Harnessing Quantum Creativity

The key to prospering in the creator economy is to maximize interaction while reducing friction. Generally this means minimizing the amount of input required from users (i.e., Twitter’s counterintuitive 140-character limit). They need to contribute freely and naturally without having to think twice. In Saffo’s view, the creator economy will reward businesses that leverage tiny amounts of user input. “The companies that will be the biggest,” he says, “are the ones that harness the smallest quantum of creative activity.

The Creator Economy: Futurist Paul Saffo On The New Business Epoch

Seriously fucking brilliant and so true.

This is so in line with what I’ve said before about how the path to the New World is found within the in-between spaces of the Old World (in other words, within liminal moments while we’re in transition between things, having a few moments to scribble or jot down an idea).

Mirrors perfectly with Tiago Forte’s vision of work being broken down into smaller “bite sized” tasks as well.

Also resonates with what I’ve said before how WordPress needs to get its act together and seriously tackle microblogging with the ability to embed articles previews (probably using JetPack) with full functionality similar to Embedly (or like pretty much every social network platform under the sun, i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc).


Nourishing Informal Leadership Everywhere

Learning to see and support what’s already right in front of us.

Yesterday I articulated that the current methods of trying to transform society as a whole, by transforming formal leaders of organizations and then transforming the organization in turn, are often limiting.

They’re limiting because they’re often inaccessible (and perhaps even invisible) to any individual primed for transformation because they’re targeting formal leaders first and foremost. Thus a person who isn’t a formal leader within an organization may not realize that these classes can actually help them take leadership of their life as a whole.

They’re also limiting because they’re often unaffordable to a person who doesn’t have a salary typical of a formal leader, since the classes can easily be in the thousands of dollars (not even including the air fare to get to the class). Thus a person who isn’t a formal leader can’t simply choose to take them in the same way a formal leader could (perhaps even writing off the class as an executive developmental expense), because the price point inhibits it.

Seeing Potential Leaders Everywhere

Why I’m so adamant about trying to break down these barriers that can be limiting people and preventing them from transforming themselves is because we are living within a world where there are often amazing informal leaders all around us, readily primed for transformation, but they often go unrecognized and unrewarded (even by themselves), be it within organizations or even outside of them. Richard Barrett in his book Evolutionary Coaching reiterates this when he mentions a quote from Bill George’s book True North.

An enormous vacuum in leadership exists today—in business, politics, government, education, religion, and nonprofit organisations. Yet there is no shortage of people with the capacity for leadership. The problem is we have a wrongheaded notion of what constitutes a leader, driven by an obsession with leaders at the top.

Bill George, True North

And I would even go so far as to say that because of this “wrongheaded notion” of what constitutes a leader, most conventional organizations today are actually impeding the natural leadership capacities and growth of their people, rather than helping to foster and nourish them. When this happens, these people often need an “exist strategy” of some kind to find environments more conducive to their growth, as Richard Barrett notes below.

If the cultures they are embedded in hinder them in their developmental journey you may need to help your clients develop an exit strategy: help them find an organisation, community or society that will be better able to support them in their human emergence.

Richard Barrett, Evolutionary Coaching

Informal Platforms for Creative Growth

Thinking back on my own journey, particularly around the 1990s with the emergence of the Internet and Web, I could tell that I was looking for something more in my professional work life but I wasn’t finding it. I think this is why the background of my life starting shifting more to the foreground. In effect, I started to create and cultivate communities online around video games, becoming a leader within them, which in turn helped me to take leadership of the growth of my life in ways that formal work environments and organizations weren’t letting me do.

However, interestingly enough near the end of the 1990s, because I was becoming more and more comfortable and confident in my abilities, both as a Web developer / designer and as a leader, I leaped at the opportunity to work within a local web firm which built online communities hubs for some of the largest video game developers at the time (i.e. Sierra Studios, Activision, Konami). Even though it was initially just a junior position, within six months I had quickly become a Senior Web Developer within the company and was mentoring others on standards and emerging best practices, even in areas outside of my usual expertise (i.e. proposal writing, etc).

This is what I’m trying to get at as a whole. We need different informal platforms for growth and leadership because our existing formal institutional platforms are often still working on a lower level of consciousness which is often limiting our growth. Therefore if we can find newer informal ways of connecting, empowering, and inspiring ourselves individually and collectively, I believe we will see an explosive developmental growth in our society as a whole that we haven’t seen in centuries, whereby we will see community “guilds” overseeing the emergent practice of character development (i.e. soft skills) rather than just craft/trade development (i.e. hard skills).


Taking Transformations to Scale

Finding my own path, my onlyness, in being nobody-but-myself.

While writing out my last post on Leading With Values, a bunch of older feelings seemed to well up from deep within me and rise to the surface. I was transported back to my amazing time on Google Plus between 2013 and 2015, where I was able to connect up with so many interesting and notable people because the platform had this cultivated sense of openness to it.

The Expectations on The Road Less Travelled

Back at the peak of that experience around 2014 though, I remember Susan Scrupski approaching me and asking me “What is your ‘job’ precisely?”, as she was interested in knowing if I could “fit into” Change Agents Worldwide. I remember proceeding to give her effectively an UnCover Letter response describing how because I wouldn’t “fit conventionally” into the group (because there was no way they were going to make me sound prestigious to corporate clients) that I would probably be the perfect fit for their group (because I believed they needed people with unconventional, lifelong learning backgrounds to represent the future of what was emerging right now).

Reflecting upon that conversation and other ones with members like Celine Schillinger, I remembered feeling innately uneasy about me working as a “change agent” helping corporate organizations and their leaders to transform themselves. Why? Because it just didn’t feel like me in terms of my onlyness and the path I was trying to take (yet I couldn’t fully understand at the time). In other words, it felt fake and forced to me from my perspective which is why I’m glad it never happened.

To put it another way, it felt like being a “change agent” was just another newer type of expectation put upon me by the community of professional misfits and outcasts I was a part of. So when I indicated to some of them that trying to transform corporate organizations and leaders just felt wrong to me in some way, I not only felt ostracized for not fitting into society but I also felt ostracized for not fitting into this newer community of social change as well. It’s one reason why I’ve continually said I feel like I am “disrupting the disruptors” because I’m trying to take an additional step further than the emerging norm of others.

Seeing Every Individual as A Creative Leader

What do I mean by that and why is it important? What I mean is that there are already a ton of professional change agents around the world trying to help corporate organizations and leaders to transform themselves. In effect, this is pretty much the conventional norm now in trying to transform individuals and organizations in a top-down sort of way in which the leader is transformed first and then he or she is able to transform the organization as a whole in turn.

From my perspective, this seems like an excruciatingly slow and limiting way of trying to transform the world as a whole, especially when we need more and more evolved leaders to help tackle the “wicked problems” of our world today (as noted in the book Anti-Hero). This is why I instead want to take a more playful, informal approach that is much more bottom-up and emergent oriented.

What I’m talking about here is transforming every “individuatingly-primed” individual no matter who or where they are, inside or outside of an organization, to take leadership over their own lives for the first time in their lives. Of course to achieve this and target an audience on this scale means radically changing one’s approach as well. Your approach needs to be both accessible and understandable from the perspective of the primed individual it’s targeting but it also needs to be affordable for them as well.

Making Transformations Accessible & Affordable

Again this is radically different from the norm. Most transformational classes are in the thousands of dollars, which is why unless you’re working for a larger corporate organization, it can be difficult to ever get the opportunity to take these classes. Yet the irony is that the very people who need these classes and transformations the most are probably the people who can afford them the least.

This is why I like Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain approach because it creates a personal, self-directed system under the guise of productivity whereby an individual can begin to objectify the subjectivity of their lives which is essential (as Robert Kegan notes) to transform oneself in the process. In effect, the primary benefit of the system is its ability to creatively begin to generate meaning and a clearer identity for your life which increases your productivity as a by-product of it in turn.

For myself, I believe it’s even possible to step farther than this, using my own previous experience and knowledge of building communities of practice around video games as an example of this. In effect, I believe a more accessible and affordable approach is one in which people (if given the right structure and guidance) will come together and transform themselves over time on a weekly basis by using these meet ups as a means of sharing their experiences, stories, and questions that they are trying to tackle in each of their own lives.

In this way, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey becomes a sort of metaphorical representation of this ongoing weekly transformational journey amongst a group of people, whereby just like players in an MMO game, they following quests, go deep into dungeons, kill wicked monsters, and discover wonderful treasures. Yet in this case, the “quests” they undertake are the questions in their lives, the “dungeons” are the depths of themselves, the “wicked monsters” are their shadow selves, and the “treasures” they discover are the insights into their greatest gifts, their passion and purpose.

Transformational Role-Playing

BTW if what I just described above sounds strangely familiar to what people do when coming together to play role-playing games, you’re absolutely on the right track. In fact, that correlation is exactly how I realized that the communities I had been helping to build online were effectively how organizations would function in the future. That correlation was specifically found when I stumbled across the word T-groups which are a part of organization development. Here’s the meaning of T-groups as describe by Wikipedia below.

T-group or training group (sometimes also referred to as sensitivity-training group, human relations training group or encounter group) is a form of group training where participants (typically between eight and fifteen people) learn about themselves (and about small group processes in general) through their interaction with each other. They use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves, others, and groups.

T-Groups, Wikipedia

Pretty weird and wild how similar they are, right? It’s no wonder then when people say how role-playing games have changed their lives. Now can you imagine a playful approach that could transform thousands, if not millions, of people in a similar way? Seriously, I’m surprised that a video game developer or publisher (hello Vancouver!) hasn’t started tackling this already. It would be the perfect integration of technological innovation and social innovation.


Leading With Values

Learning how to creatively innovate & ‘level up’, moving beyond societally limiting norms, fears, and control.

Lisa Doig, Director of Corporate Evolution, gives an excellent overview of Richard Barrett’s Seven Levels of Consciousness (so much so that Richard himself thought it was ‘brilliant’) and explains how it can be used as a framework for development and growth beyond the societal norms and expectations of the Socialized Mind, as she notes below.

Levels one, two, three, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, the shoulds, have to, must. At level four, something happens that forces us or awakens us to break away from the conditioning, and it takes courage.

Level one, two, three can be victim and blame, or ‘below the line’ as we say. And level four to seven is above the line. So I take accountability for my part in that.

Adapting: Letting Go of Fears & Control

She also elaborates on what it takes from an organizational perspective to ‘level up’ consciously beyond societal norms, describing the fears and control that leaders need to be let go of before an organization can truly start adapting and innovating.

There’s not one organization I know that can survive in today’s VUCA world that can not be adaptable and innovative. But can you see it takes a higher level of consciousness to be in that place.

So this is also where we start listening to the employee. There’s command and control (at levels one to three). You do what I say. Level four is I’m actually listening and inviting participation from employees.

True Belonging: Unconditional Love & Being At “Home” With Yourself

She further elaborates on levels five and six which resonate with my own journey, as I feel like I’m trying to level up to level six individually right now but I still need to let go of residual fears still holding me back from fully accepting and unconditionally loving myself as I truly am. This mirrors with what Richard Barrett said about levels one, two, and three fears being synchronous preventions of achieving development within levels five, six, and seven.

In (level) five, I’m stepping into my purpose, internally. Level six is externally. If I’m living my highest self, ‘I make a difference’ but really feel it in the heart. Not like, you could be ‘I make a difference’ at level two to be liked. At level six, I know by my being I make a difference. And so it’s a really place not having do and prove anymore but be a mentor and be a coach because it’s my purpose.

What I find remarkable about this statement is that it mirrors the work of Brené Brown when she talks about the difference between belonging (in a more normal, societal sense) versus True Belonging. When a person achieves a sense of True Belonging (which I equate with level six), there is a sense of being truly at home within one’s Self at a higher level versus feeling inadequate and always seeking a place to belong within one’s ego self at a lower level.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Brené Brown

This shift from a lower level self to a higher level Self is achieved by developing a deep intrapersonal relationship with one’s self / Self which again is elaborated by Brené Brown below, describing this acceptance and unconditional love of ourselves as we currently are. To provide a different perspective of this, we all have this feeling of wanting to belong to something larger than our selves. When we achieve True Belonging, our (ego) self finally feels like it belongs to a larger sense of our (soul) Self, thus the ego and soul are finally in perfect alignment.

Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness–an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.

The special courage it takes to experience true belonging is not just about braving the wilderness, it’s about becoming the wilderness. It’s about breaking down the walls, abandoning our ideological bunkers, and living from our wild heart rather than our weary hurt.

Brené Brown

Note how this perfectly aligns with what Lisa Doig says near the close of her presentation.

In fact, (level seven) is who we are at our core. A human being at its core is this. We just have layers around us, like the onion, to unpeel to actually see who we really are and this is the journey of being a human being.

Mastering Creativity: Analysis & Synthesis

I couldn’t agree more. And what I find remarkable about this final statement is that I believe it ties into an intuition of mine that this entire life journey of development is teaching us how to understand and master creativity at larger and larger scales within our lives.

In effect, the first three lower ego levels are teaching us analysis which is breaking things down by separating them, thus inadvertently building up walls and layers of separation within our lives (i.e the masks or shields we carry). The highest three soul levels are teaching us synthesis which is bringing things together and integrating them, thus removing walls and layers within our lives, until we fully master creativity. When we do so, we are able to ‘swim’ with ambiguity, even becoming it, as the fluid creative continuum and source of our emerging reality.

The problem though is that many of us get stuck at these lower levels due to being unable to let go of our fears, thus never fully evolving and learning how to apply creativity to the larger context of our entire life and even the world around us as a whole. This to me is the core of understanding social creativity as it applies to social innovation and how our older social constructs of empowerment are now not much more than social artifacts of disempowerment and if we can apply creativity to them, we can let go of them and create newer, larger social constructs that can contain the complexities of the larger world we are living within today.

Dispelling Perceived Myths of Levels of Consciousness

Finally Lisa wraps up her presentation by dispelling some of the perceived myths that people might have when viewing these levels of consciousness and trying to understand them for the first time.

The most obvious incorrect conclusion people have is that higher levels are better than lower levels. They’re not, such as a visionary non-profit unable to deal with its practical needs. Instead the idea is to try to maintain a spectrum of levels, like multiple open gates in a sluice box, to maintain your creative flow which connects and aligns your ego with your soul.

And finally, in reality, just because we may achieve a higher level of consciousness (as a stage of development), it doesn’t mean we stay there. Life events, such as losing our job, may cause us to temporarily fall back down to a lower level of consciousness until those level lower needs are met again.


Trailblazing a New World

Understanding the process of exploring, navigating, and leading others to a New World.

Deborah Frieze’s TED Talk on understanding how change happens like living systems which she describes using the Two Loops model that her and Margaret Wheatley created at the Berkana Institute. In this case, as one system begins to die and disintegrate, another newer system emerges and reintegrates itself, giving birth to a new world and a new way of doing things (something which Margaret Wheatley reiterates within her book So Far From Home when she talks about how emergence works within it).

The way we’re trying to change the world is not going to work, and it’s never going to work. I’d like to offer a radical theory of change, based on my experience working around the world with people trying to solve our most pressing problems. This belief turns most of our efforts to fix our world on their heads.

Here it is: you can’t fundamentally change big systems, you can only abandon them and start over, or offer hospice to what’s dying. By big systems I mean education, healthcare, government, business, anything characterized by overorganization, standardization, regulation, and compliance. And I’m saying you can’t undo, fix, reverse-engineer, redirect, or reassign these systems. That’s because they are not machines, they are living systems.

Deborah Frieze

Elaborating further, Deborah discusses the various different roles surrounding this Two Loops model, such as the trailblazers which are walkouts from the previous dominant system.

‘Walk outs’ are the trailblazers. These are the folks willing to turn their back on the dominant system, eager to be free to experiment with the future.

If you’re ‘a walk out’, then you’re willing to feel ignored, invisible, and lonely a good portion of the time. That’s because what you’re doing is so new and different, people can’t see you work even when it’s staring them in the face. These can be difficult dynamics to live with, especially when you know you’ve done a good work, that you’ve already solved problems others are still struggling with. That’s why we, ‘walk outs’, need each other.

Deborah Frieze

Without a doubt, this trailblazer role is most definitely the one that gravitates to me the most, as it resonates with my journey so far these past couple of decades. Even more so, as I’ve noted before, I find the similarities to the Connecting, Nourishing, and Illuminating stages of this Two Loops model to be remarkably similar to what I’ve articulated as the Connecting, Empowering, and Inspiring stages of Social Creativity.

In this case, in helping to get to this New World, one is leaving the Old World (as the dominant system) and undergoes a process of exploring, navigating, and storytelling to not only reach it themselves but to share and illuminate the way for others to make the journey themselves.

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.