We were recently story wrangling at Haulin’ Colin’s here in Seattle. Read his story here. The following text is from the post-interview hang out/beer drinking/storytelling session. As Colin and I finished talking, his friend Brad joined us, as did my husband Daniel, and our friend Fisher, who had introduced me to Colin. I saw as I read this transcript that the five of us were a self-organizing group: more emergent than planned, more internally created than externally created.
You can read this just for the fun of it–the humor, epic storytelling, and teasing–or, if you’re a research geek like me, read it looking for self-organizing group indicators, asking yourself what qualities you see in this group, what each person taught and learned, and which groups in your own life have similar qualities.
Brad: How’s it going?
Brad: Sorry, I’m interrupting your.
Lori: You’re not. I already asked him my last question. [Colin laughs]
Brad: Well I don’t have any questions. [We all laugh]
Brad: I was thinking about actually just trying to mooch another beer.
Lori: Oh. Go ahead!
Colin: I think that’s totally acceptable.
Brad: It’s keeping morale up.
Someone (Fisher?): As long as morale’s up, take two.
Brad: Morale is high. [He opens a beer] I can continue working!
Colin: Brad’s been rebuilding the engine in his pickup truck. It’s a long project.
Brad: It’s extremely time consuming. Like two years.
Brad: Somebody said that to me today and I was like, “What?! Really? Has it been that long?”
Colin: I don’t think it’s been that long. But our shop mate, Michael, is just this fountain of information. Just like every time you have some question, like some really technical thing, about rebuilding an engine. You know, I’ve never seen him do that, but I don’t know how he knows all this stuff. But he’ll just be like “Oh, yeah. That just works like such and such.”
Colin: “It’s easy.”
Daniel: That sounds like my brother. If he’s read it on the Internet, he feels like he has the experience. [Colin laughs.]
Daniel: So he has all this knowledge and you have no idea if it actually works or not. But, you know, it’s right a lot!
Brad: Michael is reliable.
Brad: Except that it’s a diesel, so he’s a little less knowledgeable, which is shocking given his baseline level of knowledge. It’s pretty shocking [that he’s so knowledgeable] given that it’s outside his area of expertise.
Lori: That’s like Daniel with computers. I swear to God that he can walk into a room and the computer decides to fix itself.
Brad: Yeah, Nas—ah, Michael—has been described that way, with cars, actually. That he can just get it running. And maybe, if he leaves, it’ll stop. [We all laugh.]
Brad: And if he comes back, it starts running again.
Colin: He always pulls that kind of thing. Where he’s “Aw, maybe you should just, I don’t know, tweak this thing a little bit.” And poof, it works.
Lori: Well, now that I know you have an event in December. Is it a public thing?
Colin: Oh yeah.
Lori: Very cool.
Daniel: We did that one year. Don’t you remember we were back over by Stellar?
Lori: Oh. But we didn’t make it to this building.
Daniel: But we did that.
Lori: We did the art walk.
Colin: Yeah. Georgetown has an art walk the second Saturday of every month. Technically this building is a part of it even though most of the stuff happens over on Airport Way. And it’s hard to get people to come all the way over here. So the once a year, really big event.
Lori: They have an open-house in December.
Colin: Yeah. It usually coincides with the regular. It’s on the second Saturday, so it coincides with the regular art walk. The art attack, as they call it in Georgetown.
Colin: But it’s a much bigger event. More widely publicized.
Lori: We’ll definitely have to come and see it, because I’d love to see all the rest of the spaces.
Colin: Yeah, there are a lot of people. You know, Sam—who’s the manager here—who’s buying the building and fixing it up, you know, this used to be a big manufacturing facility until it got subdivided into all these little spaces—he is also managing InScape, the old immigration building. You know where that is? How Airport Way kind of starts by splitting off onto 4th Avenue, and going diagonally over? There’s a big old government building there, across the street from the Shell station. The old immigration building. And it has now been subdivided into artist spaces too.
Lori: It’s called InScape?
Colin: It’s like three times the size of this building.
Colin: And it’s full of people doing stuff.
Colin: It’s less, ah, there aren’t as many metal working and woodworking shops. A lot of painters and artists.
Fisher: Less industrial art.
Colin: Yeah, less industrial. There’s one shop that makes bicycle frames in there and some stuff in the basement.
Lori: Yeah. From my perspective, I don’t care what exactly people are doing. What I’m looking for is people who feel how you feel about this space. People who’d say “I LOVE this space.”
Lori: In part, just because I feel like, ah, in a lot of ways, like you’re my people. I’m trying to create a community coworking space that people feel that way about. So I need to hear from a lot of different people to learn how to make a space like that. I also just love spending time with people who have actually done it: actually created spaces that they love. Because it’s not always easy.
Colin: I mean, it did just kinda happen. [We laugh]
Colin: It just kind of became a larger and larger part of my life. Now, it’s like what I do all the time.
Lori: Very cool. Well that’s all my questions. Thank you so much.
Lori: For showing us your space. And your time.
Fisher: How many trailers are you shipping out of state now?
Colin: I have shipped one trailer out of state.
Fisher: I was reading about. There’s some guy out of state who bought it. Where is it?
Colin: New Jersey. But there is definitely one of my trailers in the Bay Area [San Francisco] because someone in Seattle bought one and then I think they rode to the Bay Area and then sold it second hand to someone else. So I’ve heard from that guy.
Colin: And because Dave bought that batch of 20 and was just distributing them, there’s 20 of them out there! [We all laugh.]
Colin: And I don’t know all the people anymore! They’re on the second-hand market now. It’s crazy.
Lori: Did you have any more questions? [to Fisher]
Fisher: Oh, I do, but just about other stuff.
Lori: But not for this? You sure?
Fisher: I’m just very curious about. Are there structural things that would make your work feel more effective?
Colin: Ah [he pauses], well, yeah, I struggle with that. I struggle with being efficient and staying on track and charging enough. [Fisher laughs] We have pretty low overhead. A lot of times I have to quote people prices where I think to myself “God, I would never pay that much for that.” But it’s like, you know, the shop rate. Here we have a hundred thousand dollars worth of tools, or something, I don’t know. And the shop rate is 60 dollars an hour. Most of that goes back into the shop. Goes to pay for tools, repairs, the compressed gas, the welding wire, sanding discs, whatever.
Colin: I don’t ever really make any profit because I’m just like “Well, now I can buy another tool!” [We all laugh.]
Colin: So yeah, like structure, being efficient, I [he pauses a long time]. I don’t know. It’s hard. We usually have a whole bunch of different projects going at once. And it’s less efficient when I’m jumping from one project to another. It’s better when I set aside X amount of time, or a couple of days, to work on one thing. But sometimes it just works out like that. I have to order parts and I’m waiting on parts for one thing. And you know what? I probably spend an hour or two. I probably spend at least two hours a day writing emails and talking on the phone and ordering parts. It’s like a pretty big.
Fisher: Administrative part.
Colin: Yeah. Feel like I need a secretary.
Brad: But they’re like $80 an hour now. [We all laugh.]
Colin: Yeah. I just get emails all the time. People who want custom things. Then we have to imagine a design. Talk about how much it would cost. Sometimes they follow through and it becomes a project and I actually make money. Sometimes not.
Fisher: So you’re not charging a design consulting fee?
Colin: No. I mean, if there’s a lot of design work, technically we have a $30 an hour design time rate. But if someone just emails me and they’re like “Hey, I have this cool idea! For a trailer that has such and such.” Then I’m like “Ok.” I think about it while I’m riding my bike home or whatever. And I’ll be like “Ok, that’s roughly going to cost such and such.” But I’m always quoting out jobs beforehand. And then they take longer then they think they’re going to take. Classic. Happens all the time. No matter how many times I do it. Just takes longer. So jobs. This year we’ve gotten more contract machining jobs, where some other machine shop needs some work done, and they sub-contract it out to us. And we just charge hourly: “Ok, it took X amount of hours.” And machine shops don’t blink an eye at $60 an hour. They’re like great, no problem. But ah people. People who.
Daniel: People who want a $200 trailer.
Colin: Yeah, right.
Daniel: Say “Can you get that done in 3½ hours?”
Lori: That’s what Nils and Grant do! Their friends call them up and are like “I need a table and I have $300 dollars.” [Colin laughs] “Whatever amount of time it takes you to make a table for $300, please do that.” [Lori laughs]
Colin: Yeah. It’s interesting. I like making weird custom stuff for people who want to do it. But sometimes its just not realistic. I probably spend too much time messing around on the Internet. But I can justify that. That’s my break time. If I’m here for 10 or 12 hours, I get to spend a couple of hours doing stupid shit on the Internet. Looking at funny pictures or something.
Fisher: Is there anything you need? Just like, stuff that you need?
Colin: Well, we always need more tools. [Colin and Fisher laugh.]
We’re always buying more tools. We have a line of things, like when we all have enough money. We split everything three ways. So when we all have enough money we’re going to buy a new tool post for the metal lathe. That’s like $500. Then we’re going to buy a new set of bearings for the other metal lathe there that’s all taken apart. They’re super-precision bearings because it’s a precision tool, so that’s like $300 for a pair of bearings for that.
Lori: That’s a really good question since we’re basically publishing the entire interview and building photos and video into them. Anybody who likes your story enough, could hit that question and think to themselves “Well, I have $300. I could send it to them!” [Colin belly laughs at the idea of someone just sending them money.]
Fisher: Well there’s that and then there’s also. Ultimately what Sean and I want to do is put together some sort of fund. Even if it starts out at a thousand dollars. And then when a [bike-related] small business owner needs $500, they can get a no-cost loan.
Colin: Oh, yeah. Cool.
Fisher: And even if we never get the money back. [Colin belly laughs again.]
Fisher: It’s not a huge deal, you know.
Lori: Oh! It’d be like bike Kiva.
Fisher: Yeah, that’s the vision for it.
Daniel: Which has an amazingly high pay-back rate, over 90%, better than most banks.
Colin: What is it?
Daniel: It’s for microloans. So you get online, put money into their bank account, and then you pick who you want to loan the money to and how much. And where. Guatamala. Nigeria. Whatever. And then you can follow along and see the loan get paid back.
Lori: Teeny, tiny business loans.
Daniel: Once the loan’s paid back, you can loan the money out again. Pays like 1.6% interest, or something like that.
Lori: It’s literally sometimes like people who need just $25 to start their business and it would feed their family for the rest of their lives. It’s often just tiny amounts of money.
Colin: That’s cool.
Fisher: To us.
Lori: Yes, [tiny amounts of money] to us. [Colin laughs.]
Fisher: There’s another one: Vittana, which is local here in town. They do it for education loans in Latin, Central, and South America.
Colin: We’ve talked about getting loans sometimes, but always shied away from it.
Colin: Because it’s nice to not be in debt. And as long as we don’t need to do that, it’s better. It always gets really busy in the summer and slow in the winter. Always pulling out of the winter it feels like we’re struggling a little bit. Now. This time of year it’s great. Lots of work.
Fisher: Do you make Pedi’s? Pedicabs?
Colin: I have made two pedicabs. And I’ve worked on a few [more], yeah. Those things get abused. They get heavily used. Really, I don’t know of any shop better than us to work on them because we have this crossover into heavier duty, moped and motorcycle stuff, and we can take advantage of that. But even so, I’ve seen those things come back over and over again. You know, broken frames, broken wheels, they just need heavier duty parts.
Daniel: So when you run into an engineering block—you start fabricating and its not working out—how do you work through that?
Colin: Um, I mean, none of us are engineers. [Colin laughs] I have a pretty good sense of how stuff works, you know, what size of metal to use for what thing just from experience, but that’s kind of what I wish I’d done in college now. Like if I had a mechanical engineering degree. God, that would make a huge difference. But, we basically, the three of us have a lot of experience and we’ll just bounce ideas off of each other if we’re having trouble, designing something or figuring out how it works. I have a couple of other friends that I can call. People who do have an engineering degree, or a math degree, or something that could come in handy—who I can call to get advice.
Lori: The small business within a big building of small businesses probably comes in handy.
Colin: Yeah, although we are, our shop. I mean. There’s lots of experience, and that’s good to call upon. But no other shop in the building is making stuff at the same level of, like, precision and engineering as we are. Like, the blacksmiths will make beautiful, ornate railings, staircases, whatever. But they’re hammering giant pieces of solid bar into shapes.
Lori: Nobody has to ride them around town! [laughs] Colin:
Making things with moving parts. We’re already more technically advanced than the other shops here. People come to us with their broken power tools, and stuff like that. We fix that stuff.
Lori: Yeah. That’s it for me. You guys, anything else?
Fisher: I’m curious, what you—over 1, 3, 5 years—do you want the trailers to be in retail stores or—is this part a business to you or?
Colin: The bike trailers are the thing that I started trying to make a business out of. But overall they’re a small part of the work that I do. Maybe 20% of the work that I do. Every day I get little jobs—stuff like this—broken frames, people need brazons, cargo bikes.
Fisher: Is it almost all bike work?
It’s a more reliable way to make money—to have products—but it’s more fun to do custom stuff. Yeah.
Colin: Yeah, it’s almost all bike work. Ninty percent bike stuff. But yeah, the trailers. It’s cool to have a product that I make a lot of because I can really refine the process and I don’t have to take the time to do design work and I know how long it takes me and how much to charge. So that’s good, but I’m not really married to the idea of turning the trailers into more of a production thing. Because it’s ok. I like it. It’s a thing I know how to do now, so I get requests for custom trailers and I’m happy to be doing that, but I don’t see myself pursuing any kind of, like, mass marketing or wholesaling them to shops or anything. It’s a more reliable way to make money—to have products—but it’s more fun to do custom stuff. Yeah.
Lori: Thank you. [to Fisher and Colin and Daniel–Brad had left]
Fisher: Thank you. [to Lori and Colin]
Fisher: How did you get that big machine in here?
Daniel: That occurred to me as I looked at the lathe.
Colin: I think the lathe is about 2500 pounds. It was actually an epic journey from that lathe’s old home. Ok, this happened because I used to work at Hardwicks, ancient hardware store, lots of good stuff. The owner of Hardwicks, one of the owners had bought a bunch of stuff from a lady who was cleaning out her dad’s basement. He was a contract machinist for Boeing. Had just turned the basement of his house into a machine shop, basically. It was this neat old house in Burien, on the water front, just basically walk out the backdoor and there’s a little path this [a foot] wide and then a rock retaining wall down to the beach. At high tide, the water’s halfway up the retaining wall.
So he told me about this metal lathe there and he’s like “There’s no way I’m trying to get that thing out of there. Go look at it if you want.” So I went and looked. He had moved the thing in in the 70s or 80s on a barge. He got a barge to come over to the house on high tide.
And they used a crane to put it into the house. And walls had been built.
We were just like “Wow.” But, his daughter wanted to sell the house and is like “How are we going to get rid of this thing?”
Colin: So we got an amazing deal on it. It was a thousand dollars but that’s cheap for that, with a lot of accessories. Then we had to devise this whole plan. I welded up a custom cart with big casters. Then we had to disassemble part of two different walls. And then, instead of doing it high tide on a barge, we got there at low tide and drove our friend’s flat-bed truck down a boat ramp onto the beach and around. And we used a hydraulic engine hoist to lift the lathe up onto this cart, rolled it through this doorway, and then built a ramp that went down over the retaining wall and into the bed of the flat-bed truck. Drilled a hole in the concrete floor of the basement and put in a eye bolt and used a come-along and a chain to let this thing down the ramp slowly into the truck.
Lori: Oh my gosh.
Colin: And then, we got it here and used another crane to get it off the truck and rolled it into here and then used the hoist again to get it off. It was quite the process.
Daniel: My dad has a welding table, probably about half the size of this table but probably two inches think.
Colin: Two inches thick? That’s a lot.
Daniel: So same sort of thing. He lives in east Texas and needed a welding table. So he’s checking Craigslist and some guys dad had died.
Daniel: The guy didn’t even know. He’s like this 32-year-old kid, lived in New York City, was some kind of investment banker, and was home just trying to get rid of the stuff out of his dad’s house. My dad drove 50 or so miles up, walked in, and was like.
Colin: “Wow. That’s a big chunk of steel!” [Fisher belly laughs]
Daniel: And he’s like, alright, so what do you want for that? What do you want for that? So my dad looks through a few things. And the guy’s like “So, how do we get it out of here?” And my dad’s like “I don’t know how.
Colin: That’s up to you! [laughs]
Daniel: So my dad and his buddy go back. My dad owns two pretty good sized John Deere tractors. So they drove in with the tractor as far as they could go and hooked it. Lifted it up far enough so they could get some wheels under it. Pulled it out. Lifted it up. Dropped it on the flatbed with the tractor. But yeah. Then he parked it. He was originally going to put it up by the house but he was like “Nah” and bolted it into the garage,ah, barn. And was like “Yeah, so if I have to move it again the tractor is just right there.”
It’s not like you’re going to just pick it up.
Colin: Yeah, it’s weird moving things. Like, you couldn’t possibly get enough people around that to actually lift it. It’s machines only at that point. But we had the help of Steve, who runs Burning Specialities, which is in the same building here. They cut out those big rounds [under the feet of the machine to raise it higher]. He’s used to moving big slabs of steel. He’s good at that sort of thing. He’s the one with the flat-bed truck. It’s good to have him around.
Daniel: Like with my darkroom. The guy who owns Yuen Lui Studios, a portrait studio up and down the West coast, is named Yuen Lui. He decided dark rooms are dead, so he’s like, “You want it, its yours.” So I went down and bought cameras and sinks and trays.
Lori: Um, yeah. Like a 15-foot-long sink.
Daniel: He’s like “Just get it out of here.” We negotiated a little bit. But same kind of thing: I just couldn’t pass up the price.
Daniel: So his assistant came in and said, “Ah, so you do know that there’s no way that’s leaving the building, right? And I’m like “What do you mean?” And he says “The first room built in here was Yuen’s darkroom and every wall was built up after that. [Fisher laughs.] We’ve tried to take it out. Twice.”
Daniel: I’m like “I’ll get it out!” [Lori laughs] We had to cut one of the braces in half. And the metal sink, with enough flex in it, we actually just flexed it around the corner.
Daniel: But the first couple of tries it was, ah. I had my hand between it and the wall because I was like “I’ll take the hand damage vs. the wall.” [Fisher laughs]
Colin: But you got it out?
Daniel: We got it out. But I had to cut the stand in half.
Lori: Then he brought it home and his wife was like “You’re going to put THAT in our house?”[Colin laughs] It’s a 15-foot sink!”
Daniel: I put some walls around it, it’s fine! [Colin laughs]
Lori: That’s what the basement’s for! [laughs]
Daniel: It’s happy in the darkroom. Ceilings only this tall in the rest of the basement but.
Lori: It’d be a great studio workspace down there for me, but not for him. There are places where the ceiling.
Daniel: I actually knocked myself out one time.
Colin: Wow. Knocked yourself out.
Daniel: Yep, I turned and bam! Out! Then stumbled around.
Lori: He only did that once and hasn’t done it since.
Daniel: It left a mark. [Lori and Daniel laugh]
Colin: Yeah. Even going down the hallway here. You have to duck just a little bit to get under those beams.
Lori: Our house was built in 1908.And he’s got. Just to go from the first to the second floor up the stairs there’s a spot he has to duck.
Daniel: Yeah. We’d been in the house for about 8 years and she finally goes “You really do have to duck to go under that.” And I’m like “Yeah, for 8 years now!” [the guys laugh]
Lori: I hadn’t noticed for the first 8 years we were in the house.
Colin: You get used to it though. It’s like part of your stride. Your head goes down just a little.
Lori: Not one of those things I’ve ever had to worry about!
Photo credits: The first, slightly blurry photograph is mine. All the awesome photos are Daniel’s.
Community member Emergent by design asked this question today. Love her. Love the question too. I began writing a comment and found that my comment just kept getting longer and longer until I thought to myself “It would be rude to add a comment this long to a discussion. This is a blog post.” So Venessa, here’s my from-the-heart answer to your fantastic question.
Short answer: From my perspective, it’s much easier to become living proof that we are trustworthy, together, than it is to try to live and trust without proof on our own. That is, I don’t leap from a scared individual state to a state of unconditionally trusting all living beings on my planet. I can, but it’s not sustainable. So I baby-step it from individual, to small self-organizing groups, to community, to culture, and into the space between. Until I notice that the proof for trust is me, is us. We are trust. We are our own proof.
My story (hopefully more practical and less “woo woo” than my short answer)
I experienced unconditional trust within a self-organizing work group at Microsoft. A year into our time together, I experienced many other people unconditionally trusting me, because they trusted the self-organizing group I was part of (and vice versa). They even saw positive attributes within me that weren’t actually in me as an individual (articulate public speaker comes to mind: that was actually a group attribute, I suck at it). Eventually, other divisions began trusting our division in slightly new ways. Our division reorganized itself as a result. Those of us at the core of this group had gotten so close as people that we could take individual actions and make individual decisions that somehow just worked together. We could take what was happening (good or bad) in any moment and make it feel as if we’d planned it to happen. It totally rocked. And suddenly the thing we’d been working so hard toward didn’t even really matter to me anymore. Because I was surrounded by close friends.
Now mind you, this was at Microsoft: the competitive, male-dominated, trust wasteland (or so I’d thought) where I began my journey toward unconditional trust by being unconditionally trusted by group members and then an ever widening circle of others. When I quit, these dear friends announced that they’d be getting WWLD? bumper stickers, made us margaritas (despite a snowstorm that kept most Seattle-area Microsoftees at home), and smilingly presented me with a $56,000 bill for all the extra server space my long-winded emails required. I cried all the way home, mourning that I wouldn’t see them every day anymore.
I left there to study self-organizing groups and work groups. Trying to understand the nature of self-organizing groups. Each group I studied and was part of changed me. You cannot study a self-organizing group unless you are part of the group, trusted by that group, moving in the world as the group, if only for a brief time. These groups changed what I could see and how fluidly I could move in the world. As a researcher, about 20 groups in, I started trusting all complete strangers within self-organizing groups instantly. Also, I began trusting strangers most days. It felt weird. Naive. Stupid.
One day I recognized that I was now studying community: a whole new thing I couldn’t see before because I hadn’t fully, consciously experienced it before. About 40 groups/communities in, I stopped counting and ditched the spreadsheets. Goodbye “Researcher” and hello “Community Story Wrangler.” The people I want to spend time with will actually like the real, story-rich, spreadsheets-suck me. I began gathering community stories. I began to recognize that what I uniquely had to give had deep value for my world.
In January, as I gathered stories for a book–including David Hodgson’s story (at the Hub, a coworking space in San Francisco)–I realized that I’m no longer satisfied with unconditional trust “most days” and “most people” anymore. I want unconditional trust all the time. The idea to turn our home into a community space then showed up.
In late February, our home became a free community coworking space one day/week. Every Wednesday, at 10 a.m., we unlock our door and it stays unlocked until at least 7 p.m. Some days 10 people show up. Today, it’s just me, the dog, three cats, and one community member who stopped by to harvest strawberries for his new bike-based homemade popcicle delivery service.
In 4 months, I’ve learned that trusting strangers–by their very nature–are 100% trust worthy. Every human that has taken a risk, and walked through our door, is, in that instant, trusting and therefore trustworthy. And another cool thing about making the space free is that people also show up generous, bearing gifts “Here’s some tea!” “Do we need coffee? I’ll bring some!” “I could edit your book!” and “How are you set for toilet paper?”
A total stranger asked me if he could bring us toilet paper. Holy shit.
Two weeks ago, in my supposedly “rough” urban neighborhood, when I stepped back inside from talking to a neighbor, one coworker was reading Rumi poetry out loud to everyone else. It brought tears to my eyes. And mine weren’t the only ones.
In the past 3 months, three coworkers have offered/are considering opening their homes as complimentary free coworking spaces as well (one for people with kids, one for people with cat allergies, and one for people south of Seattle). Um, wow. Didn’t see that coming.
We’re now part of the Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance (go coworkers, hackers, makers, and ALL collaborative space people!). This community is freaking amazing. Dozens of space holders who show up to help/be helped. Last week, two amazing new friends–Chelsea and Alex–from Office Nomads showed up here and helped me brainstorm better ways to let the community know about our space. I’m thinking about becoming a member of Office Nomads one day/week to get myself out of the house a bit more, but mostly to get to hang out with them. Office Nomads hired an anarchist to bring a little more order to their space! WOW. I swear I’ve never fallen in love with people so fast in my life. I’m thinking about sending them chocolates.
I’m learning that it’s not just unconditionally trusting strangers that is getting easier here, now, by the day. It’s actually falling in love with total strangers. Being so amazed by others that offering a gift to them is the only thing my little individual brain can remember to do.
I don’t claim to recognize this brand new world I’m living in now. I feel like Alice in Wonderland. When did this gift economy get here? Yesterday I was gifted two amazing Vee Gardens–one a birthday gift from a friend and another an impromptu surprise from the inventor/artist/creator himself after he heard I had a free community coworking space.
From my perspective, today as an individual I stress and struggle and flail and scream at the gianormous hole that humanity appears to have dug itself into. As community, though, we fall in love with total strangers, give each other gifts, and pull ourselves up together. Maybe we even build something amazing for all those who come next.
No, not maybe.
That’s what we’re doing right now.
This is Nils and Grant. They just made a 500-year table for our coworking space. Our community will eat and work and laugh around it after our great, great grandchildren are gone (great, great grand dogs in my case). And everyone who does will understand what I’m only just beginning to see. That proof that we should trust each other is absolutely everywhere too. It’s even in the chairs we’re sitting on and the table that we’re eating and working and laughing at together.
Our world is amazing.
Have you noticed that today? Noticed how amazing your world is despite the looming global environmental crisis and the 24×7 corporate-and-political-muck-and-mud-slinging circus and the foul-tempered stranger you met on the street? Silly question. Of course you noticed or you wouldn’t be here. Better question. Have you noticed today that you get to define the center, middle, and the edges of your own community now? Have you noticed that your soulmates are scattered across your beautiful country and this blue-green planet like a handful of jewels scattered across a beach? Who is it that made this possible and who helps you notice? Who are your jewels?
These are our right groups and community to be with. Important now, I think, that we allow ourselves to give as much of our precious individual time to these people/creatures/beings as humanly possible. And that we stop giving that precious time to others and things who don’t. I know that my own own “right” everything else–right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livlihood, right focus, right mindfulness–depends on getting this one thing right. Hanging with my peeps.
This week, for me, it was four groups of people.
My parents are visiting my sister Jen in Las Vegas over Easter weekend. Last night they Skyped me. They’d gone straight from the airport out to drinking a traditional favorite beer at a favorite restaurant (not that my mom drinks, but she always holds one in the photo–love that). Then, they spontaneously found and bought matching starfish necklaces for mother and daughters. A symbol that means more to us than any other symbol invented by God or man. They had to Skype me to show me the necklaces (we kind of suck at surprises) the moment they got home. There is nothing in the world that makes me happier than watching the three of them sitting on the couch together laughing. Well, except maybe when it’s the four of us or the whole extended family laughing together.
The second group was the three friends who showed up at our house for coworking Wednesday yesterday: Diane, Tim, and Kathy. Having physically present coworkers again makes me smile the day before coworking, the day of coworking, and at least one day after coworking. Often several days. You’ll hear more about them below.
The warm espresso walnut chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies that kept me awake until 4 a.m. So worth it.
The third group is the group that’s creating the Different Work eBook, which is on track to go live in May. Bas, his wife Simone, Kathy (same Kathy as above), my Daniel, and I–and all those who told their stories for the book and who are making edits and sending peripherals now to help out. We work so freakishly well together most days that I almost can’t believe it. I find myself actually looking forward to the moments when things go wrong, because I’ve learned so very much at those moments and I know those will be the funniest parts when we get around to telling our own story. There is no way that what this group creates won’t be beautiful. Did I mention this book will be free? My favorite price point. Woo hoo!
Warning! If you are opposed to swearing lovingly, openly and freely among close friends, please stop reading this now. No judgment if you leave us here. 🙂
Finally, there’s the newest group in my life: a 25-member Facebook group I was invited to join on March 30th. This group already contains some of the people who matter most in the world to me. Natalie Kinsey, who became my soulmate in near-record time in March, and Bernie DeKoven, whose name I’ve recommended to others on a weekly basis for several months now. Plus 23 strangers/friends who I already love because I love Natalie and Bernie. The name of this group of dearly beloved friends and strangers is “10 things I fucking love about right now.” Based on the title alone, I found myself unable to say no to the group. I just checked, and their stated purpose is:
“A good game of Co-savoring,
with the gloves off.
A place to share and more deeply
discover what you actively love
about your beautiful now.”
Love this. What’s a bigger word for wow? WOW
This wonderful bunch of folks have been weaving good humor and loving profanity around me like a fleece blanket this week. With words, they paint their charming souls bare on my computer screen. If I believed in big individual plans, I’d devise a plan for them to all move to Seattle this very moment. We would go to Central Cinema’s “Hecklevision” night, eat chocolate, drink wine, type lovely profane poetry into our cell phones, and giggle as it magically appeared as subtext on the big screen before us. I would start with my new favorite expression, drawn from this group: “It’s really difficult to be a bitch when you have rainbows in your hair.” Never let it be said that people in Portland, Maine aren’t cool. So cool.
For the first time in far too long, I have no idea what the people in my professional group do for a living, nor do I care. These are my people. They can do whatever the fuck they want to do for a living. 😉
So… Shoot, I forgot the question. Oh, yes. How do you know if you’re with the right group or community of people? One last story.
I came back from a week in Washington DC last Thursday night exhausted from miles of walking and with blisters on most of my toes.
Early Friday morning I awoke with a high fever, aching body, stuffy head, and sore throat.
Late Saturday morning, after a fitfull night of half-sleep, I awoke to learn that an invasive, idiotic, unforgiving cancer took the life of my friend that morning. He was just a few days short of his 45th birthday. Just over a year ago at this time, he was the picture of health and fitness.
By Sunday morning, my fever had worsened, and I had to give myself a 57-minute-mental pep talk and three cat-hugs just to make my body move from the bed to the bathroom.
Monday through Wednesday, although I was still sick and recovering, it was these four groups that seeped into my soul, working their magic. Their energy filled me up. Made me strong enough that I actually cast demons from myself Tuesday around 3 p.m. saying “Fever, you will leave this body immediately, because coworking is happening here tomorrow and I WILL NOT CANCEL IT FOR YOU!” Surprisingly, this actually worked. I’m still tired and sniffling, but I’ve been fever free since Tuesday at 3.
I thought I’d share the thank you I sent my “10 things I fucking love about right now” compadres this morning. I decided to share it here because these people are actually so whole and real and beautiful in person that I’m becoming more so even through their virtual presence, and those of you who’ve been with me here a long time will recognize the shift in me.
There are communities and groups within which people are so close that you’re all able to recognize—without being told—that “thank you” has become both entirely unnecessary and all that you can hear or say most days. Find yours. Mine have washed away the parts of me willing to settle for less.
10 things I fucking love about now…
10. I love that Natalie M Kinsey describes Bernie De Koven as gentle. Love that Bernie is gentle. That Natalie knows it. that I know them both.
9. I love that at 28, I believed in taking years to get to know people before applying the word friend and that at 41 I recognize and call people friends, out loud, the very moment I meet them. Like I did when I was 5, only even better.
8. I love that I’ve known, since age 12ish, that I’d fucking love my 40s and yet that my culture still allowed this to be a surprise.
8. I love that all my friends can love and trust my other friends, instantly, because they love and trust me completely. And vice versa.
7. I love that I ate two espresso walnut chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies that my friend Diane made–at 10 p.m. last night–even though my grown up self kinda knew they’d keep me awake. loved learning that I could be wide awake, alert, and yet still overflowing with gratitude for life at 4 a.m. And the wonderful, complex dreams that followed when I did eventually sleep.
6. Love that my boss is me and that I can sleep in as late as I want 6 days/week. think the researcher who wrote the book of Genesis got the numbers backwards. That God rested for 6 days and created the universe with a snap of her fingers on day 7.
5. Love the minds and hearts that devised a fucking collective now gratitude journal. And those that contribute. Amazing!
5. Love that I am reminded daily that the universe is more amazing than I can individually imagine.
4. Love using the number 5 at least twice. And the number 8.
3. Love that your fucking amazingness has already begun to wash over my friends. Yesterday (coworking Wednesdays at my house) when I told 3 friends about you, they demanded that I read aloud to them some fucking examples. After I did, that lovely “fucking” word kept showing up the rest of the day. Diane made fucking cookies. Kathy finished copyediting two fucking stories in our eBook. Tim later emailed me a “10 fucking things I learned coworking today” list.
2. That coworking Wednesdays is yet another thing that makes me glow from the inside. How I imagine being pregnant must make women feel. Like the entire universe is growing inside you because you are wicked-fierce and more than up for the challenge.
1. That our eBook is coming together better than expected, happily, and on schedule and our only plan was “have fun. no planning. do what you think needs to be done. Decide to worry about it 6 months from now.”
5. Love this vegetarian joke that Diane told me not five minutes after learning about you. “what do you call a mushroom with a 9-inch stem? A fungi to be around.” 🙂 first dirty joke told in our coworking space since it opened 5 weeks ago. Love knowing that I’ll get to include it in my coworking tips blog post next week.
8. Love that I made Tim an admin on the Collective Self Facebook page yesterday and that last night I received a Facebook post that was both from myself and also not from me. That was so surreal and beautiful that I cried. Would have told you about it then but I had cookies to eat.
Quick update for those of you who are here with me weekly. My neighbors who were fighting to save their house won! They get to stay! Lori’s headline: Self-organizing group saves itself—community helps! http://www.centraldistrictnews.com/2011/10/24/mitchells-get-new-loan-plan-can-keep-their-21st-ave-home. Woo hoo! Ok, now for the 12 tips…
If you haven’t heard, Bas and I have just begun research for a series of eBooks we’re writing together. I got these tips by studying 8 weeks of email messages between Bas (in Zandvoort) and me (in Seattle), and reflecting back on the other self-organizing work groups I’ve studied and been part of. I stopped at 12, because Daniel continues to complain that my posts are too long. More are sure to follow.
1. Try who then what. Choose the person to work with before you fully know what you’ll be working on together. You’ll have work ideas/plans/goals as individuals and imagined ideas for the group. You’ll have even better ones as a group if you start with who.
2. Embrace scary-to-do-it honesty. Be honest with yourself, and then with them, about how much you’d like to work together. Drop the act. If you think to yourself “This is the person I’d most like to work with right now.” don’t just think it. Say it out loud and see what happens. It’s scary to do. When I finally got around to being honest with myself about how much I wanted to work with Bas, here’s what I said (and the reply I got):
Jen embracing scary sparkler birthday candles
- Lori: “I would like to talk more seriously about working together in the coming years if you’re interested.… our backgrounds, ways of being, perspectives, communities, love of learning, and even timing on where we’re at work wise, for me, couldn’t be a bigger sign that we should work together. It helps that I study highly successful groups. I know what these groups look and feel like before and as they begin. They look and feel like us. Two people 100% certain that they’d be better together than on their own. That certainty now exists on my end. Just thought I should say that.”
- Bas: “Before I leave, just a short reply. YES!!! YES. I would love to work together in this way. For exactly those reasons! Same here. You have no idea 🙂 Much much longer post after the weekend. 🙂 Awesome!”
3. Lean is good—lean yourselves into loving everyone you work with. These groups always have two or three people at the start, no more. Depending on the work, this may be all the group ever needs (these are extraordinarily efficient groups, after all). Stay this size until you trust each other so completely that you can move in the world as one. An indicator of this is that each of you speaks on the group’s behalf with minimal to no concern, knowing that the group will adapt, adjust what individuals say as needed, forgive each other when needed, and reprimand each other when needed. Once you hit this “moves as one in the world” point, you’ll know who, if anyone, needs to be added next. You’ll know because you’ll either be done with your work or be able to imagine a specific person moving in the world as one with the group. And you’ll start with who again—a real who (“We’d be better with Priya than on our own.”) and not an abstract who (“We need a copyeditor.”).
Holiday decorations at our house - one toe in tacky land
4. Communicate with one toe in tacky land. When I was growing up, there was a fine line my mom loved to walk when decorating our home for the holiday season—a line between tasteful holiday decorations (just enough) and tacky (too much). She liked to come just up to that line and then consciously cross it with just a toe into tacky land (I now do the same to honor her good humor). It’s like that at the beginning of these groups. Communicate until you feel a pang of concern that you’re annoying them with how much you’re communicating. Apologize if you must (I usually do), and continue to communicate a lot early on. Trust that together you’ll overcome these pangs relatively quickly. After all, you are the people you want to hear a lot from. The more you verbally communicate up front, the less you’ll need to later on when you get so wickedly amazing as a group that you know what other group members would think, say, and do in any situation without talking much and you carry their perspectives in your head.
5. Be at least 51% human. This pattern shows up across the groups I study and am part of. At least half (often far more) of what the group communicates is about life and themselves as human beings, not about the work. Very smart, I think. Because this work will end at some point or evolve into something else while you will keep going. The more you know about each other, the more you can help your individual selves, your other groups, your communities, and your organizations—now and in the future. This sounds simple, yet it’s ridiculously hard for someone like me who spent almost 20 years working heads down in my corporate and academic worlds before my groups taught me to look up.
6. Treat group members like close friends and colleagues from the beginning. For example, asking for a bit of help with things that have little to do with your collective work. These people will soon become, or already are, your closest colleagues and maybe even your friends. They deserve to be treated as such. Working on little mini projects prior to your collective work helps you learn to work together and learn that you are important to each other. What this sounds like will vary widely, depending on who you are. For example “What do you think of my new tag line?” or “I don’t know what to do with this student/client/customer/partner/colleague/employee/child. What would you do?” or “Would you mind getting donuts for the brainstorming session? I’m running late because my kid threw up on me and the dog.” or “You record Skype sessions. How do I do that?” This work on little things demonstrates our strengths and weaknesses for the big things—the understanding of which is hugely valuable to the group as it learns.
7. Learn that collective definitions aren’t consensus definitions—they’re way better. For example, at the moment Bas and I define “different work” for our book project as follows:
- Collective definition: 1) a group that 2) deeply loves their collective work, 3) together are working differently from the way they once believed they should work as individuals, and 4) are significantly redefining what successful work looks and feels like for themselves and their organizations or communities
When Bas says it, he ends with “organizations” and when I say it, I end with “communities”. As a group, we’re saying both. Our difference as individuals helps us as a group. I almost instantly saw this when a greater variety of people began showing up to share their stories for the book than would have shown up for me on my own. So I’d say share your own definitions of words/ideas/plans often, allow different definitions to evolve as a group, and don’t worry about consensus–you’re capable of even more. The more difference a group comfortably holds, the stronger it is—group members learn—because more others can identify with and connect to the group.
8. Experiment your ass off. Self-organizing work groups are groups of learners—each holds individual expertise but nobody holds expertise in what the group is doing together. So experiment and act like learners:
- Play a lot
- Draw pictures a lot
- Fail a lot
- Laugh a lot
- Need help a lot
- Give help a lot
- Yell and cry when you feel like it
Don’t worry if you’re not interested in or ready to do all these things at work yet. Do what you can safe within your own groups and change to the extent you want to change. This year I realized that I actually can’t settle for less in my work now, because working this way is so rewarding, fun, and effective. Now that I can’t settle for less, neither can my work groups. Poor Bas. He learned early that it’s not a successful work group for me if I don’t cry at least once. I tear up when I’m overwhelmed by how lucky I am to be part of a group. But at least he was warned. Doug wasn’t. 😉
9. Witness how excited you are to be working together. What this looks like will vary widely, depending on you. For example, noticing that you’re:
- Relatively shamelessly sharing emotions (using emoticons, all CAPS, and exclamation points in email, texts, writing within the group).
- Brainstorming together every opportunity you get, even if you have just 2 minutes together and even if it’s midnight your time and 9 a.m. their time.
- Offering connections, help, advice, or a second pair of eyes and ears for something unrelated to your collective work—with minimal or no thought about whether or not you should.
- Relatively shamelessly sharing of more of your whole self. For example, surprised to find yourself talking about something you’re passionate about that seems completely unrelated to work. By doing this, you’re demonstrating that you see them as more than a work colleague cog and that you trust them to be able to handle this part of you. Very brave for an individual, I think.
Important to witness in yourself so that you’ll know how to recognize new group members when you see them.
10. Lead with yes. I just remembered that I’ve heard this as advice given to people performing comedy improvisation. Start everything with yes. What I notice in our email messages is that Bas and I automatically do this for each other:
- “Thanks! Yes, that will be soooo much fun.”
- “All this sounds good.”
- “Most useful reframing ever!”
- “You’re ideas are great!”
- “You are truly the most useful reviewer ever!”
- “Overall, I love it. Specifically I love…”
- And my personal favorite, which Bas does and I aspire to be more like, is an email message peppered with the word yes, as in “YES!…YES!…YES!…YES!…GREAT!…Let’s do that!…YES!”
It occurs to me that perhaps we’re all improvisational geniuses when we’re working with people we deeply want to be working with. Lots of “yes” doesn’t mean that Bas and I always agree. Frankly, I rarely feel the need to agree.
11. Invest extra time at apology points. For example, when group members apologize for something they did and it didn’t bother you, tell them so and explain why. Recent example:
- Bas: “Sorry for the late response….”
- Lori: “…apologies aren’t necessary for a late response. I didn’t notice it was late, for one thing. And my presumption if I ever do experience a response as late will be to assume you are dealing with a more important-that-very-moment self-organizing group and that you’ll get back to ours when you can. :-)”
This appears to be one of those little up-front things that leads to wicked amazingness as a group later on.
12. Honor individual priorities as a group. Early on, this starts by recognizing your priorities, showing them to group members, and trusting other group members to be able to handle them. For example, for me, a sick or injured husband, sister, parent, close friend, or pet (my fuzzy kids) always trumps work. Don’t worry if you fear showing your individual priorities at work or that you don’t fully recognize what your own priorities are yet. From beginning to end, self-organizing work groups teach us it’s ok to honor our priorities and help us recognize what our individual priorities actually are. Seven years ago, for me work came first–I thought. It was my self-organizing work groups that taught me otherwise. Who (people), then work (what).
Daniel, Grady, and rain gear--three of Lori's top priorities