Archive for October, 2012

Team More Carrot 2011

For me, Burning Man has never been about epiphaneous moments or breakthroughs. It hasn’t helped me gain a new understanding of human diversity or my own potential. It’s hasn’t helped me discover the real me nor has it changed my appreciation for my everyday life. What it has been, however, is the best week of my year for the past four years (and five of the past six).

This year has been about a different kind of adventure for K and I, one filled with joy and fear and hard work and community. A bit like a Burn, but not really. Despite being immersed in and overjoyed by this experience I couldn’t help but feel some wistfulness for the playa during the first week of September.

I missed the smell of the dust. I missed the intense three days work building our camp, More Carrot: The Black Rock City Farmers Market. I missed coming together with friends old and new in Reno and the anticipation of the night before we hit the playa. I missed the art and the noise and the kaleidoscopic variety of people and outfits and moments.

It was impossible not to remember moments from Burns past. Of minarets at dusk and the trash fence at dawn, of PBR for breakfast and sushi feasts offered by new friends, bike obstacle courses and pop-up Chinese restaurants, of our wedding in 2008 and of watching a memorial service while on duty as a Temple Guardian last year.  So many amazing, moving, inspiring, hilarious times.

And I realised what it was I missed most: The uniquely immersive immediacy of Burning Man.

When I’m at Burning Man I feel so present with my surroundings I forget I’m present with my surroundings. I forget for long stretches of time that there is anything else I could be thinking of. I think creatively, I imagine, I sketch out future projects, but I don’t worry about my to do list or about money or question my relationships or stress about politics. I’m just wherever I am, engaging with the person I’m there with.

In my everyday life I’m seemingly-unavoidably scheduled. I have days I’m working from home and days I’m in the city, daily meetings in person or on skype or by phone. I’m engaged in a constant battle to keep my inbox close to zero and I’m throwing presentations together in the hours before I give them.

At Burning Man I feel almost completely unscheduled. This despite being part of a theme camp with shared meals and shifts to be done on the market and despite the other volunteer stuff I always do, whether delivering the Black Rock Gazette newspaper or serving as a Temple Guardian. Beyond these specific experiences which I play just enough attention to what time it is to turn up to I plan almost nothing. Maybe one musical act on a particular night. But mostly I don’t chase bands around the playa, I don’t organise to meet people at particular times or places, I don’t target specific events or workshops. The last three years I haven’t actually looked in the What|Where|When events guide at all. Not once.

Instead I go where the mood takes me with the people I happen to be with, mostly my closest friends but sometimes delightful new people. Sometimes we decide to open a pop-up restaurant, sometimes we play cricket, sometimes we go looking for art, sometimes we go to the steam bath, or a cocktail bar, or to visit friends. It’s wherever the mood takes us and it’s always the perfect place, close-enough. I never feel like I’m missing out on anything because where I am is always spectacular.

This immediacy brings a real freedom to it, a sense of being in flow, at one with space and time. It’s a rare feeling, something you also feel when you’re falling head-over-heels in love, during the birth of a child or in the midst of creative production.

I’d like to try to create more of this in my everyday life but it’s so much harder here. These meetings (mostly) need to happen. I love collaborating with people and making things happen and that means deadlines and meetings and to do lists. And without these structures and habits and commitments I really can’t get much done, and there’s a lot I want to do. This busyness stems from my purpose and my passions and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The key, I think, is balance. I couldn’t live Burning Man year-around. As glorious as it is there’s so much else I want to experience in my life and a satisfaction and meaning that can only be gained through hard work and sticking with something. Bringing immediately into everyday life doesn’t require giving up meetings or to do lists but rather cultivating time for reflection and to connect with others in open and creative ways. Bodhi helps me be more immediate (although also makes me more scheduled), as does time outdoors, catching up with friends, going to festivals and riding my bike. I want to live with the spirit of Burning Man year-round, embracing immediately and generosity and shared experiences, even as I commit to the hard work of making difficult things happen.

So, balance. An hour a day. A day a week. A week a year. Time without pre-established priorities, restrictions or responsibilities, without a to-do list guiding your actions or an event I’m preparing for. Unstructured time for thinking, playing, feeling, being.

Missing Burning Man this year has also given me more perspective on the big questions of whether and when to take Bodhi to the burn. Since we knew Bodhi was coming we have been discussing this. I’ve vacillated between thinking it would be great fun to take him when he’s young and to see him experience such a fantasy land through the eyes of childhood and thinking that it would be more fun not to take him and to use it as a week off (every two years, say) from the priorities and responsibilities and constraints of parenthood.

Missing this year’s Burn has made me realise more strongly than before how much I value the unstructuredness (somewhat: I still help organise a theme camp so compared to how unstructured your burn could be it’s pretty structured, but compared to how structured my life usually is it’s very unstructured) and openness of Burning Man and the immediacy I experience there. It also made me feel the loss of the balance Burning Man has provided over the past four years, the way it has inspired and recharged me, the new ideas and, new friendships and new insights into myself I would come back from my week in the desert with.

All of which makes me lean towards not taking Bodhi, for a while at least, and using it as a chance to step away and recharge every couple of years. I’d love to take Bodhi when he’s a bit older, when I trust him to look after himself sufficiently in the conditions and socially, but the stresses and pressures of taking a baby/toddler/tiny child to Burning Man would, I think, restrict much of what I most value about the experience. For now at least.

How do you create unstructured time in your life?

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Today is Blog Action Day, a day when thousands of bloggers around the world join together to explore and express themselves on a shared topic. This year that topic is The Power of We.

Together, we can do anything.

I really believe that. In fact I co-founded a company, StartSomeGood, based on the belief that we live in an abundant world and that when we join together and share what we have we can create the future we seek.

StartSomeGood, and all crowdfunding, is about supporting new initiatives with the capital that already exists in our community, rather than relying on government, investors and traditional outside sources of capital. We (the StartSomeGood team) believe that we (all of us) already have all the ideas we need to overcome the social challenges which confront us, already have all the changemakers we need, already have all the money we need. The power of crowdfunding is to bring all these things together, to unlock the power of we.

You see this play out in domain after domain – as we become more connected and the barriers to our participation fall away new possibilities become apparent. Our connectedness makes us smarter, more creative and more impactful as we share and collaborative, pooling what Clay Shirky calls our “cognitive surplus” in order to create things far beyond the scope of an individual alone.
The examples of our increasingly collaborative planet are everywhere, from Wikipedia to the 350 climate movement to startup weekends and the Social Innovation Exchange.

StartSomeGood is, on every level, an example of this, an organisation and service only made possible by this trend. Our team is spread across seven cities in four countries on three continents. We have hosted successful fundraisers from social initiatives in 20 countries so far. Every project on our site is utilising an emergent set of social tools to share their story and invite participation and support in new ways.

And many of these initiatives are themselves building tools to better connect us. From the speech therapy app Speech4Good to the Australian collaborative consumption charity network Dandelion Support Network to GalliGalli who are using open technologies to better map the history, culture and economics of Kathmandu in Nepal social entrepreneurs are leveraging technology creatively to address inequality and create new opportunities for their communities.

Greater connectedness gives We an ever greater advantage over I. Change agents, from activists to organisers, social entrepreneurs to muckraking journalists, have always been connectors of people and ideas, have always been recruiters and inspirers of changemakers and have always confronted entrenched interests and business-as-usual. New tools, including crowdfunding, has created amazing new opportunities for people with passion and purpose to step forward and make things happen.

So, what are you waiting for?

If you want to raise funds for your initiative please check out StartSomeGood and let us know if we can help you!

Image by artotem via flickr available on a creative commons license.

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Lantern-making at Woodford Folk Festival

I was meant to run a workshop on social change communications at Regrowth Festival the weekend before last, at 10am on Sunday to be precise. A few things went wrong with this plan:

  • I was given the wrong workshop title in the program: “Sharehood” (a collaborative consumption website which, while cool, I have nothing to do with);
  • Instead of camping with our two-month old we were staying in the nearby town of Braidwood and got away late and took two wrong turns on the way to the site in the morning, resulting in me arriving at the workshop tent twenty minutes late, which sucked, but not too much because;
  • Only a couple of people actually turned up looking for the workshop (despite a blackboard prominently displaying the correct topic of the workshop, so can’t blame the Sharehood thing too much).

Which is fair enough. I can’t remember a time I’ve been at a music festival – let alone at 10am in the morning on Sunday, when it’s possible, just possible I’m saying, that I’ve had a late night the night before – and I’ve felt like learning about social change communications.

So this got K and I thinking, what does make a good workshop topic in this kind of setting?

Festivals are experiential. You’re not there to spent too much time in your head, you’re there to run around and dance and see friends and listen to music and hang out in your campsite and so on. The best thing about festivals is how present-ing they are. With so much immersive activity and social interaction you find yourself deeply, completely, present with everything around you.

So to firstly want to go and secondly to remember to go to a workshop requires that it be something you strongly want to participate in or learn about. We decided it required a topic which is specific enough to give a strong sense of guarantee around the outcome – ie. a specific practice like yoga which you know you enjoy, or belly dancing which you’ve always wanted to try or permaculture which you’ve always been curious about.

There’s a two-word title and it describes a specific and knowable experience or outcome. But the topic must also be general enough that sufficient people at this specific event have heard about it and are interested. And it must be actionable enough that attending makes a difference, ie. the experience is either intrinsically satisfying (yoga, dance classes, lantern making etc) or you can imagine using what you’ve learned in the near future (a how to massage, permaculture, music production, etc).

We tried to imagine what we could share at next year’s Regrowth Festival (which will be back at its usual time of Easter) which is specific, general and actionable enough, unlike my workshop this year which, while somewhat actionable, was neither specific nor general enough to attract participation. We came up with the idea of teaching a “prepare for the playa” workshop to help people plan for and go to Burning Man.

This is specific enough to be knowable – ie. you know you’re going to find out about what’s involved in attending a specific festival in Nevada. It’s general enough, given that it seems like everyone has heard of Burning Man these days (all of a sudden) and those that haven’t gone tend to have a real curiosity around it, and it’s actionable, because if you’re planning to attend next year’s Burn in August you should probably be starting to plan a little, or at least get your head around what you need to plan, by April.

Hopefully this will go a little better than this year’s effort!

What do you think of our criteria for successful festival workshops? Did you miss anything?

Photo by jemasmith via flickr, available on a creative commons license.

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In Melbourne and curious about how crowdfunding can help you launch your project? Then this is your lucky week as I’m in town for not one, not two but FOUR crowdfunding workshops over Thursday and Friday. Two are introductory and free and two are masterclasses with (modest) cover charges, one focused on startups and the other specifically for social enterprises and nonprofits.

Whether your dream of launching a social enterprise, a nonprofit, a tech startup or a personal creative project these workshops are designed to help you understand how to give yourself the best chance of crowdfunding success.

The masterclasses will delve into the practical issues which will help you win at this new fundraising form: what rewards to offer, how to identify your audience, what’s the right length for a campaign and more.

Here are all the links:

Introduction to Crowdfunding, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, Thursday 1230-130 pm- only three tickets left!

Crowdfund Your Startup Thousands!, Thursday 6-830pm, with me and record-breaking crowdfunders Fee Plumley, Rob Ward and Kylie Gusset. Only four hours left to get $65 tickets! Well worth the investment to hear from all these experts on how to raise funds for your startup.

Introduction to Crowdfunding, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, Friday 9-10am (sold out)

Crowdfunding for Social Impact, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, follows on from the introductory sessions, Friday 10am-1pm. A deeper dive into how crowdfunding can help you launch your social impact initiative, only $20.

This also seems like a logical spot to mention that I’m looking to recruit a Melbourne Ambassador for StartSomeGood so if you love social enterprise, crowdfunding and helping people and think this could be a good time. Looking for a commitment of 8-10 hours/week. To find out more drop me a line at tom(at)startsomegood(dot)com.


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Modern parenting you guys

Monday marked two months into the Bodhi era and it’s been a joyful and exhausting blur. It feels like a massive journey already and yet it has barely begun. We’re filled with excitement about all that will come next, and delight in the constant tiny changes in Bodhi, the increased presence in his eyes, his new news, the way he now tracks objects and raises his head. Bodhi is beautiful but man he can be a bit of a baby, crying all the time, not contributing around the house, stuff like that. So it’s been a lot of work. We either laugh or cry or fall asleep on the couch at 8pm.

Which is totally okay and to be expected but I have other work to do as well. StartSomeGood is at a very delicate moment in our history, with some good runs on the board and a growing community but a lot to do to get where we need to get to to be sustainable. The next few months will be a make-or-break time for us as we relaunch the site and bring some new people onto our team. I’ve also been getting more involved in Make Believe as we explore the impending transition away from the last involved founder and what the company might look like in the future.

If I only had these two businesses (and my role on the Vibewire board) to work on life would be more than hectic enough, but I’ve also working on two major consulting projects which in a quirk of scheduling were both due last week, almost crushing me.

But I don’t want this to come across as a great big whinge though because I don’t really feel that way. This is just the reality of my life right now. In truth I can’t get over how much good stuff is happening and how fortunate I am to have so many opportunities to make a difference and do good work with great people.

Having so much on stretches my time management abilities to the limit. There’s something pretty exciting about having to pack it all in though, scrambling and hustling and staying up late getting the work that needs doing done, and balancing that with the demands of my family. I haven’t figured this balance out yet, things fluctuate too much from week to week and K carries too much of the burden, but it feels like we’re not too far off. The meaningfulness of it all keeps me energised and my many deadlines keep me (mostly) focused and somehow it is all (mostly) getting done.

This past weekend was inspirational. After getting those reports done we attended the Regrowth Festival, a stunning little festival near Canberra organised by some dear friends of ours. It was incredible to catch up with so many friends and see how far the festival had evolved since the last one I attended in 2007. And most of all it signified that life is on-track – that we haven’t gone to ground but will continue to live the lives we love, filled with music and friends and adventure. And a baby. All pretty amazing really.

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