Seven Years Ago
It’s Friday—the end of another work week. But this week is special. This week seven years ago I moved to New York City.
Seven years ago…
I drove a car with everything I owned from SF to Dallas.
I left that car and most of those things in Dallas with my brother. (He said that if New York spat me out, I could move in and get back on my feet before we told Mom and Dad.)
I subletted a bedroom that’s bigger than every bedroom I’ve had since.
I didn’t order anything at this restaurant because I was worried about money.
But I did eat a lot of this pizza.
I celebrated my first NYC July 4th on a rooftop in Midtown.
I had my first day at work.
And I met Yoko.
Thanks to everyone who was part of that time—the roommates, friends, family, bosses, colleagues, and visitors. The polite person who told me not to lean on the subway pole.
Thanks for helping me get settled.
One of my favorite terms that I learned last year was “progressive elaboration.” I studied (and passed the test!) for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification which yielded plenty of project manager vocab including this gem.
Progressive elaboration means to improve and detail a plan continuously as you gather more information. Like my teammate Kai says, “We’ll be smarter tomorrow than we are today.”
We’re gearing up to kick off a new consulting project next week.
That means this week involves reviewing the timeline and dependencies—getting clear on what we’ll need by when to keep us moving.
But it also means I have to recite “progressive elaboration” to myself like a mantra. It’s not helpful to go wild and plan out every detail so early on when so much can change.
As we gather context from the client, absorb learnings from community members, and progress with the problem we can elaborate on our plan.
We Finished a Draft
My team and I finished a draft of our book on community building yesterday. Woo! A milestone.
Plenty of editing and design work lie ahead. There are holes and inconsistencies. But, we finished a draft.
If I were to teleport back in time one year ago when we started writing I’d tell myself: just keep showing up.
At times, this work felt like driving in circles. I’d feel confident in one direction, swing to another, and vacillate back. Left, right, flip, flop. It was hard to imagine emerging with a coherent, unified piece. But with time, it’s come together—like kneading ingredients into dough.
I’m glad we kept showing up.
I’d also tell myself to start drawing earlier. When I used to write lab reports, the charts and diagrams were vital. Visuals conveyed pertinent information quickly and more effectively than paragraphs of text.
At first I thought of visuals as an add-on to our writing, meant to embellish points. But once I started making doodles and flowcharts, I realized visuals were not only core to communicating our points but also additive to my writing process.
Drawing let me examine ideas through another lens.
There’s work to do. But we finished a draft. Just gotta keep showing up.
The Next Generation
I mentioned yesterday that the last section of the book I’m working on is about cultivating nascent communities. Part of that is investing in the next generation. How does a community bring in new energy? How do they invest now in future leaders?
I came across this quote by Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood. In an interview on Mother Jones from April, she says:
“Back when I started, it seemed like every event I went to for Planned Parenthood, someone, an older woman usually, would stop me and say, ‘Where are the young people? I feel like we did all this, we fought for their rights. They’re just taking it for granted.’
I never hear that anymore, because young people are everywhere at Planned Parenthood. Again, I think that’s just something that takes time. It takes resources. Takes investment. And it takes a willingness for people to let young people lead.”
Enabling young leaders was top of mind for me this past week after 28 year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her Democratic Primary against a 10-term incumbent.
Let’s not sit and wait for new leaders to spring from the soil. Cultivate them for your community, for our country. Invest.
Communities and Gardening
Today I wrote an intro to a section of our book entitled “Once you’re big, go small.” It’s about cultivating nascent communities and helping your group evolve.
Organizing a community is a lot like gardening. You can water, nurture, plant, and prune with intention, but you’re working with living and breathing material. What results is out of your hands.
The image of the singular leader is a myth. A good test of a leader is how well they enable leadership among those they serve.
Instead of being the most valuable node in the network, they build the network’s value by strengthening its nodes.
Credit: Diagram from this lecture by Marshall Ganz.
Mobilizing ≠ Organizing
Mobilizing isn’t the same as organizing. From Marshall Ganz:
“I want to make a distinction here between mobilizing and organizing. Mobilizing is getting people to sign the petition, show up at that rally, or click the mouse. Often that’s a tactic involved in the process of organizing change.
But organizing is the part where people come together to decide, ‘Do we want to do that?’ ‘Why do we want to take this on?’ It’s the development of the infrastructure of relationships, leadership, and capacity to make decisions about what kinds of tactics to use.”
I’ve come to appreciate precise language. Clear definitions communicate clear ideas which enable us to pursue shared goals.