When pivotal events occur in life, you often fail to notice them at the time. When it comes to writing, there has been two such occasions for me.
The first one happened one Tuesday morning in March of 2020. I had signed up for a conference on the topic of product management, but when an unknown virus started to spread like wild fire, the event got canceled.
The organisers were quick on their feet, without missing a beat they took the scheduled speakers and spread them out over a number of weeks, so that instead of one full day of listening to people, I found myself tuning in every Tuesday morning at 8.27 sharp, for half an hour of condensed wisdom.
The format worked so well that it was soon made permanent, and the audience kept on growing. The Productbeats Show has now reached cruising altitude. It’s become a platform which gathers enough of an interesting audience, to easily attract some of biggest names in product management.
In the early days however, it was just this little gem of an intimate meeting place where you got to know the ten to fifteen regulars and where the Zoom chat was always full of greetings and cheering on.
I had been blogging for a while when I stumbled into this nascent community, but posts had been few and far between, and I never had any real sense of where they landed. Productbeats provided me with two essential ingredients which had been lacking on the platforms where I’d been experimenting up until that point; a safe space, and a community of practice.
Publishing your thoughts anywhere outside of your diary, is always going to feel like taking a risk. You risk being ignored, you risk creating controversy and getting trolled, or worst of all perhaps, you risk being perceived as pretentious. Like: who am I to think I’ve got anything interesting to say on any particular subject?!
That’s why it’s so important to create spaces where people feel safe enough to dare experimenting and thinking out loud in front of each other.
Wile safety is a necessary condition however, is not sufficient. You also need some measure of stimulation (after all, there’s a reason why infants eventually have to leave their incubators). A community of practice provide that like nothing else. Being part of a group where people share an intense interest in a niche subject works wonders for the imagination. Where before I’d often spend months angsting over what to write my next post about, I now found myself getting a weekly impulse that would always give just enough momentum to get going.
I started publishing posts like Beyond What They Want, Imagine the Unthinkable, What I Think About When I Think About Design Managing Mozart, Use the Force, Creative Doesn’t Mean Nice, Where Is This Road Taking Us? and Sometimes Slowing Down Will Make You Go Faster.
These were all great posts, but they leant heavily on other people’s thoughts. Which wasn’t a problem at first. On the contrary, it was plenty fun, especially when the people whose concepts I was riffing at, showed sign that they were OK with it, and sometimes even flattered by it.
After a while however, I started feeling like a bit of a parasite. Leeching off of other people’s hard work might be fine to get started, but if you really want to try your wings you get to a point where you have to ditch the training wheels.
Which, to me at least, turned out to be a tricky milestone to get past. It felt a lot like I risked slipping back to where I had started.
And that’s when the second serendipitous thing happened. This time the impetus came from a book (it very often does!).
I had picked up Atomic Habits : Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear, which I swished through in pretty much one sitting. Not because it was so great, in fact quite the opposite. It might have made it to the New York Times bestseller list, but really I felt that Clear mainly recycled ideas that I’d already come across in books such as Rewire by Richard O’Connor, Mindhacking by John Hargrave The Achievement Habit by Bernard Rott, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp or The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.
Nevertheless though, Clear’s book did something for me. And probably not in spite of, but because I’d already been reading up. This last (latest) book on the subject of habits managed to somehow connect dots for me, in the sense that it made me re-think what writing is.
I’d always seen writing as primarily a creative pursuit, and as such a direct indicator of what moves in a person soul (no wonder then if it’s anxiety inducing!).
Habits on the other hand, I’d placed in a completely separate bucket. Habits were little hacks to force myself to perform unpleasant actions until they’d become second nature. Like getting up early in the morning, or going for daily swims in cold water.
And then this guy comes along who really didn’t think of himself as a writer (James Clear used to be an athlete) but changed his identity by force of publishing to his blog twice weekly, every single week, for years. Book contracts and massive comercial success eventually came out of this, but the root cause of all that was the habit of writing.
So as I put down Clear’s book, I decided that come hell or high water, I’d commit to publish something twice a week, no matter how dry, unimaginative or possibly revealing and self exposing it would turn out to be. From there on out, the rest was simply hard work. (And at the end of the day, there’s no such thing as hard work to get through the day, is there?)
The result was as divergent and idiosyncratic as you could wish for. I started writing pieces about how AI might one day change psychotherapy, about what I’d do if I had a minute left to live, about exotic new technologies I was fascinated with and struggled to understand, about literature and even about politics. It was all a messy thought-soup, but it was lots of fun and it’s the path I’m on still. Sometimes I wonder what the next milestone will be, but mostly I’m just busy working on my upcoming post.