I think some neurons got fired that probably hadn't been fired for at least a decade. I'm surprised they were still there.
Great fun, interesting conversations and fascinating company. I managed to get a few photos before my battery gave out, although it's a small miracle that I remembered I had my camera with me in the first place. You know what I'm like.
A startled Anu and a suave Stowe
Doc. Demon geologist
Phil, just prior to revealing an important insight regarding the blogosphere
Maybe you should all be thankful that my camera ran out of battery at this point.
Off to Londinium again today. Have job interview. Cross your fingers for me. (Or hold your thumbs, if that's what you usually do.) Back tomorrow night.
I haven't posted about my Search for Gainful Employment lately, mainly because there's not been huge amounts to say. I've been doing some design work which has taken up much of my time, but, as you'll know if you've been reading this blog a while, what I really want to do is get back into writing for a living.
I used to work as music hack, writing mainly for the Melody Maker and trade rags. Those two years spent hanging out with bands and roadies were two of the best years of my life, if you don't take into account the fact that I earned sweet fa the whole time. You really can't live of £4k pa in London and so I had to call it a day.
Since then I think I've become a much better writer, something I put down at least in part to the fact that I'm blogging almost every day. I've certainly become more adept at networking, spotting stories and pitching.
So I'm chuffed as a small horse to say that today The Guardian have accepted a short item from me about… well, you'll have to wait and see. It will be published in the Online section either next Thursday, or the week after, and will also be available online.
This is my first proper byline for quite a while, and I have to admit, it feels good. I've worked on this pretty solidly since I got the commission at the end of last week, and I'm very pleased with the way that the piece has come out. I hope that, when you get a chance to read it, you will agree.
So, that's it. That's my 'Sekrit Projekt'. Hopefully, just the first of many.