Seth Godin talks quite a lot about cohorts: “The people who get you. The ones who have been through it with you. Who see you.” An emphasis on peer-relationships is one of the defining features of his highly rated and very-low-drop-out-rated online workshops.
He’s got me thinking again about the value of a group of people doing similar work, with similar levels of experience. These are people – ‘fellow travellers‘ – who can relate to your struggles, share what they know, encourage you to keep going, push you to get put there and do better work. By turns they might be sounding-boards, collaborators, mentors, sympathetic ears, or champions of your work.
Where’s your cohort?
It’s relatively easy to find them among peers when your training for something – in school, on a course (although I’m agnostic about finding them on an online course), in your time in the army (!), or in the trenches doing your job. When I was teaching, colleagues at about the same stage of their careers were definitely my cohort.
But having a good cohort becomes harder if you move around, or as you start to manage and lead – by default there will be fewer ‘people like us’ around, and there are fewer natural opportunities to meet. Maintaining a cohort becomes something that you need to do deliberately by seeking people out and having conversations, by asking questions, looking for opinions and advice, and sharing resources with people who find them helpful.
My sister and I just recorded a special episode for Driverlesscroc Podcast(‘Useful Things’), learnt a lot doing it, including:
That recording both ends of a skype call is a viable way to work over distance
The importance of triple-checking your mics after I made a schoolboy error and plugged my mic into a headphone jack. I could see that I was recording something, but it turned out to be my laptop’s built-in mic rather than my lapel mic, resulting in a voice-track that sounds like it was recorded in a bucket
That Audacity projects are big (we hit a couple of gigabytes for all the uncompressed audio and project files).
That (I think) Audacity doesn’t play well with syncing to the cloud – some of the source-files for my project file somehow got corrupted and I almost lost it all – fortunately I’d made an almost-finished .wav of the whole thing so it was saveable.
That ‘ship the work’ sometimes means ‘finish the project’ – get it done, learn from it, move on. This project doesn’t exactly have a ‘client’, and its main audience is us – so we can say ‘not quite good enough – but finished’ with a clear conscience. I’ll post it to the podcast for completeness, and as a reference for anyone interested in the journey.
The idea that doing helps you see – that experience counts for a lot – is pretty obvious in lots of areas of life. You can’t understand being on stage, or driving a car, or playing in a sporting contest, until you’ve done them.
But we tend to forget how true this is for almost everything, and how context-specific our experience tends to be. By doing, we see.
Happy to report that we’ve just recorded a special-edition first episode of the Driverlesscroc podcast and it went off without a hitch.
Recording between Jakarta and Buenos Aires meant that we couldn’t trust the VoIP connection (in fact, Skype held up really well), so we made two separate recordings.
Stu: Skype with headphones on my Android phone, with a separate wired mic (the sub $20 Boya BY-M1 – amazon) recording to Audacity. (see incredibly important note below)
V: Used a mic-and-headphones headset for both Skype in Windows 10 and Audacity to record the input from the mic.
Lessons Learned from recording
Recording the introduction is the hard part – once we got into the conversation it was easy.
Keeping it concise is harder than we thought. We tried to keep the conversation tight but still ran almost double the length of a normal Cool Tools episode. Mark Fraunfelder and Kevin Kelly manage the balance between going into technical detail and keeping things moving really well, and I couldn’t have seen this until I’d tried to record something similar.*
It was fun and worth doing for the conversation alone (a good sign?)
Done is better than perfect!
Lessons learned in post production
It turned out I plugged the mic into the headphone jack and recorded the whole thing with my laptop’s built in mic. It could be worse, but the proper mic makes a big difference. The noise reduction made a huge difference improving the sound.
Noise reduction takes quite a while for a longer file – several minutes.
Noise reduction gets rid of some of the background hissing and ambient noise to clean up the sound of your recording.
Select the empty three seconds, then: Effect>Noise reduction
Click Get Noise Profile.
Select the entire clip (manually or using Control A then Effect>Noise Reduction. Click preview. If it sounds okay, click okay. It makes a huge difference in the project file, but less of a difference in the final .mp3.
I’ve already shared an extract from this episode about systems thinking here, but the whole interview is fascinating and everyone I’ve recommended it to has thanked me for it.
Marc Andressen more-or-less invented the web-browser as we know it and made Netscape (the biggest internet browser of its day, which was sold for a profit), which seeded the development of Mozilla Firefox, which you might be using right now. These days he’s a really influential venture capitalist, a quick (and very smart) thinker and fast talker.
This interview is full of useful and interesting gems, and Brian Koppelman does a great job of pulling out some interesting applications to art and pop culture. Apart from systems thinking, highlights (to be unpacked in future) include:
The importance of networks and scenes (‘scenius’) in fostering and spreading innovation
How to make your way, taking as a given that many things of life are unfair or wrong
The relative value of ideas versus work
Marketing, sales, and how to get your ideas in front of people
The Test – the ability to get a ‘warm referral’ to investors or key players not as cronyism but as an excellent test of the qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur
You can listen to the episode here, download it here or read the transcript here.
Good to Great is all well and good, but what about Pretty Good to Very Good?
I’ve been mulling over the DC podcast and this is what I’m going to focus on: ordinary people doing good (and important) work.
Not multi-million pound-dollar businesses and organisations, but those working with tens or hundreds of thousands.
Not companies boasting world-class-execution-across-the-board, but individuals who are very-good-at-a-few-things with (if we’re honest) patches of mediocrity and plenty of room for improvement.
Not role models glimpsed as they soar through the stratosphere, but peer models who can share something that they’re good at and what’s worked for them, as well where they feel they’re falling down, and start some conversations.
The people I have in mind are a different set of elite performer – people who do work that they think is important and do it well, who buy their own stationary, wash their own dishes, and pay for their own mistakes.
It turned out that when I got to 121 minutes I wasn’t too far off worldwide distribution and an audience (okay, potential audience) of billions.
Not that I want an audience of billions, but it’s amazing to think about it. Pow – you have distribution that the biggest media companies in the world could only dream of a couple of decades ago.
Back to the podcast – the morning after this post I installed the Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin for wordpress, and their stats add-on (both free) muddled through with filling things in, and then found this excellent article from elegantthemes.
And now I have an RSS feed that makes my podcast downloadable or streamable to anyone with a web browser or a podcast app on their phone.
I’m not on itunes or Google play yet – they’re not exactly the point, and take some extra registrations – but I’ll get there eventually.
For now, here are my amazing stats:
iphone users show up as iTunes downloads. I’m not actually on iTunes yet – I just serve a classy demographic.