Washington: Ruled By Democrats and Reagan’s Ghost

This fascinates me; why, after multiple demonstrations of its abject failure, is Reaganism still alive and kicking?

Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology
that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the
private sector to its own devices is always good.

Call me naïve,
but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would
kill it
. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it
should be dead, it keeps on coming.

It seems that the Democrats have no alternative. Until they come up with something, they’re still playing on the Republicans’ home field, no matter how big their majority gets.

Living a More Sustainable Lifestyle

So as I made the decision to step out of the 9-5 rat race and work for myself, I realized that description is completely inadequate for the scope of what I’m really trying to do here.

I don’t see working for myself as simply a shift in careers, I’m looking at it as an entire lifestyle change. I’m an inherently creative guy, so the idea of sitting somewhere – anywhere – from 9-5 every day has never been appealing. But more than that, there’s something that seems inherently wrong with the idea of giving away such a large slice of time to mediocre employment in order to enjoy the scraps of time we get at the end of the day. Call me greedy, but I want more.

So how is this a lifestyle change and not just a career change? I’m not just going into consulting, I’m trying to find a life balance that feels right for me. My goal is living a lifestyle that is sustainable – intellectually, physically, emotionally, and in how I’m connected to the world around me. I’m not sure how that will look five years from now, but I’m starting by trying to split my “working” time into rough thirds.

One third of my time will be spent consulting on customer experience, product strategy, and social media engagement. Connecting business-side goals with innovative online solutions has always been my creative strength, so I’m ditching the distracting management overhead that exists in enterprise operations and focusing on using my strengths to help others succeed. That’s probably what will pay the bills (at least for now).

Next, I’m going to spend a third of my time working on my own ideas, start-ups, and helping friends/colleagues with their start-ups. I have dozens of ideas that I’ve put on hold because of lack of time, funding, etc. CitizeNYC and GovTechNerd are two good examples of ideas that I think have potential but I let fall by the wayside. Plus I have lots of friends who are starting their own ventures. I’m going to start pursuing those ideas more aggressively.

And the final third of my time will be spent writing. Like I said last week, I miss writing entirely too much to not make it a big part of my new life. It’s always been a hobby that sometimes got me published in cool places, but now I’m going to treat it as an important part of my life. I’ll be spending time writing about topics I find interesting and trying to get pieces published.
To me, this seems like a nice life balance. I’m sure it won’t be exact, and I’m not measuring it that way. But as a rough idea, this is how I’d prefer to spend my time, and the mix I think will help me develop the most as a person and as a professional, and maximize the value that I have to offer the world around me.

It’s unconventional and it’s probably a bit audacious, but we shouldn’t abdicate how we spend our professional or personal lives to external forces. We decide for ourselves. Sure, we’ve got to compromise sometimes, but we should never forget that the decision is ours.

(P.S. I wrote this sitting under a tree in Central Park, where the weather was a perfect 75 degrees. If I hadn’t consciously made this lifestyle change, I’d be sitting in a seemingly endless string of meetings in one of the world’s biggest bureaucracies.)

User Experience is More Than Omnigraffle

From peterme.com:

I suspect that in order to embrace this opportunity, user experience
types will have to put down Visio and Omnigraffle and find other ways
to “deliver”. The most obvious next step is that we’ll need to be more
comfortable writing principles and guidelines, akin to Christian Crumlish’s recent piece for the ASIST Bulletin.

But, as designers, the distinct value we can bring is in
experiential tangibility, and it leads me to wonder, how, as a field,
can user experience folks best engage in the social media dialogue?
Because right now, it’s sadly dominated by douchebags who seem to think that social media = a sexy new form of marketing communications.

Do user experience professionals really think of it all as wireframes and diagrams? Because I don’t – I think of it as helping clients create superior customer experiences. That can mean writing content plans, re-thinking processes, engaging on social media, and any number of other things. It’s not all Omnigraffle.

Why I Write

Once upon a time, I wanted to become a Constitutional scholar. I spent my days and nights in graduate school pouring over the words of the founding fathers, engulfed in trying to understand their motivations and the related consequences we experience today. And I loved it. But like everything I do, I put so much of myself into it that I quickly burnt out. Knowing that it’s so common to drop out of a Ph.D. program, I decided to try something new.

So I packed up my things (including a small mountain of legal theory books, papers, and journals) and moved to DC. I was (and am) grateful for the opportunity to work for Congressman Henry Waxman, who since reading about him in college I consider one of the greatest legislators ever. But after two years where I learned more than I possibly could have expected, I knew Capitol Hill wasn’t for me, so I moved on to New York.

As I go off yet again to try something new, I realize that despite my relatively small New York apartment, I still have all of those constitutional law and legal theory books, as well as boxes of research papers I can’t seem to toss into the recycling bin. I may never open them again, but what has stuck around is the urge to write, the urge I never truly indulged but always wondering “what if.”

Because of its persistence, I’m increasingly convinced that writing isn’t a vocation, but a lifestyle one is irresistibly drawn toward. At least for me, writing is something that I can’t avoid even when I try. Post-Its become scratchpads full of notes, notes become e-mail exchanges with friends, and whenever I can carve out the time, e-mails become articles and blog posts. Thanks to the patience of a variety of editors, I’ve had the privilege of being published in some pretty great places, but I’ve always had to treat writing as a hobby.

The utter inability for true avoidance it is the blessing and the curse of the writer. No matter how far I stray, it’s impossible for me to escape the urge to write. So part of this new adventure into self-employment is to indulge my inner writer on a more regular basis, rather than just feed him the scraps of a 9-5 life.

Burning the Ships

Starting a business is scary. (Feels good to get that one out of the way.) I’ve wanted to do it for years, and ran a few part-time ventures as a result, but running my own business full time remained an imaginary pursuit, something I thought about but never took steps toward achieving.

Despite having fantastic opportunities for which I’m indescribably grateful, I have felt stifled since finishing grad school. Like the typical 9-5 ultimately wasn’t for me; that I wanted to learn, experiment, and explore the way I could in school.

So when I decided to leave the NYC Department of Education earlier this summer, it didn’t surprise many people, but I had no idea what I would do next. That was my burn the ships moment, where I jettisoned any excuse to turn back and had to choose a new direction.

Even as I applied for jobs, my great friends kept reminding me that I had always wanted to work for myself, that I’d feel constrained by any single job, and that meant I should create something myself. They were right. I struggled with exactly what I’d want to focus on, and as I thought through this I realized that, through every online venture I’ve ever worked on, my passion was to find ways to delight customers and users.

And so I’m opening a user experience, social media, and innovation consultancy called Keystone UX. The consulting practice will focus on helping clients delight their customers and create lots of Whuffie (social capital).

Go ahead and visit the website, but I’ll warn you that it’s not done yet. In fact, lots of things are still up in the air about this business. And I’ve been worried about that, of course, but I tend to believe even the best laid plans never match reality. So I’m working ridiculously hard, but I’m rolling with the punches and trying to expect the unexpected.

I’ll be talking a lot more about this in the coming months, but for now it’s enough to say It’s Official. I’m in business.