Breaking the ubiquity of Stream Mode

A blog post by Luis Suarez has served nicely as a catalyst to start crystallizing some thoughts from the last couple of weeks.


I’ve become increasingly aware of tensions I feel when I think about how I manage my personal sense-making. In hindsight the seeds were sown when taking Harold Jarche’s PKM in 40 days course. During that study I realised that although I “talk the talk” around PKM, mostly what I do is the “Seek” part of Seek-Sense-Share, with sharing only at the level of filtering a set of public bookmarks. My approach to sense-making is opportunistic, driven by the needs of the moment, and often quite ephemeral – knowledge is cast away to the depths of memory when not needed for the task in hand.

I’ve noticed a number of things, which I now suspect are related:

  • I become more and more convinced that email is toxic, yet find myself dragged back into using it by the unhealthy habits of those I work with. Although I find the collaboration in Luis’s #no-email Slack group to be a great support, I spent much of last year not participating
  • I’m increasingly aware of tensions whenever I think about long-form writing and thinking – a whole blog post feels like a lot of pressure! 🙂
    As an aside, I wonder if in fact my long-form thinking is being expressed in a different medium – code – although the job title might mislead you, I write quite a bit of code these days  – and “code is poetry” after all!
  • I find myself attracted to Federated Wiki – the combined timelessness of wiki ( = “no pressure”) with it being “my site”. The ability to quickly bang together related thoughts on pages which are never “finished” feels more accessible than the blank page, dated post, tyranny of the blog
  • I like the speed of Fargo (although the default blog style with dates is a bit reminiscent of timelines). Publishing via is baked in, if I plan to use this tool more I want my own server, and not just syndicate it.
  • Regardless of anything I say in this post, I’m still quite attracted by the immediacy of a Twitter timeline, the frequent updates on Facebook, the serendipitous comments that arise when I post the name of the film I am about to watch – I’ve realised that acknowledging that attraction is a key step in starting to build something else into my practice


Part of recognising an issue is to be aware of the feelings of discomfort, and part is having the right concepts to categorise what is happening.

I came across Mike Caulfield‘s multifarious online presences when I started looking into Federated Wiki. The ones that have seemed most useful in this context are where he has drawn out the definition of StreamMode, contrasted with StateMode  (bloghighlighted version). In his words,

“You know that you are in StreamMode if you never return to edit the things you are posting on the web”
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Mike recognises that StreamMode may have some advantages, and Bill Seitz makes an interesting contrast link to Tim Kastelle  on Managing Knowledge Flow, not Knowledge Stocks


“We end up hitting Twitter refresh like sad Skinner-boxed lab rats looking for the next pellet instead of collaborating to extend and enhance the scope of human knowledge.”
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Or in the words of Jack Dorsey – “Twitter is live, Twitter is real-time” – both its strength and its weakness.

The Firehose is addictive – it makes us feel “in touch with the pulse” at the same time as it weakens our ability to pause and take stock – it is the refined white sugar of the knowledge world.

What’s Next

Change relies on motivation and a plan.

So you have an addiction – do you really want to fix it?

Why would I want to reduce the hold that StreamMode has over my online interactions?

Put very simply, if I’m going to spend time online, I want it to be useful in some way – personally, professionally.

And the plan? Reinforce positive behaviours, and manage those which are inefficient, unhelpful or not-fun.

Although I complained above about being dragged back into the toxicity of email I have had some success with “Working Out Loud“:

  • Using a product management toolset that within the scope of a single user licence allows me to make my planning work visible across the company, and for colleagues to comment, and create their own ideas for change (sorry for the plug, but I really like the tool)
  • With internal and external technical teams, reinforcing the use of DVCS repositories, and using comments and pull requests as a way of documenting our design discussions
  • Wherever I can, moving more general internal discussions to a combination of Yammer and internal blogs

So a big part of my strategy is to keep using these, and move more and more of my “inside the firewall” conversations to them.

Outside the firewall, in many ways I feel I have been going backwards, not least because outside the firewall is where the stream is so pervasive.

I think the first step is to take back some control, and of all the things I have read, Luis’s approach to gripping Twitter by the throat and bending it to his will is the most appealing.

So I’m planning my own version of the “Great Unfollowing

That will do for a start. There will be more on evolving practices, but another secret to making a change is not to try too many things at once.

And change often needs a public commitment – here it is!


PRINCE2 Practitioner

I’ve just heard that I have passed my PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification, thanks to the excellent help of Pearce Mayfield.

I’ve been familiar with the PRINCE2 method for a number of years, and have certainly applied the principles to local methods, but have resisted getting into it too formally because of the bureaucratic nightmare I have seen many organisations make from it.

One of the best things I can say about the Pearce Mayfield training is that through it I have seen, by contrast,  how to make PRINCE2 a living and breathing approach to delivering a project.

It’s all made from paper and glue…

Having surfaced after summer holidays, a trade show visit and various bits of work, I’ve realised that the new October dates for the MSP course are only three weeks away – so time to get back into the pre-work!

With only a couple of loose pages of notes so far, it already looked like I was well on the way to a paper meltdown, so I’ve taken the time to dissect the pre-course exercise book and stick the pages into alternate pages of a wire-bound notebook – thus leaving plenty of white space for my answers and notes about related material.

This might sound very basic, but for me the physical act of putting together a study log has already started to make it feel as if I have the material “at my fingertips” (the power of metaphor!)

MSP Study Book

The Boy Outside the Classroom

In “An Evening of Blues and Separateness”: Denny Coates writes about his observations at a social event:

bq. I’m aware that most of the people I encounter in my world are part of the mainstream, and I departed from that a long time ago. This evening, I was aware that most of these good people were operating from a set of assumptions that I no longer relate to. In the old days, my feeling of separateness might have been called “alienation.” In truth, I’m happy with my perspective. It’s what allows me to be true to myself, to be real, to encounter, as best I can, the world as it is, without expectations or assumptions. Which is my source of happiness and spirituality. But I do sometimes feel like a “stranger in a strange land.”

I found a resonance with my own feelings in this post. A few years ago, whilst doing my NLP training, I rediscovered an image from my early years that seemed to have affected a lot of my life – I remember when I was 5, in my first year of school, I was set some extra work (allegedly a “bright” child!) and for some reason the teacher sent me outside to work in the corridor.

From exploring this image during my training I began to see the impact it had had on my life and the power it had as a metaphor of seperateness – a conflict between “doing well” and connecting with my peers. Now as a mature man I have learned how to feel connection, how to engage and associate in the moment but the “boy outside the classroom” remains – I have learned how to use his power rather than fear what seperateness and difference might mean, to appreciate the insights he still sends me.

Some of the questions that come to me as I think about the people Denny calls “the mainstream”: do they not feel this, or do they get a hint of it and as a result try even harder to connect and conform? Are people like Denny and I gifted or cursed? Are we shamans or (incipient, potential) sociopaths? Are we over or under developed? It’s all about perspective and framing I suggest…

Denny responded to some of these questions in the “comments”: :

bq. Are independent thinkers gifted or cursed? Surely there are the downsides, the so-called alienation, which can bring acute discomfort if one lets it. Personally, I’ve learned to cherish my separateness as the best part of me; it’s what makes everything else work. It’s kind of like living in a state of ambiguity, but that’s cool, because so much of life is truly unknowable anyway. Living that truth makes for a lot of excitement. It’s certainly not a worldview I would promote to anyone, however, but simply something that helps me affirm my own life in my own way.

Similar-but-different to how I feel about it. For me the “boy outside” contributes to at least two aspects of who I am today. In part he has turned into the observer part of my mind – able to stand back even when the rest of me is fully engaged and take a look at what’s going on. It’s a great attribute for coaching or negotiating or any kind of face-to-face communication – although one that is almost impossible to explain to people. The other descendant is my independence of thought – although I have my upbringing to thank for that as well – my father in particular managed to put across the message that you should make your own mind up, especially about the important things.


On Tom Peter’s site the Renewal 50. Selected favourites:

1. Go to the nearest magazine shop. Now. Spend 20 minutes. Pick up 20-twenty!-magazines. None should be ones you normally read. Spend the better part of a day perusing them. Tear stuff out. Make notes. Create files. Goal: Stretch! Repeat… monthly… or at least bimonthly.

2. Go to the Web. Now. Relax. Follow your bliss! Visit at least 15 sites you haven’t visited before. Follow any chain that is even a little intriguing. Bookmark a few of the best. Repeat… once a week.

3. Take off this Wednesday afternoon. Wander the closest mall… for two hours. Note the stuff you like. (And hate.) Products, merchandising, whatever. Repeat… bimonthly.

4. Buy a packet of 3×5-inch notecards. Carry them around with you. Always. Record cool stuff. Awful stuff. Daily. Review your card pack every Sunday. (Obsess on this!)

6. Project stuck in a rut? Look through your Rolodex. Who’s the oddest duck in there? Call her/him. Invite her/him to lunch. Pick her/his brain for a couple of hours about your project.

7. Create a new habit: Visit your Rolodex. Once a month. Pick a name of someone interesting you’ve lost touch with. Take her/him to lunch… next week.

8. New habit: You’re in a meeting. Someone you don’t know makes an interesting contribution. Invite him/her to lunch… in the next two weeks.

9. You run across somebody interesting. As a matter of course, ask her (him) what’s the best thing she/he’s read in the last 90 days. Order it from… this afternoon.

10. Take tomorrow afternoon off. Rain or shine. Wander a corner of the city you’ve never explored before.

11. Go to the local Rite Aid. Buy a $2 notebook. Title it Observations I. Start recording. Now. Anything and everything. (Now=Now)

15. Read a provocative article in a business journal. Triggers a thought? E-mail the author. So what if you never hear back? (The odds are actually pretty high that you will. Trust me.)

37. Get up from your desk. Now. Take a two-hour walk on the beach. In the hills. Whatever. Repeat… once every couple of weeks. (Weekly?)

[via Esther Derby]