This posting is based on, and an extension of, my opening remarks from last Friday, when my 40th birthday unconference took place. The theme was ‘Working on Stuff that Matters’

What is stuff that matters?
The question ‘am I working on stuff that matters?’ has gained more importance slowly but steadily in my life. First it was about getting more freedom of choice in what I worked on. My jobs step by step led to working as an independent professional. Since then I need to learn better to use that freedom to work with clients and on projects that matter. It is why the question ‘am I working on stuff that matters?’ has become much more prominent to me in the past year than before.

It’s not world peace, it’s using a macroscope
‘Working on Stuff that Matters’ doesn’t mean world peace, or ending hunger in the world per se to me, as Robert also said. There are way more small things that matter than big ones I feel. The trick is probably in seeing those smaller things through a macroscope (a concept by John Thackara, introduced to me by Matt Webb’s opening talk at Reboot, video here, last year). A macroscope allows you to see a thing in its bigger context, to “to feel the human scale and the grand view all at once”(quote).
To me that bigger context is that of peaking and declining physical resources, and of macro-systems (money systems, political systems, lineair management) failing to cope with our new networked and therefore complexity-filled era, while that networked era also brings us new places of abundance. That abundance lies in the digitalization of everything and the ability to access to collected knowledge and creativity of the whole of humankind. That is my macroscopic view, and it’s what I tried to convey as the closing key-note of SHiFT in Lisbon last month. I think it’s the fundamental context of our time.

Conversations going on

It’s not just small things, it’s meaningful settings around them
There are loads of small things that matter. That matter because they work towards taking on the much bigger context visible through the macroscope. It’s also about working in ways that matter. The process involved in creating something is at least as important as the outcome. The process needs to embody the values that need to embody the result. It’s why I think 20th century cathedrals are meaningless, and the ancient cathedrals and La Sagrada Familia, though unfinished, are meaningful. They are testimony to the community and community processes over generations that built them. Barn raising is way more important than having a barn built by a contractor, even though the result in terms of barns is the same. I’ve come to see for me as a primary driving force enabling others to do more themselves. Whether it’s by allowing them a look through my personal macroscope, or by helping them acquire the skills and literacies needed to do things, or by providing new tools to that purpose.

Conversations going on

Sphere of influence
I am trying to translate those notions into stuff that I can tackle in my own sphere of influence. And to me those then make up the stuff that matters.
Stuff that’s connected to the large scale things that are in motion, yet close enough to be of actual relevance in my own life, and done in ways that are consistent in meaning with the result.
And then there is the quest to bring more things into that place of actual relevance, bring more things into my sphere of influence. Which is I guess about me enabling me, bringing it full circle.

Time and attention are a currency
Ernst in his preparatory blogpost wrote how to him time and attention have become currencies. I feel much the same way, much more so now that I work independently. It’s why open space‘s ‘law of two feet’ is important: to always let your feet take you to a place worth spending time and attention.
During the unconference we were therefore unusually rich. We all brought a full day of time and attention to spend. A rare gift of 40 people to each other.
So it was up to us to make that matter, make it worth spending all that currency in a day. By having great conversations, by inspiring each other, by making new connections, both in our minds, and with each other.

Conversations going on

Connections matter
Over the last 8 years, catalyzed by social media Elmine and I have met so many incredibly great people, and we saw our peer network virtually explode.
For me you that are the network of people around me have become my primary place of learning, working, living.
The sense of wonder I felt when the first connections with other people started popping up online around things that mattered to me, never left me again.
I still feel that sense of wonder every day. Especially on days like last Friday and Saturday. Those are proof of the deep and diverse connections our new network infrastructures have allowed us to build.

Making something that matters
Before the unconference I suggested we’d try to create something that matters. At first I thought of an actual artefact, even though I didn’t have a clue what that could or should be. I now realize what we created that matters are actually the new connections we created during the event. Those connections we made through a process, the unconference, that mattered, a process that fostered curiosity, in an open setting and in a personal space (our home), as well as allowing conversations to wander to the topics that worked best.
The thing within my and Elmine’s sphere of influence that we could do was to be host and create the circumstances for the process, in the awareness of the larger context of the import of weaving global networks. The sociogram we created is the artefact that is witness to both the process and the connections made.

Sociogram, result of process that mattered, map of connections that matter

It is why I will try to make that sociogram even more useful, by making it digitally shareable and reusable for interpretation.
It is also why I hope to be able to see the new ripples the connections will cause down the line, when new exchanges flow through them.

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  1. links for 2010-05-20

    Ton's Interdependent Thoughts: Working On Stuff That Matters – WSTM Hmm, there's a bit of a theme to today's links eh? The Hard Part is Finding People Who Care « how to save the world "First, perhaps instead of…

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