Beyond Working & Learning: Peter Gray on Play

“Play, by definition, is self-controlled and self-directed, it is the self-directed aspect of play that gives it its educative power.”

In an ever increasingly and rapidly changing world, more and more of us are feeling like we have lost a sense of control of our lives. Peter Gray’s 2014 TED Talk reveals how children today are feeling the same way, primarily because of The Decline of Play. By reintegrating play back into our daily lives though, not only can children benefit from this, but I believe we all can. We just need to redefine play in a much bigger context, just as we are redefining working and learning within a larger context as well.

Peter begins by recognizing the fundamental nature of play and how integral it is to our lives.

From a religious perspective, we might say that play is God’s gift that makes life on Earth worthwhile.

Now, here’s the sad news, here’s really what I am here to talk about. Over the last 50 to 60 years, we have been gradually taking that gift away. Over this period of time, there has been a continuous erosion in children’s freedom and opportunity to play, to really play, to play freely.

And he reveals how an essential aspect of play for learning is its self-directed nature, which mirrors how autonomy is seen as an essential aspect of The Future of Work.

Play, by definition, is self-controlled and self-directed, it’s the self-directed aspect of play that gives it its educative power.

More importantly though, Peter reveals how critical this is in creating a sense of control of one’s life, rather than feeling tossed around uncontrollably by circumstances which can often lead to anxiety and depression.

We’ve also seen a decline of the young people’s sense that they have control over their own lives. There is a questionnaire called the internal-external locus of control scale. There is a version of this for children, as well as for adults. It’s been given since about 1960. Ever since it’s been given, we have seen a decline, a continuous decline, in children’s and young adults’ sense that they have control over their own lives. They have more and more of a sense that their lives are controlled by fate, by circumstance, by other people’s decisions.

Now this is significant in terms of the relationship between anxiety and depression because one thing clinical psychologists know very well is that not having an internal sense of control sets you up for anxiety and depression.

Most importantly of all though, in learning to take control of our lives, we’re learning to be creative and innovative, not only solving our own problems but also learning to be empathetic in seeing other points of view.

Play is where children learn that they are in control of their life, it’s really the only place they are in control of their own life. When we take that away, we don’t give them the chance to learn how to control their own life.

Play is where they learn to solve their own problems and learn therefore that the world is not so scary after all. Play is where they experience joy and they learn the world is not so depressing after all.

Play is where they learn to get along with peers and see from others’ points of view, and practice empathy, and get over narcissism. Play is by definition creative and innovative.

In his closing comments, similar to how research on The Future of Work is revealing how we need to go beyond just “work, work work”, so too does Peter reveal how schooling needs to go beyond just “learning, learning, learning”, micromanaging every second of our free time towards it.

And perhaps, most of all, we need to be brave enough to stand up against the continuous clamor for more schooling. Our children don’t need more school. They need less school. Maybe they need better school, but they don’t need more school.

So it’s not so much about playing with LEGO bricks more often but rather playing, experimenting, and socialstructing our lives in a new way from the basic “building blocks” of it. In effect, we don’t have to play the existing “game”, becoming the things we’ve conventionally been told and expected to become. We can let go of these old, outdated beliefs and “play a new game”, one where we are more in direct control of our lives and our choices which resonates more clearly with our true selves, at which point our work becomes play, as Richard Barrett notes below.

You will know when you are operating from this level of consciousness because there will be nothing else to do. You will not want to “retire” because that would stop your life from having any meaning. There will be no division between work and the rest of your life. What you considered before as your work now becomes play.

Richard Barrett, Evolutionary Coaching

Featured image by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

The Known Unknown

Letting go of the separation between the known and unknown Self.

I’ve collected a lot of articles over the years, annotated them immensely, added my own notes, and have written posts on what I’ve learnt from my research in the process.

Recently I’ve realized that I’ve collected these things as “proof”. So I can show people them and say, “See! My intuitions are real. I’m not crazy. I’m not just making stuff up. There’s something here. Don’t you see it!?”

More and more I’m beginning to see this larger pattern that is impeding both myself and others. A pattern that I’ve been seeing arising for more than five years.

It is a need to be trusted before one trusts oneself.

It is a need to be believed before one believes oneself.

Leadership isn’t about waiting for followers to trust and believe in you before you “courageously” lead them. It’s about courageously leading yourself, trusting yourself, and believing in yourself. Or put another way, it’s about “following (your) Self”, the real you deep within.

More and more I’ve read from other evolved travellers that there is no difference between this “inside & outside” of ourselves. When we align with who we truly are, this separation disappears.

More and more I’m realizing now that there is no separation between this “known & unknown” of ourselves as well. Rather there is an intentional blindness which creates this illusion of an unknown. Yet in truth we see ourselves. We always see our true selves.

I have seen my true self throughout the years. I feel I know it now. Yet my difficulty is not in finding the words, as I always believed, but in finding the courage to express my truth.

This is why I’ve had to walk around my truth peripherally, not focusing on it directly.

Photo by Philipp Pilz on Unsplash

Like a wild animal within my wilderness, I approach it calmly, peripherally, so as to not to startle it. I don’t force my way towards it directly but wander around it, letting it get comfortable with me. Letting it come to me instead. Letting its curiousity naturally pull it.

In effect, instead of closing the space to reach my True Self, I broaden the space of my Self to invite it. Like the wide, opening expanse of a whole new world for it to play within and explore freely. The space beckons it, calls to it, creating a cause to explore.

I am what I’ve always been, am, and will be, regardless of what I thought I knew and what I thought I didn’t know. I see my entire life enfolded. It is not a question of making it happen but instead a simple act of just letting it happen.

Do I have the courage to let go and step out of my own way, opening & holding space for my True Self to naturally emerge, letting my entire enfolded life unfold?

I don’t need to “do” anything. 

I just need to “be”.

Immersing Ourselves Within the New World

Going beyond resumes, beyond jobs, and beyond bosses.

Back at the turn of the millennium in 2000, my life was having a turning point itself. I was working at a job that was definitely the peak experience of my conventional life so far, I was a Senior Web Developer for a local web firm whose clients included notable video game publishers like Sierra Studios, Activision, and Konami. I was effectively at the top of my world, a world which would come crashing down a year later, as the company I worked for imploded along with many others during the Bomb period.

Fast forward to today and this experience, this ending, was a catalyst in waking me up to what was wrong with the way work worked. Yet almost two decades have past in which I’ve read books from The Cluetrain Manifesto to Reinventing Organizations and it feels like not much has changed locally where I live. In Vancouver, while there are probably more “socially aware and conscious” companies, they pretty much work internally like any other conventional company out there in the mainstream work world. In effect, the greatest social change and innovation needed today, the way companies work and operate internally, hasn’t changed at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that transforming a company, just as much as transforming individuals, is a radically difficult thing to do. But here’s the thing that perplexes me. Why aren’t newer companies, newer startups, striving to let go of the past and step into the future, working in a new way from the very start of their inception, as it’s much easier to do with a new company. I mean Vancouver has hosted both the TED Talks and the BIL Conferences with tremendous success in the past. Lately though, this exuberant energy around changing the way work works feels like it has fizzled out. Again changing the world, even just changing your world, is a radically complex thing to do. 


I’ve been pondering this for a while, wondering why this momentum seems to have disappeared and a single keyword keeps revealing itself to me. Immersion. Or lack there of. Simple put, we are not immersing ourselves within the New World we talk about and wish to live within because we are still immersing ourselves within the Old World. Therefore, no matter how much you wish to be within this New World, you will never get there if you don’t let go of and step out of the conventional Old World. What I’m talking about here specifically are the social artifacts that form the cornerstones of our Old World which symbolically represent the governing beliefs that hold it up.

Governing beliefs, which form the basis for other beliefs, are the most difficult to change, because they are tied to personal identity and feelings of self-worth. You can’t change your governing beliefs without changing yourself.


Why we need to change these cornerstones is because they define our identity. So if we want to transform ourselves and our identity to work in new ways, we need to change these cornerstones. Think of them like the corners of a portal to our New World. Once we create them all and they can align and interact with one another, we can create a stable and sustainable portal to our New World, allowing us to not only step within it but fully stay within it.

The cornerstones of our Old World, our old identity, are evident once spoken. They are resumes, jobs, and bosses. Until these are replaced by new cornerstones, we won’t be able to fully step into this New World and into our new identities, allowing us to communicate and operate in a new way. They key thing to realize though is that in going beyond resumes, beyond jobs, and beyond bosses, our new cornerstones need to not only go beyond them in scope but also include and integrate them within this broader scope.

Growing & Becoming More

The whole emphasis here is that we are not discarding our old identity completely but are instead broadening and redefining it as a whole. In doing so, it gives us the creative capacity to handle greater complexity which is essential for this New World emerging. That said though, the experience still feels earth shattering. The you that you think is you has to die metaphorically, so the you that is truly you can be born (which mirrors Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey). But again by having these new cornerstones, we can create a solid stable footing and identity within this New World, so we can finally let go of the Old World.

Going beyond bosses to me is probably the easiest to articulate right now because it has been covered in so many books like Reinventing Organizations. Within an organizational capacity, leadership gets distributed collectively. So it doesn’t go away but instead transforms into something more. But that said, the greatest challenge here is how individuals deal with this. You have to intrinsically take leadership of your own life and create your own path, rather than extrinsically just fitting into society and waiting to be told what to do.

Going beyond jobs isn’t something covered as much. Many people think the Future of Work is new things within an old context (i.e. new types of jobs). It’s not. It’s old things within a new context. In effect, we need to work in radically different new ways, letting go of social artifacts that now limit us rather than empower us. Luckily books like Reinventing Organizations do touch upon this, loosely explaining how Teal organizations go beyond job titles and job descriptions.

To truly understand our contexts, we need to pull ourselves out of the classroom and immerse ourselves in the context, take action based on growing understanding of the context, and then learn even more as we reflect on the impact that we’ve achieved.


Going beyond resumes really isn’t covered by anyone, as far as my research has found. Yet to me this is a cornerstone that if changed could create a domino effect, helping to change the other ones more easily. That’s because right now, resumes and jobs form a bridge from which conventional work is achieved today, with a boss being the gatekeeper standing in the middle of that bridge. So if we can go beyond resumes, looking at the individual in a much greater, complex, and creative way, we have the opportunity to build a new bridge to this New World, one with much greater potential and possibilities for everyone. 

Letting Go in Mastering Creativity

Understanding the fractal process of creativity and how it allows us to master it in an ever increasing context, even allowing us to let go of our constructed Self.

I mentioned in my last post a personal “altered state” experience from many years back. Why I decided to fully share this experience now is because I noticed similarities to how this experience was so extremely difficult to replicate for myself (that I was never able to do so again) and how it mirrors the extreme difficulty in achieving aspects of the triple-loop learning process as described by Markus F. Peschl in his paper entitled Triple-Loop Learning as Foundation for Profound Change, Individual Cultivation, and Radical Innovation.

As I mentioned in trying to replicate my experience, my greatest fear was in not being able to return to my sense of self and identity because I had to let go of my sense of self and identity and fall into this space of both emptiness and everything (extreme darkness and light). The following excerpt from the paper is what caught my attention, as it seems to mirror this same very thing on an existential level.

The Fear of Letting Go

Letting go. In order to reach this state of emergence it is – at first – necessary to let go what one has discovered in this process of redirection and exploration of one’s own premises, assumptions, etc. “ […] you have to change from voluntarily turning your attention from the exterior to the interior, to simply accepting and listening. In other words, […] you go from “looking for something” to “letting something come to you,” to “letting something be revealed.” What is difficult here is that you have to get through an empty time, a time of silence, and not grab onto whatever data is immediately available, for that’s already been rendered conscious, and what you’re after is what is still unconscious at the start.” (Depraz, Varela, and Vermersch 2003, p. 31) Of course, this process can cause existential fear in some cases, because one loses the (epistemological) ground on which one is standing and which normally provides a rather stable cognitive framework. This is a well-known state in the constructivist framework (if it is adopted in a reflected manner). Being in a state of receptivity always means being in a relatively passive role which brings about a higher chance of being (epistemologically and existentially) hurt. However, surrendering into this rather receptive and open state does not imply that one is completely passive; rather, the contrary is the case: in a way one finds oneself in an active state of extremely high attention towards what is coming up without trying to project one’s own expectations, plans, knowledge, etc. It is a slightly paradoxical situation: on the one hand one is waiting seemingly passively for what is going to happen and on the other hand this is a highly active state concerning one’s attention and receptiveness. These processes of trying to get empty and at the same time to be attentive towards what is going on “out there” are well known from art and religious traditions as well as from Husserl’s phenomenological approach (e.g., the concept of epoche).

This is the closest description I’ve seen to describing the moment just before I’m ready to try to cross over into this altered-state. Experientially I’m cocooned in this rhythmic experience of deep breathing and visually seeing “waves” of something (or nothingness) drifting across my eyes, even though they are closed. As I said, it is in this in between space where I am neither where I am nor where I want to be. I’m just letting go, letting things happen, and letting things emerge. Again I’m totally passive, letting things emerge but at the same time very awake, attentive, and receptive to what is trying to happen. I believe this may mirror what is also known as “holding space” for others but on a different lower level of being.

But of course, again at the point where this “portal” of feeling emerges, as though I am being pulled through into an altered state that is greater than my Self, that’s where the “existential fear” strikes. The fear that if I let this happen, I will lose my self and identity and not be able to return to my Self. In effect, “I” will be lost forever within this in between space.

The Process of Creativity

One can describe that process as a U-shaped curve that is realized in a series of states: the left branch going down the “U” focuses on issues of observation, perception, sensing, discovery of patterns of thought and cognition, and on how to leave these patterns behind oneself in order to be cognitively and emotionally “prepared” for profound change. At the bottom one finds him-/herself in the state of presencing: it can be characterized as a condition of high receptivity and openness and as a state where radically new knowledge/ change can emerge. The upward branch deals with issues concerning the realization, prototyping, and embodying these changes in the (external or internal) environment.

Going beyond the excitement of seeing words that describe this altered-state experience I had decades ago are seeing words, like the ones above, that also closely mirror what I’ve been trying to articulate as the process of creativity for past five years or more. In effect, the three “branches” of this U-Theory (or as Peter Senge refers to it as “presencing”) are what I refer to as the Connecting, Empowering, and Inspiring stages of the creative process.

The Fractal Universality of the Creative Process

Finally, it has to be mentioned that this way of looking at profound change processes can not only be applied on an individual level (“individual cultivation”), but also in the collective domain of organizations, social systems, etc.

What’s even more remarkable is seeing the above words which I’ve reiterated time and again that the process of creativity is mirrored universally at both the individual and collective level. In effect, it is a fractal process. That’s why it’s not so much a linear process as it is a cyclic and spiral one. When one begins to see the “multitude” of themselves individually (and later how this actually leads to the Future of Work with multi-potential people working in a completely new context), one begins to understand this.

Learning to Master Creativity in New Ways & Contexts

If these methods were combined with approaches from other fields (such as phenomenology), a highly sophisticated and powerful paradigm for radical/profound change could emerge. This paradigm would not only have a deep impact on the process of how profound change can be brought about, but could also trigger a new understanding of science that is compatible with the constructivist approach and that has a broader perspective on knowledge, its dynamics, and its permanent renewal and innovation.

This closing paragraph really surprised me though because when I read the words “a new understanding of science”, I immediately thought of Dave Gray using the scientific method for his Lab of the Possible. And when I thought of that, I immediately realized I was seeing a bigger fractal pattern here, one that I was able to step back from and see it rippling outward at a broader and broader scale.

You see I have been realizing more and more that while the process of creativity has this universality to it, at the same time there are these differences with it as one evolves and grows through the stages of human development (ie Cook-Greuter, Frédéric Laloux, etc). In effect, yes everyone is obviously creative but obviously not all in the same way. What I’m referring to here is how a person learns to master creativity. In effect, like everything else (even understanding your passion and purpose in life), it’s not an off or on state but rather a process of learning, articulating, and mastering it over time and, more importantly, applying this creative capacity in new ways and in new contexts.

And if you look at and understand the evolution of moving from single-loop learning to double-loop learning to triple-loop learning, this same fractal pattern of changing creative context can be seen. In working towards mastering single-loop learning, one realizes and learns that the things within our reality are creatively constructed. In working towards mastering double-loop learning, one realizes and learns that the reality around them is creatively constructed. In working towards triple-loop learning, one realizes and learns that their very sense of Self is creatively constructed. So again collectively, one is learning to master creativity in an ever increasingly greater context.

My Experience

In light of some recent research that has verified a higher level perspective of the creative process that I’ve been intuiting for some time, I thought it important to relay an experience that occurred to me back in the early 1990s. Why it is important to do so is because aspects of this experience seem to closely mirror the descriptions I’ve recently read in a research paper. In effect, my life seems to be coming full circle and this experience seems to be a foundational moment to it.

Back in the early 1990s, I was living with my wife in Vancouver, having been together at least two or three years. While going to sleep one night, I feel asleep in an unusual sort of way compared to normal. I was lying on my back with my arms crossed in front of me and my legs and feet next to each other touching firmly. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought to myself that I felt like I was lying like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh being buried and passing on to the afterlife. 

As I drifted off to sleep though, I also noticed my breathing was very deep and rhythmic. The blankets on the bed had been pulled up enough that they were close to my face and mouth but not close enough to be touching. So there was this gap, a space, where my breathing was channeled and focused, making it more noticeable. As I breathed and listened to myself breathing, this sense of being in between this space amplified. So I was not thinking of myself in bed, nor thinking of the room around me. I was in a sort of in between empty space between both.

When I finally drifted off to sleep, the locations within my dream seemed very apocalyptic. I was on an abandoned highway that was climbing higher and higher into the hills and into a mountain range (reminiscent of the California hills used in the TV series MASH). Destroyed cars and school buses lay strewn alongside the roadside. In front of me, an overpass lay broken and crumbled on the roadway, as I continued to slowly climb up and up. 

Imagine being able to feel every single atom in your body and every single atom floating around you.

Eventually I neared the top of the hilly mountain range and stepped up and onto its peak. When I did, something shifted profoundly in the experience. It’s like I was no longer in a dream but what was happening to me was now very real and vivid. As I stepped up onto the top of the hilly mountain range, my body just lifted up into the air and I began to float forward off the edge of the mountain. My gaze shifted to what was in front of me and what I felt was so vivid it is hard to describe. 

Imagine being able to feel every single atom in your body and every single atom floating around you. That’s what it felt like. I felt completely naked, being able to feel everything at the tiniest detail. I could feel the air around me…the space, the emptiness, the environment, the flow (reminiscent of the Amy Adams scene in Arrival shown above, where her hair is flowing as she floats). In the background, I could still hear my breathing but it became a rhythmic part of the breath of this space. Small chimes could be heard in the distance as well. 

After the feeling of the space, I looked up and experienced the visual grandeur of it. It was like seeing nothing and everything at the same time. Around me, the black emptiness of space engulfed me. It was enormous, beyond comprehension. And yet in front of me in the far distance was a light, so great it was blinding. So there I floated, between a space of infinite emptiness and infinite light. I remember someone telling me it must have been scary, yet I felt completely safe, like I was floating within my mother’s womb. 

It was like seeing nothing and everything at the same time.

And then I “awoke”, if it can be called that. I opened my eyes and I felt like I was both back in my bed but also still in the space I envisioned at the same time. I could feel every cell in my body, hear the rhythmic breathing and chimes fading as I slowly looked around my bed room. 

I can’t remember if I told my wife of the experience after it happened the next day. I don’t think I did until years later. Where it gets really interesting though is that I tried to replicate entering this “altered state” again later, lying and breathing in the same way. I always came close to it, to the edge of it, but failed to fully cross over though because of one primary thing. A fear of losing myself in the crossover.

It was like when I opened this space in between spaces, I felt like the stability of who I was started to vanish. In effect, to enter into this space, this state, I had to fully let go of who I was. I had to be nothing and everything at the same time. The fear that arose in doing this was never the fear of letting go, which I thought it was at first, but the fear of never coming back to what I was. So this fear of being lost in this void with no sense of self, no solid, stable sense of identity. That was the fear that prevented me from crossing over and experiencing this experience again.

Considering Web Design Again

WordPress Gutenberg and CSS Flexbox & Grids are seriously making me consider doing web design again.

After being ecstatic about the future direction of Gutenberg and even more excited about the future direction of CSS Flexbox and Grids and how they both work together, I’m at a point in my life where I’m seriously considering getting back into web design again.

Having said that, over the past few days I’ve been reviewing where all of these things are at in terms of their development and usage to see if it’s worthwhile to start working with these now. Based upon what I’ve found, I don’t think it’s worthwhile getting on board just yet, at least for myself, due to the following reasons.

  1. Gutenberg is still probably at least a half year away from completion.
  2. While Flexbox seems to be gaining traction, there doesn’t seem to be many style editor plugins that incorporate it yet (i.e. Microthemer does include it).
  3. CSS Grids almost have little to no adoption yet, so I haven’t really seen any developer tools that I’d like to use incorporating them yet. Even more so, very few theme developers seem to be developing with it either.

All said and done, if I can find a theme developer that is really breaking new ground with Flexbox and CSS Grid within their themes (even providing customizations due to their flexibility) then I’d seriously consider web design again. The key thing in all of this is that I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel and relearn everything from scratch. Rather, I want someone else to invent the wheel for me, as a foundational tool, that I can then build upon and modify to my needs, as well as for the needs of others.

Update Jan 17/2018: Completely rethinking this.

What I just realized is that I’m no better off if I wait to dive into this all. In effect, I have needs in terms of my website right now and I’m finding most WP themes don’t meet my functional needs no matter how great they look.

All said and done, to meet my needs right now, I’ll may as well dive in building templates with WordPress right now since certain aspects of it will still exist when Gutenberg is launched, whereas other aspects will completely disappear. The key thing is to not to lose track of what will disappear when Gutenberg is released, so that I don’t waste too much time learning it, only to discard it later.

Whats clearly evident though is I need to map out both my current needs and vision of what I would like WordPress to become (i.e. my next gen CMS vision).

Update Jan 19/2018: Seems I’m not alone in this situation. Spoke to PixelGrade, a prominent WP theme developer, and they are in a sort of holding pattern as well, waiting for Gutenberg to stabilize and finalize before they fully test it and update their existing themes for it. Seems to me there’s not too much I can do if I want to work on web stuff for Gutenberg until it actually stabilizes. In effect, the foundation of my work will be based upon it, so can’t do much until that foundation is stabilized.

Update Mar 6/2018: Having spent the time trying to get a theme that works the way that I want it to for this site, I’m realizing that WordPress has a long way to go before it has the tools and structure that work the way I want it to. Based upon what I’ve read, it looks like Gutenberg may emerge out of beta by mid 2018 and I’ll reassess by then. In the interim, I’m quite happy with this Scrawl WordPress theme and the modifications I’ve made to it. It almost has a feel to it. Even more so, it will allow me to easily add content in a variety of forms, long or short form.

Update Mar 15/2019: More than a year later after writing this post and after reviewing a variety of themes, most with mediocre Gutenberg support at best, I believe I’ve finally found a theme that has the design & functionality that I’ve been looking for which is Authentic by Code Supply Co. While this theme isn’t 100% perfect, it is amazing and way, way, way better than many other themes I’ve reviewed. In fact, the back end Customizer area is awesome, especially with regards to the customization that can be achieved with the Header, Navigation, and Featured Image areas. In fact, I’d even go so far to say that it meets the design & functionality I experienced when using Squarespace and even surpasses it in certain areas. Therefore, in going forward, while I will probably not do full web design work again, I’d definitely like to use this theme to help other people “get online” in a simple yet empowering way.

My Past Towards The Future of the Web

In the 1990’s, I was fascinated with the emergence of the Web, as well as the emergence of online multiplayer video games. I built online communities around these video games in my personal time which eventually lead to professional work as a Senior Web Developer building communities hubs for notable video game publishers such as Sierra, Activision, and Konami.

Discovering Squarespace

After the Bomb period though in 2001, I went freelance and eventually discovered Squarespace in 2004 as a web publishing platform and I absolutely loved designing with it. As an integrated platform, Squarespace was light years ahead of the competition, incorporating a way to structure, layout, and style a website, all within a browser. Because of this, you could rapidly develop a website in just a few days or weeks instead of few months. At the time, I saw so much potential and evolving possibilities for the platform.

With the release of Squarespace Version 5 and Version 6 though, it was becoming more and more apparent that the platform was not going in the direction I had hope for. When Version 5 was launched in 2008, I remember being told you could build “anything” with it but after addressing my concerns, no public admittance of the limitations of the platform came out until a Squarespace 2010 Roadmap post. Hoping Version 6 would address these concerns in 2012, the platform as a whole was almost completely neutered for a rebuild, losing most of its flexibility and functionality to become more of backend developer platform, rather than the stellar front end designer platform it once was.

What I Had Hoped Squarespace Could Be

Throughout the years using Squarespace, I had been asked what I wanted it to become and I think in 2012, when I launched Evolution for Squarespace Version 5, I think this was a cumulative last ditched attempt at articulating what I had hoped it could be. Evolution was basically a javascript-based framework file that you loaded onto your Squarespace site, thus empowering it with more flexibility and functionality, thus overcoming the limitations of the platform.

The idea and inception for Evolution actually started out years earlier when I was much more involved in the Squarespace community forums. At that time, I kept seeing different people coming forward with the same problems and yet nothing ever got fully resolved or made easier. While I tried to help people out solving specific problems, I found that it was like sticking a finger in a dam that kept sprouting one leak after another. In effect, to solve all of these problems, a completely new way of working with the system needed to be devised.

While I tried to help people out solving specific problems, I found that it was like sticking a finger in a dam that kept sprouting one leak after another.

While Evolution includes features for incorporating Grids and additional Styles (i.e. magazine style elements such as hero images with text overlay options) on your Squarespace site, it was its Placement feature that was its primarily selling point. In effect, it allowed a person to move Squarespace content blocks anywhere on their site rather than just within the page or post content area. This was something not even Squarespace Version 6 could do.

Alas, while there was evident community interest for these features within Evolution, once people realized they had to manually activate these features using CSS “Activator” classes, they quickly lost interest. In effect, people wanted these features integrated into Squarespace, not hacked on top of it. Unfortunately most of these people didn’t realize that you couldn’t modify Squarespace core features, only Squarespace could do that. Therefore, without much further ado, my professional web design career ended.

Common Conventional Problems

What is interesting to note though is that after web design, my interests gravitated to community development and how that related to organizational development, more specifically The Future of Work. What’s amazing to realize is that upon reflection of both of these interests, web publishing and organizational development, both at their core have very similar problems. They both try to force people to work in limited ways with predefined behaviours of functionality “hard coded” into the system, rather than letting people flexibly construct their own behavioural functionality that works for their own unique needs.

They both try to force people to work in limited ways with predefined behaviours of functionality “hard coded” into the system…

For example, most web publishing platforms let you create a blog which is a collection of posts, formatted in a typical fashion, and sorted in reverse chronological order. The beauty of Squarespace Version 5 and earlier was that it didn’t limit you to this. Any end user with no coding experience whatsoever could create a collection of posts sorted alphabetically or chronologically by making a few adjustments to the block settings, thus allowing them to create an alphabetic company directory using categories to define the different departments of the company. In comparison to achieve the same simple modification in Version 6, you would need to be a Web Developer with years of experience under your belt.

Another example is the usage of blocks for content creation, which Squarespace itself introduced as its Layout Engine in Version 6. This was truly a ground breaking leap for Squarespace but it limited its usage to just the page and post content area, rather than letting the end user layout and build their entire website with it (i.e. header, content, sidebar, footer).

WordPress: Gutenberg

After leaving Squarespace, I did try to find an alternative platform comparable to it but nothing came close. I did eventually settle on using WordPress for my own site but I found its community highly fractured, all using different approaches, thus making jumping from one theme to another highly frustrating. In comparison, switching themes in Version 5 and earlier of Squarespace was a breeze, as all of the templates utilized the same HTML structure and CSS class Selector names, thus making it extremely simple to modify a new theme.

When WordPress initially announced Gutenberg, it first came across as a “new editor” that would provide enhanced functional and flexibility to WordPress. This somewhat peaked my interest and gave me hope for using WordPress for design and development again but what I really wanted was something that went beyond just the content area. Low and behold, after being out of the loop on the status of developments for Gutenberg for a while, I was stunned to watch a December 2017 WordCamp presentation by Morten Rand-Hendriksen in which he articulated capabilities within it that mirrored my own idea of a next generation CMS (see 18;00 minute mark of video), similar to what I had wanted Squarespace to become.

This to me is The Future of the Web. It is what I had initially envisioned a decade ago. That this same vision is being seen, understood, and accepted by WordPress, the most popular open source web publishing platform on the planet, just blows my mind even more so because it means they are building it for a community with easy sharing and portability in mind. I can hardly wait!

This to me is The Future of the Web.

In closing, let me just say this. While I’m thankful for Squarespace for truly breaking ground in using LEGO-like blocks to build a website, initially with “blocks” being page modules and then later creating actual block elements on a page / post level with the Layout Engine, I’m so glad it is an open source company such as WordPress that is taking this next big leap, as it will hopefully open up a new accessible frontier for the Web as a whole.