Creativity Web

A Web Platform for a Life in Design

Externally tracking our growth, development, and emerging identity in newer ways.

Something dawned on me last night before I went to bed. I realized that all of these different aspects of my life are trying to come together in a unified way.

To put it another way, I believe that my evolving focus on computers, the Web, community, culture, personal development, organizational development, identity, social innovation, and play are all leading to weaving all of these things together into one thing.

That one thing is a highly flexible and customizable Web platform that allows an individual to express their life fully in many different ways and forms (i.e. short form, long form), thus allowing them to creatively weave these different knowledge flows of their life together and design something emergently new and innovative in the process, their own unique life path and identity.

Expressing Our Inner Selves Outwardly

What I’m talking about here is effectively building an open source Web version of a Second Brain. One that isn’t dependent or reliant on a third party proprietary systems which could potentially cause you to lose years of knowledge if the company goes under and there isn’t any way to easily export it and import it into another system.

The problem with trying to create an open source Second Brain right now though is that most platforms aren’t flexible enough to achieve this (including WordPress). For example, most people predominately still use social networking platforms such as Twitter and even Facebook because short form microblogging is infinitely easy to do on these platforms. This allows them to express themselves quickly and without thinking about it (which of course can be a bad thing as well).

In comparison, most people today feel that long form blogging requires much more of a serious intention, commitment, and effort to achieve. It shouldn’t be this way. Open source platforms like WordPress shouldn’t be hard-coded spaces primarily designed for long form writing. Microblogging should be built into it from the start as well but it’s not. Perhaps by the end of 2020 this could change, as we’ll hopefully have the ability to have full site wide block editing, including maybe the ability to customize which post elements to display on a per post basis (thus finally emulating post formats without the need for specialized post format functionality).

Seeking A “Profound Kind of Learning”

For example, one of the core developers working on the full site wide editing of WordPress is Enrique Piqueras. I discovered his Twitter account, which is fairly active, and later found his blog as well, which is fairly new but has a couple of posts on it. His very first post though entitled Writing to Grow: Why I’m Starting This Blog is quite poignant and enlightening, as he notes the following.

I want to take advantage of the more profound kind of learning that takes place when organizing and sharing your thoughts in public with the Internet.

Enrique Piqueras

This is an amazing intention to set because I believe trying to organize and share our thoughts, even in just having an intrapersonal relationship with ourselves, opens up doorways to learning and growth that we couldn’t conceive of or plan when we first started. That’s because we’re taking things that are internally subjective within our life and objectifying them externally, so as to be able to fully observe, understand, and manage them. In effect, you can’t manage what you can’t see.

For me, this is what the power of blogging can achieve on a basic level. You’re able to pull seemingly intangible thoughts out of your head and make them tangible with writing. And more often than not, you won’t make sense of your thoughts until you’re in the act of writing and things emerge in the moment from it. So it’s a very personally rewarding experience just for yourself, ignoring the fact that someone, somewhere might connect with what you’re saying and learn and grow from it as well.

Seeing Our Learning & Growth Over Time

But what’s interesting about all that I just said above is that at the end of Enrique’s blog post, he said the following.

If I do this right, I’ll reread this in a few years and cringe.

Enrique Piqueras

While I’m sure this was said in jest, it does reveal a deeper cultural problem with blogs and personal websites in what people believe they should be used for. They seriously need to go beyond just being long form writing platforms to being platforms of expressing oneself however simply one chooses.

In fact, in my own life, it was all of my short form thoughts and notes that collectively came together over the years (many not even on my blog) and started weaving together into something larger that made me who I am today, bit by bit. And when you have the opportunity to literally look back on your thoughts and life, seeing your growth, development, and transformation over the years, its definitely not with a cringe but rather with a sense of awe at the potential you have already achieved and can still achieve ahead of you.

All said and done, I think we just to need to let go of these “hard-coded” beliefs and expectations that are holding us back from reaching our own innate potential already within us. As Alfonso Montuori said, creativity is effectively just the process of “stepping out of our own way.”

Diving Into The Ocean of Ourselves

Finally I think a quote by Tiago Forte may be the perfect close to this post because it reveals why many of us might feel like our lives are scattered or without focus because they often are scattered across different digital mediums. But by bringing our Self together in one space, we have the potential to integrate our life and our identity by seeing creative hidden connections within them. We just have to reach into the deep ocean of ourselves at the end of our thought streams and pull these treasures to the surface.

Everyone is doing a constant stream of these things, but it’s scattered and mostly hidden. Your blog is where they become explicit and public, like a portfolio for anyone to see.

Tiago Forte, Creator of “Building a Second Brain”

Collaboration Between Theme & CSS Style Editor Developers

Taking the next step into the future of the Web.

While WordPress is moving forwards with implementing full site wide editing via blocks, my guess is we won’t see a viable production ready version of this until at least the summer, potentially even the end of the year, as it is a pretty big leap for people. That said, once it is implemented and people understand the huge paradigm shift with it, they’ll love the increased functionality and flexibility. All that said though, what happens in the meantime?

What I mean by this is that I don’t want to have to just sit around and wait another year before I can do anything new with the platform, I want to try to start making step forwards with WordPress in other different ways while this work is being undertaken. As I mentioned in my future of the Web and WordPress post, I think the next step after full site editing will be a unified HTML & CSS framework and even integrated site editing capabilities. The question I have now is can this future feature be emulated in some way right now.

Plugins such as Microthemer most definitely give a person the capability to integrate a visual CSS style editor into WordPress right now. Yet as I noted in my future of the Web post, it’s still a limited experience because every design pack style you can create and even export to share with a friend who could import it, requires that friend using the same exact same theme as well. Even more so, you have to create your own Scaffold (selectors) for each theme you want to use it on, rather than just having them readily accessible from the start (thus making it easier to understand what you’re doing as a new user).

Integrating A Theme & Style Editor As A Unified Package

To me, the ideal situation here is that Microthemer needs to partner with a specific theme developer, whereby the theme developer focuses on the custom functionality and layout side of things while Microthemer focuses on the styling side of things. Together they sell their separate products as an integrated package though, each empowering and simplifying the others experience.

To achieve this though, many things need to be done differently than how they’re currently done. The theme developer is effectively just creating a base template with content or layout customizer options only. Anything relating to styling (i.e. colours, fonts, sizes, etc) would be left out of the customizer. In effect, the most the theme developer creates in terms of styles is a CSS reset and base foundation with default fonts and sizes.

Now Microthemer, as the visual CSS style editor plugin developer, takes the theme from the developer and creates a Scaffold of CSS selectors within Microthemer and applies styles to it. What I just said here may sound obvious but it’s not. The emphasis here is that the actual CSS styles of the theme, beyond the base CSS reset, are actually contained within Microthemer.

Simplifying the End User Experience

Why is this important? Because if you use Microthemer on a theme that has CSS styles already applied beyond just the CSS reset, you create a situation where it can confuse the Microthemer user modifying it. For example, say the theme developer applies a 1 pixel dotted border around a post but Microthemer creates a design pack Skin style which changes that to a 2 pixel solid border around it. Now imagine if a Microthemer user uses that design pack Skin style and modifies it by wanting to remove the border altogether. If they delete the specific Microthemer style on that specific selector, suddenly it defaults to a 1 pixel border and they’re confused, since they thought it would be gone not change to something else.

This is why CSS styles beyond the CSS reset should all be contained within Microthemer. That way if the Microthemer user wants to removes a style on a selector, like a border box around post or a line divider between posts, deleting the styles applied to the specific selector easily achieves this. The other way though, if the theme has CSS styles beyond the CSS reset, to remove them requires actually applying additional Microthemer styles to counteract and remove the original theme’s styles.

Again instead of waiting around for a pair of developers to think about this and do it, I should just do it myself. In effect, I already have Microthemer, so I just need a start theme pack of some kind that has little or no style settings (i.e. fonts, colours, etc) but primarily just content and layout options. I then create the Scaffold selectors in Microthemer for this starter theme and apply a Skin style settings to it.


My Original Vision of the Web Evolving Now

Removing hard-coded functionality to empower people with increased flexibility.

All this talk about the future of WordPress and how it is starting to align with a vision I had a decade ago for a next generation CMS got me nostalgic with seeing if I could find some evidence of this vision in the past. Interestingly enough, while searching back within my emails, I actually discovered conversations I had with Anthony Casalena, the Founder of Squarespace, about frustrations with Squarespace’s evolution at the time and how it differed from what I was envisioning.

Block Based Content & Layouts

The first instance I found was back in May 7th, 2010, where I was telling Anthony in an email of trying to help a client using Squarespace Version 5 and figuring out a hack to effectively use multiple posts within the list view of a Journal (blog) module as layout “blocks” to emulate a single page grid layout. The reason I came up with this hack was because no web platform had come up with a way to do this yet at the time, yet end users were seeing it done on hand coded sites, so were wondering why they couldn’t do it yet and even attempting to do it with horrible results, as noted below.

You’ve probably seen it yourself. Someone asking on the forums how to layout three blocks of text side by side in a horizontal row. For most end users, this is like trying to part the Red Sea. I’ve even seen one recent client go so far as to use the space bar and broken lines of text to emulate this effect. It’s both hilarious and sad to see at the same time.

Nollind Whachell in a conversation with Anthony Casalena, May 7th, 2010

What’s interesting is that Anthony was already thinking about this as well and informed me that Version 6 of Squarespace, which was being worked on at the time and would be released two years later, would overcome this problem by introducing block based content and a grid system to lay them out with which Squarespace called the Layout Engine. So this was the first major hurdle that I wanted to see overcome.

The only downside to this approach though is that I wanted this solution to be site wide, so you could layout your entire site this way. A radical leap at the time, yes, but Squarespace Version 6 was a complete rewrite of the entire platform, so if it had been on the table then I think it could have given Squarespace an even farther head start than other companies. Today, a decade later, Squarespace still hasn’t transitioned to this capability yet and WordPress, one of the few companies I thought would never tackle this, is finally taking its first steps in trying to achieve this which is simply amazing.

Squarespace’s Greatest Strength Was Its Flexibility

In understanding where I was going with this all, I was envisioning a CMS platform that was highly flexible and customizable for the end user, that put power of Web design in their hands without the need to code. To understand what I’m trying to get at here, this goes way beyond just block based content and grid layouts within the content area of posts and pages. In effect, I was even envisioning ways in which the end user could even manipulate and customize normally hard-coded functionality using a visual script engine (which I believe Drupal has something similar now but I’ve forgotten the name of it).

This was the beauty of Squarespace in Version 4 and 5, you could take a Journal (blog) module and make it emulate a lot of different things. For example, by changing the sort order in the module options area, making it sort alphabetically by the title rather than sort reverse date order by the post date, you could turn a Journal module into a company directory, even adding categories to show which people were in which department.

Going further than this, I was even envisioning how different modules such as the Journal module (with comment threads) and the Forum module (with response threads) were effectively the same thing on the backend in terms of content but it was just how the content was displayed on the front-end, along with additional different list views, that made them look different. So if you could remove this hard-coded functionality and change it to a set of flexibly, functional options, you could open up the platform and make it much more flexible overall, going even beyond just blogging and simple site building.

Creating A Platform Flexibly Expressive To Its Very Core

If you think about this, this was the core of my vision. It was making the platform more flexible by breaking it down into smaller bits. So wherever there was hard-code functionality, I wanted to see it removed and replaced with simple yet powerful options that allowed for numerous customizations. Another email conversation with Anthony later in October 4th, 2012 highlights this when I indicate my frustrations with the direction of Version 6 of Squarespace and what I was looking for instead with my own CMS vision.

As I’ve always said, SQ greatest strengths were it’s core features but more importantly because of how those core features were highly flexible (i.e. use a journal module for a variety of things).

What my CMS concept does is expand upon that, so instead of building on top of these core features (like every weighed down CMS platform out there today), I break down the core features even more so, so as to make them even more flexible and customizable (and without the need for custom fields, for the most part). This probably won’t make sense but a lot of the ideas for this came from my research in cultural behaviours because most CMS platforms assume functional behaviours when they shouldn’t.

Nollind Whachell in a conversation with Anthony Casalena, October 4th, 2012

What I meant by “cultural behaviours” is that within most companies today, everything is culturally “hard-coded” in the same way and thus there is little room for freedom and autonomy in organizations which is what people need if they want to have the flexibility to express themselves as real human beings. So Web platforms are mirroring this hard-coded functionality in the same way and we need to remove as much of it as we can to create platforms that are truly empowering and flexible for people.

Replacing Specialized Functions With Flexible Functionality

Here’s a quick example of what I mean. Most Web platforms hard-code sidebars as a separate unique function with separate unique content block functionality within them called widgets (which requires a lot of programming time to do so). Yet what WordPress is doing now, by breaking down their system into smaller parts and replacing them with universal blocks, is that you can replace a lot of these many different hard-coded functionalities with these flexible, universal building blocks instead. So now what the WordPress full site editing experience is beginning to show is that a “sidebar” is now nothing more than an additional block column and the “widgets” within it are now just blocks as well.

All said and done, this creates a platform that is much more flexible, customizable, and expressive for the end user overall, empowering them to do more with it than they could have ever possibly imagined before. That’s my future of the Web that I started envisioning over a decade ago and where I want to see it continue to grow and evolve in the decades ahead.


My Vision of The Future of the Web & WordPress

Integrating and organizing structure, content, layout, and styles.

The last couple of days I’ve been reviewing a variety of aspects of using WordPress and I’ve come to realize something with regards to what I want to see happen with the Web and how WordPress can get us there…if it evolves in the right way.

To understand where I want things to go though, you have to understand where I’ve come from though.

Back around 1996, I actually started building online community sites around video games and shared information and news about these video games upon my site (before the word “blog” was really a word). This was all hand crafted HTML coding with no backend engine to generate posts or pages.

In the new millennium, I wanted to reduce the tediousness of crafting everything by hand and so I start fooling around with Radio Userland and later Movable Type. Both had their strengths and weaknesses, with aspects of them still more innovative than some current platforms today.

Squarespace: Great Form & Function

Sometime around 2004 though, I came across a proprietary platform called Squarespace created by Anthony Casalena, its founder and lone developer. Once I started exploring and playing around with the platform, I soon came to absolutely love its rapid and natural approach to site development. While radically different from the Squarespace that many know today (since Version 6 in 2012 was a complete redesign), the key strengths of the platform (solidified in Version 5) were its separated content, structure, and style areas (with style being further broken down into layout and style).

Another awesome feature of the platform in Version 4 was that you could actually modify parts (not all) of the HTML code of a template and export it simply as an XML file. With Version 5, the ability to edit HTML code was removed but you could still export a custom style of an existing template as an XML file. This was pretty amazing because it allowed you to easily share a template / style with anyone (i.e. friend, web designer customer) as a simple single file.

With Version 6 though, as I noted above, this will all lost. Squarespace radically shifted from being a designers platform to a developers platform. Now if you really wanted to do anything serious with the platform (or even sometimes something just basic and simple), you had to do it manually via code in the backend. Even worse, a lot of some of its best functionality and flexibility was removed (i.e. forums blocks, journal sorting options, etc) and the style area was severely neutered from what it once was as well.

Other Platforms Today

When I look at a lot of platforms today (even the current version of Squarespace), the main problem I see is a lack of organizing all of this complexity of the platform in a simple way. Note I’m not saying removing the complexity but rather organizing it so it seems accessible and simple to make sense of and understand. Yet instead of achieving this, they actually simplify their functionality, dumbing it down in the process, because they can’t figure out how to properly design an organized interface for their platform with great usability in mind.

With WordPress today, we see Gutenberg emulating the block based Layout Engine first introduced in Squarespace Version 6 and allowing WordPress to make a huge leap forward in terms of layout and design possibilities. And while the current version of Gutenberg focuses on layout possibilities within a page or post content area, future versions will allow layout possibilities for the entire site.

In my opinion, when WordPress reaches the point where you can modify the layout of the entire site, it will have to radically rethink what a theme is as well. In effect, if the layout functionality is embedded in platform rather than the theme, this will dramatically reduce the number of theme variations. In effect, themes will no longer differ based upon their layout but will just differ based upon their style.

Unifying The HTML & CSS Framework

When this happens, I believe WordPress will finally move to a unified HTML & CSS framework which was what made Squarespace so powerful for designers in Version 4 and 5 as well. Why? Because once you have a unified HTML & CSS framework, it will finally allow the fluid flexibility and openness of changing site styles on the fly without having to worry about the backend HTML structure as well. Yet you can’t do that right now in WordPress because the CSS “style” of a site is hardwired to the HTML structure of it. This effectively makes the styles of a theme proprietary to the developer and theme, rather than open to the community.

So by creating a unified HTML & CSS framework and by integrating layout options within the platform rather than within the theme, what’s left within the theme is basically style options (ie. fonts, colours, sizes, borders, background images, spacing, etc). Because of this, the Customizer will undergo a radical remake and restructuring which I think is sorely needed, since right now there is no organizational separation between layout and style. They’re just all mixed together in an illogical sort of way to me.

Once this happens and themes effectively just become about styling your site, I think the next evolution will be the creation of an integrated style editor to dramatically improve the user experience and usability. Think about it. What Gutenberg is doing today for layouts, allowing them to be modified live within a post and page content area, and eventually anywhere on your site, it can achieve the same thing tomorrow for styles. In effect, the ability to modify the style of your entire site live.

Empowering & Expressive Designs

While many people might say WordPress can already do this and I will even agree that it does, it does this quite meagrely and horribly. In effect, the user experience is kludgy, without any great design and usability put into designing a better experience overall. Some plugin developers, such as Microthemer are trying to improve this style design experience but what’s missing with it is a unified HTML & CSS backend structure to WordPress to really make it powerful and easy to use.

For example, Microthemer has the ability to import or export Design Packs which contain either Skins (styles) or Scaffolds (selectors). Yet the problem with this approach though is that whatever design pack you create, its proprietarily locked to the WordPress theme they are created with. So even though my friend may like my style design pack I created for my site, he can’t use and import my exported version of it, unless he changes his WordPress theme to the same one as mine.

This was effectively the beauty and simplicity of Squarespace back during Version 4 and 5. It was like as if WordPress had a unified HTML & CSS backend structure and Microthemer was built into it for free. And even more so, every installation would also have this unified Scaffold (selectors) with a bunch of Skin (styles) to choose from by default. Even better, if you customized a skin style yourself, effectively making a new one out of it, you could easily share it with a friend by simply exporting it and having them import it.

When WordPress reaches this point of evolution and integration, it will go beyond just democratizing publishing on the Web to empowering the design of it as well. I think this is an incredibly important point to mention because expressing and communicating ourselves goes well beyond mere words. If anything, Gutenberg is making this readily apparent right now by showing how empowering and expressive having integrated layout controls on a website can be.


Future Skills: Being Both Soft Specialists & Hard Generalists

Revealing the characteristics of future skills and how they form our future selves.

The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030 report has an interesting section entitled Action for Future Skills which highlights the following things that individuals will need to do to prepare themselves for the future.

Change mind-set regarding the nature of work, as it becomes less location-specific, more network oriented, project based and increasingly technology intensive.

Take greater personal responsibility for acquiring and continuously updating skills for progression and success in the face of limited investment from employers and government and increasing division between low and high-skill jobs.

Be open to and take advantage of new and different approaches to learning, for instance self directed, bite-sized learning, peer-to-peer learning and technology enabled training opportunities.

Be willing to jump across specialist knowledge boundaries as technologies and disciplines converge, developing a blend of technical training and ‘softer’, collaborative skills.

Focus on development of key skills and attributes that will be at a premium in future, including resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, enterprise, cognitive skills (such as problem solving), and the core business skills for project based employment.

If you encapsulate these things all together, you get a picture which looks very similar to the one I’ve been envisioning as already emerging for quite some time now.

We are radically changing the meaning of playing, learning, and working and understanding how they are becoming more integrated, whereby they are no longer sequentially progressive actions done at different stages of our lives—as a child I play, as a teenager I learn, and as an adult I work—but are now needed on a continuous daily level (i.e. lifelong learning) to adapt to this new world emerging.

Using self-directed learning methods, such as Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain and Progressive Summarization (or even just blogging or journaling on a basic level), we become more open, curious, and playful in exploring not only the world around us but our very selves, as we discover what pulls us and motivates us intrinsically.

Because of this, our imagination opens up and allows us to leap across disciplinary boundaries and see deeper connections between things that our previous conventional mindset blocked us from seeing, due to the rigid, limiting beliefs that comprise it.

And just as we are able to integrate previously separated and perhaps even marginalized bodies of knowledge together, so too do we begin to integrate the separated and marginalized aspects of ourselves, discovering a deeper, truer Self below the surface of our existing limited self.

In doing so, as we evolve and grow beyond seeing just the surface of ourselves in a technically, specialized sort of way (i.e. hard skills), we discover deeper social skills and abilities (i.e. soft skills) at the core of ourselves that form the roots and foundation of why we gravitate to certain technical skills in the first place.

Thus when we shift our perspective to seeing these deeper social skills and abilities at the core of ourselves as our real specialization (that everything meaningful in our life emanates from), suddenly we realize that every meaningful job or experience we’ve ever had in our life were just different, technical generalist perspectives or expressions of this deeper, specialized social self within us.

When we make this leap and radically shift from just trying to specialize ourselves technically (i.e. hard skills) to beginning to specialize ourselves socially (i.e. soft skills), everything changes and is reframed, suddenly make the impossible possible. No longer are we stuck in a “dead end” job with a specific technical specialization that has a limited “shelf life”. Instead we can now fluidly adapt to life as it changes because our identity and sense of Self is not contained in just a limited, technical generalist expression of who we are but within the deeper social specialization of who we are.

In this way, we are now like a house that has deep foundational columns that provide a greater stability during shifting seismic changes. Or we’re like a surfer or kayaker who wave after bigger wave can still remain upright because we’ve “re-conceived our own authentic center” to stabilize us. Or like astronauts traversing and navigate between worlds, we have created our own internal gyroscope to help us maintain a stable sense of direction.

Or perhaps most fitting of all, we individually are like an organization going beyond its limited, bureaucratic, conventional self by connecting up and networking once previous siloed aspects of itself, thus transforming and evolving it into something much more meaningfully human and alive than it was before.


Getting Out of the Way

When we’re our best selves with each other, I don’t think that’s what’s possible between people. I believe that’s what’s true between people.

And I don’t think we have to work to make it true between people. I think we just have to get the stuff out of the way that’s stopping it from happening.

Brené Brown

Articulating Myself as a Creative Catalyst

Using Holland Codes to describe how I don’t conform to the conventional.

While rereading sections of What Color is Your Parachute 2020 by Dick Bolles, specifically the section on doing an inventory of yourself and figuring out what type of People you like to be around, he mentions using Holland Codes to figure this out. While I’m fully familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Kiersey Temperament Sorter (which builds off of MBTI), and even personality systems that expand upon these both, I found the Holland Codes system to be an interesting new perspective of trying to understand and articulate myself better.

John L. Holland’s RIASEC hexagon of The Holland Codes

What I found interesting about the Holland Codes is that you’re not figuring out exactly which one of the six personality types (i.e. Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional) you are but are instead trying to pick the three (as Dick Bolles suggests) that triangulate and encapsulate you the most. Also note how the cross-section of the diagram helps you to define yourself in terms of Conformity and Sociability.

For myself, I immediately gravitated to the Investigative, Artistic, and Social personality types. Artistic is most definitely my primary personality type with Investigative and Social coming in second and third.

And looking at these three collectively, it becomes apparent that I abhor environments that promote rigid conformity and a necessity to “fit in” but instead prefer more open, looser environments which help people “step out” and be more themselves.

In terms of Sociability, I’m more evenly spread out. I’m creatively Artistic, not liking structures or rules, thus Investigative in researching new ways of being, thus helping people to “step outside” current Social systems and be more their true selves.

The most difficult of these three for me to achieve though is definitely the Social personality. I love helping and empowering people but was highly introverted as a child, thus was often afraid to step forward to help. But as I’ve aged over the years, I’ve found that my unique knowledge and perspective (and how I can help people with it), helped me to come out of my shell more and more. Virtual game environments, where I could role-play someone else, made this an easy first step within the online communities I helped to build which I later replicated offline within professional work environments as well.

What’s evident in understanding myself from this newer perspective is how clearly it defines me as someone who obviously does not want to be forced to fit into and chained to the status quo or norms of conventional society. And it reminds me of when I read the book The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, wherein they describe a Catalyst as a person with the following characteristics.

Catalysts are bound to rock the boat. They are much better at being agents of change than guardians of tradition. Catalysts do well in situations that call for radical change and creative thinking. They bring innovation, but they’re also likely to create a certain amount of chaos and ambiguity. Put them into a structured environment, and they might suffocate. But let them dream and they’ll thrive.

The Starfish and The Spider

That pretty much describes the Artistic, Investigative, and Social aspects of myself, whereby I’m seeking radical change and social innovation which shakes up and shatters existing social constructs and institutions, making room for people to step outside and grow beyond the limited, outdated beliefs we are currently living within.

But what does this look like in more tangible terms? The following additional quote may help out with this.

But just because catalysts are different from CEOs doesn’t mean that they don’t have a place within organizations. Top-down hierarchy and structure can be repressive to the catalyst, but some situations are uniquely suited to catalysts. Want to figure out an innovative way to promote a new product, expand into a new market, build a community around your company, or improve employee relations? By all means, bring in a catalyst.

The Starfish and The Spider

I’ve helped to promote a new product, built a community, and improved employee relations, as noted above. But what’s critical to understand about these things is that I often did them as a disruptive catalyst, often going against and not conforming with the structured, conventional norms to achieve them.

This is why I most definitely do not fit into conventionally structured companies which are specifically looking for people to fit into an exist space, silo, or slot. I’m not optimizing for fitting into siloed slots. I’m optimizing for stepping out of them and discovering new slots or spaces that are often unseen and invisible to most people but with which can hold enormous potential and possibilities for helping people grow and become who they truly are, rather than just being who they are expected to be.

The question though is “Are there companies out there who embody these characteristics I’m looking for?” As I’ve said before, especially within the city of Vancouver, BC, I highly doubt I’ll find such a company because the city is optimized for technical innovation rather than social innovation. Thus again, my only option would be to create the type of creative company that I’m looking for.

And the next question after that is “What would this company do?” It’s weird. I feel like I have all of this knowledge and awareness of this Big Shift that is going on but I feel like I don’t know what to do with it. In effect, I have no plan. But perhaps that’s my problem. I’m trying to figure out what to do before I actually do it and only by doing something will the natural plan emerge over time. This mirrors the process of writing in that often only by starting to write something do the words actually emerge in the moment and not beforehand.

What is becoming evident to me though is that even though I don’t know what I should be doing, I am greatly aware of things that a conventional person and company are often completely aware of (i.e. this Big Shift occurring societally and understanding why the changes are occurring). Perhaps that’s a simple starting point. Sharing my awareness and advocating the aspects of that awareness to those who are starting to get a glimpse of this awareness as well and wish to learn more about it.


The Future of Work is Being Yourself

Connecting, Empowering, and Inspiring Yourself

Tiago Forte has two recent posts that are profoundly important to understanding The Future of Work that is emerging right now but with which most companies are completely blind to seeing. The reason for this is because most companies are looking at iterative changes to the existing central landscape or curve, rather than seeing a whole new curve being peripherally created on the edge of society (which is how emergence works, as Margaret Wheatley highlights in her book So Far From Home).

Let’s look deeper at the main principles that Luhmann used in his work, which Ahrens has adapted to the modern age. The explosion of technology and connectivity has inundated us with an overabundance of information. These principles go a long way toward reestablishing the boundaries and constraints that creativity needs to thrive.

Tiago Forte, How To Take Smart Notes

How To Take Smart Notes: 10 Principles to Revolutionize Your Note-Taking and Writing provides us with insights into how The Future of Work will work from an individual perspective rather than than an organizational one. Yet by understanding how individuals will radically reframe how they work, we can also get a glimpse of how organizations (as a “body of people”) will radically reframe themselves collectively in turn to align with these principles as well.

We all hunger for a feeling of connection – to each other, to a community, and to a cause that is greater than ourselves. But that feeling – and it really is a feeling in the body – starts with being connected to ourselves. To every part of ourselves, not just the parts we approve of. Once we have that feeling like a treasure deep in our gut, it can grow and spread to every other part of our lives.

Tiago Forte, Groundbreakers

Groundbreakers: My Journey Healing Trauma, Unleashing Anger, and Awakening the Vagus Nerve provides us with insights as to why we need to radically shift how we’re currently working. To put it simply, our current culture and our current way of working (based off of this culture) is literally killing us from the inside out. The future isn’t about shutting down, deadening, and marginalizing inner aspects of ourselves to maximize our efficiency (becoming mindless, robotic “zombies” in the process) but rather an awakening and expression of our whole selves by connecting up and bridging all that we uniquely are to our work to maximize our humanity.

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.

E.E. Cummings

When we put these two posts together, we begin to realize that The Future of Work is something much more playful than we previously envisioned it was. It’s a quest, an adventurous exploration of who we truly are. This is why I’ve mentioned before that The Future of Work is about playing, learning, and working on simply being nobody-but-yourself. In effect, getting out of our own way and letting ourselves naturally unfold and emerge in the process.


Helping People to Authentically Adapt

Going beyond our “hard” shells and understanding our “powerfully soft” centers.

Last night, my wife and I had some company over. Getting to know each other better, the usual question of “What do you do?” was asked of me.

I replied that I wasn’t so sure you could conventionally encapsulate what I did in a couple of words that would make sense to most people. I then proceeded to say that I researched Creativity, Social Innovation, and The Future of Work but that the interesting twist was that it all arose out of playing games online and building communities around these games.

I then told a simple story of how I got here. I meandered from being on top of the world as a Senior Web Developer building community hubs for notable video game publishers, sinking to the lows being unemployed due to the ways companies caused the Dot-Com Bubble and its crash, to realizing that my previous experience building communities online mirrored how The Future of Work will effectively work as well (as IBM correlates in their 2007 Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders report).

Our guests connected with what I was saying and even chimed in with their own experiences. For example, the husband indicated that the place he was working at didn’t value the warehouse staff who helped keep the company operational on a daily basis but rather saw them as disposable. Yet he indicated, that he was emerging as a leader, trying to become a bridge between management and the staff, listening to co-workers frustrations and issues on a daily basis but management not listening and not caring. I felt deeply for him because his experience mirrored one I’ve had in the past as well, almost exactly.

Two Words That Encapsulate My Work

This morning, while going over some past research and discovering some newer avenues, I kind of kept stepped back, more and more, to try to get this bigger picture and perspective of what my life’s work was about and how it related to me. Suddenly something clicked and I discovered a word that resonated not only with me but would probably resonate with others as well, encapsulating what I was trying to help individuals and organizations with.


That’s it. I was trying to help people adapt. In the business world, many people may use many other words like transition or transform a business but really what they’re simply saying is they’re trying to help a company and its people adapt to the times.

Even when I talk about Creativity, Social Innovation, The Future of Work, and Play in a larger context, the whole purpose of these things are to help people adapt. Even the focus of Be Real Creative, as a creative company of mine, is to help people adapt.

But just saying that makes me realize a second word is need to clarify how we need to adapt.


In effect, I’m not just trying to help people adapt to the times we’re in. I’m trying to help them adapt authentically. In other words, I help them adapt by moving them closer to who they truly are, deep down inside, rather than moving them farther away from their true selves. This mirrors with what Margaret Wheatley said about species paradoxically “changing so that they can stay the same.”

Learning to Adapt Softly First

Now if you look at most conventional organizations today, they aren’t adapting to the times at all. They’re completely stuck in the past and, even worse, aren’t even aware of it. These companies are like dinosaurs that will die out because they’d rather stick to old, outdated beliefs and methods that are weighing them down.

But even if you look at post-conventional companies today, who do realize the importance of adapting to the times we’re in, they’re not understanding that the way you adapt is just as essential as adapting itself. Right now, most of these companies are singing a narrative of job and skill retraining. This is important but the why and how of it is also essential.

Why? Because we’re entering a period of exponential change. By the time a person comes out of job retraining, their new job may be obsolete as well. That would be pretty brutal for someone to experience again, just after losing their previous job. This is why it’s not about helping people to adapt to a new job but instead helping people to adapt as a life skill. And to do that, you really need to go way down the rabbit hole and understand a person on a really deep level, understanding the roots and intrinsic motivations of their life that they are probably not even aware of yet.

This is why most companies, even post-conventional ones, are missing the boat to the bigger picture here. They keep focusing on the skills gap but primarily just hard (technical) skills. In fact, if you think about it, most of the hard skills that are in demand right now are programming, robotic, or AI skills which are helping to alleviate the need for hard skills in more physical or mundane rote work. The irony of this is hilarious, yet sad at the same time for many people losing their jobs because of this.

But this is why this skills gap is the right focus but it’s focusing on the wrong types of skills to teach people first. We should be teaching people soft (social) skills first, sometimes called transferable skills, which some are now calling “power skills” because they’re so essential to the times, when everything is so rapidly changing.

To put this simply, until you can help a person truly understand themselves and their abilities and talents at a much deeper level that goes beyond a conventional job and a conventional career, they will never be able to flexibly adapt repeatedly, which is what they need to be able to do to survive in this future emerging presently all around us. As John Seely Brown describes it, we need to go beyond being just sailors, tacking and “pivoting” occasionally, and instead become kayakers in a “white water world” of ongoing change on a daily level.

Discovering a Sense of Stability Within Ourselves

What happens when a person learns these power skills first is that they find their center of gravity, as John Seely Brown describes it. This creates a sense of stability within their life that comes from within intrinsically rather than coming from outside extrinsically. In this way, people learn to chart their own course and path, that truly is their own, rather than what society expects them to be.

In addition, in truly knowing themselves, they’ll begin to see that the future is most definitely about increasing specialization but the specialization of their power skills rather than the specialization of their hard skills. And in doing so, they will begin to understand that these two types of skills are actually connected together, in that we will be power skill specialists and hard skill generalists, learning hard skills only as needed as noted below.

The rate of change in the workplace is increasing, and yesterday’s technical skills have quickly become devalued. That’s why soft skills like flexibility and adaptability to learn what is new and upcoming is mandatory in order to stay relevant. Meanwhile, a range of soft skills like persistence and motivation can drive a team forward – persevering and learning new technical skills on the fly as needed to meet specific project demands.

Ross Sedgwick, Soft Skills vs Hard Skills: What’s Better to Enable Tomorrow’s Team Success?

This pretty much encapsulates the evolution of my life. I never learnt hard skills because I saw them as a means to a job. I saw them as a means of expressing myself in a larger way. Once we make this shift societally, the passion, productivity, and creativity of people will explode, releasing their untapped potential on a massive scale.


Defining Play in a Larger Context

Stepping outside of outdated sandboxes of old beliefs, old behaviours, and old values.

I’ve been spending the morning reading a variety of work, interviews, and talks by John Seely Brown and I’m more convinced than ever now that his life’s work encapsulates my own life’s work more so than anyone else. If I could try to articulate this, it would be as follows.

We are a world undergoing radical change. Things are no longer working and breaking down because much of our social constructs have become social artifacts, as they are outdated, constructed hundreds of years ago. We need a vision for a new world but most people aren’t optimized for this because they’re so used to trying to “fit into” the existing world rather than “stepping out of it” and envisioning something new.

The main reason for this is that the social constructs of our older world were built for more stabler times. As a kid, you played, then you went to school to learn, and finally as an adult you got to work, being told to forget about play as “childish ways”. So our current world is so focused on “work, work, work” that there’s very little true learning going on (ie learning how to learn), and almost no playing go on at all.

And the reason for this is that we misunderstand what play is, the larger context of it. We see it as the opposite of work and thus something frivolous. But it’s not the opposite of work. In fact, it is play that helps us curiously imagine, envision, and build an entirely new world of work. Play is the embodiment of curiosity and imagination, stepping beyond the known and exploring the unknown.

This aligns with my own research on Creativity, Social Innovation, and The Future of Work, and more importantly why Play is the next logical big step for me. It’s because if you just focus on creativity and social innovation, you don’t go deep enough and realize how play is the single most critical building block for creativity. In effect, without play (aka curiosity & imagination), the process of creativity and social innovation are impossible to initiate.

So while creativity helps us transition and transform our selves and our worldview via social innovation, allowing us to effectively be world builders, it is play that makes this possible. Play allows us to effectively step outside of the existing social sandbox we’ve societally constructed in the past and step into a new space of possibilities where we can imagine and envision a whole new world and way of being.

Stepping back a bit though, I think it’s helpful to understand the power of play that most of us do agree with. Most people realize that play is critically instrumental in the development of children. Most people will agree with that statement. But as we get older, this value of play seems to be lost and no longer needed. What I’m trying to say here is that because our world is becoming much less stable and radically changing, we need to remember this power of play and reapply it to the greater context of our lives again because we need to learn how to further develop ourselves, if we want to evolve and adapt to the newer world emerging around us.

Again this is why we need to let go of these myths of play and start seeing it in a much larger context, applied continually and cyclically to our daily lives. I think John’s clarification of how he perceives of play will help in understanding this.

Yesterday, I did a talk and I learned how the term play might get misinterpreted, especially in the Singaporean context, if not all contexts. The kind of play that I think about is in terms of the disposition to push the boundaries of a system. It is to understand what the edge is like, and to understand how I might transform a constraint into a resource. Therefore, it is not about “serious” play or “frivolous” play. It is actually about trying to understand the pushback of a system.

John Seely Brown, Learning In and For The 21st Century

But John goes further and states the following.

I also have been very influenced by the idea that it is not cognition, but a nuanced form of play that advances culture. I am arguing that culture evolves when people challenge the system by exploring its edges, seeing how the system responds and thereby understanding it better.

This “exploring the edges” is a common expression used to describe 21 century leadership. But I would say it goes beyond leadership in the conventional sense, embodied by just a few but instead collectively embodied by everyone. In fact, just as communities and organizations must continually explore their edges, so too must individuals continually explore their own edges. By doing so, they provide and hold a space for what they are becoming to playfully emerge from them, rather than being blocked and held within by limited, outdated patterns of beliefs, behaviours, and values (aka culture).

In this same way, we can learn how aspects of ourselves that we previously saw as marginalized constraints can be leveraged as a resource, empowering us in the process. Another expression for this is “Own your story.” This embodies my own life’s journey, where play was instrumental to my own growth and development but then I reached a point where I believed it was a constraint because people saw my gaming background as frivolous and believed it not relatable to the current work world and even The Future of Work.

Yet John Seely Brown’s own life’s work is proving this to be false. Just as I saw similar patterns between The Future of Work and the online video game communities I helped cultivate and build, so too is he seeing this same thing. In effect, the people playing these games are building social spaces around them that are playful testing and role playing new ways of working, learning, and even playing. Put another way, their role playing a new way of living (as an integration of playing, learning, and working) that is radically different from what we believe it should be today.