Replied to Weak Ties & Strong Intros (tomcritchlow.com)

When you first start out as an independent you won’t have a clear vision of the work you do and you’ll inevitably lean hard on your strong ties to generate clients. That’s fine! It’s how it’s supposed to work. But to succeed in building a sustainable practice you’ll need to learn how to cultivate a large surface area of weak ties and create a clear, memorable image of the work you do so that your weak ties can make strong intros.

Although I do not work as a ‘consultant’, this piece left me thinking about how other weak ties would introduce me in my current position, let alone the narrative I tell. I guess this is the difference between being the master of your own narrative, compared to being in a position where your narrative is often dictated by others.
Bookmarked LF10 – Permissionless Identities (Little Futures)

For both full timers and independents, career growth in a permissionless world is increasingly going to be a modular and iterative process vs the step-change enabled by the old world of gatekeepers.

So don’t wait for permission. If you’re unsure about the future of your career – don’t look for answers, don’t look for validation or labels – look for experiments, new networks and narrative air-cover. And remember that this networked permissionless world has enabled the opportunity to simply write your way into a new way of thinking and being

Big futures are permissioned. Little futures are permissionless.

Tom Critchlow discusses blogging and thinking out loud as a form of narrative institutions.

One way to create narrative stability is through creating “narrative institutions” – these are projects, websites, businesses, side projects, hobbies or activities that you can lean on for stability. While formal things like career, job description or professional label are in flux we can rely on our narrative institution to provide stability.

I wonder how this relates to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s discussion of anti-fragility?

Bookmarked Little Futures (littlefutures.substack.com)

Provocations about near futures from Brian Dell and Tom Critchlow

Started following Tom Critchlow’s newsletter about little things.

Little Futures is about bringing the future within arm’s reach. It’s as much about behavior as it is the tools that amplify, dampen, and reshape it. It’s ways of thinking, ways of doing, and, hopefully, useful provocations for businesses and leaders grappling with the futures they need to be building out today.

Replied to

I am with Chris in that I maintain my own OPML feed, which I subscribe to in Inoreader. Granary and Twitter OPML Export have helped a bit with other feeds. Are you doing some more thinking in regards to your Library JSON idea?
Bookmarked Yes! and … How to be effective in the theatre of work (tomcritchlow.com)

I recently read the book Impro – Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone
I loved the book and as Venkatesh said ‘it is a textbook that teaches you how to see the world differently.’ so consider it recommended.. It’s a delightful book all about improvisational theatre and importantly how to teach improvisational theatre.

The book inspired me to draw many analogies between the improv actor and the consultant.

Inspired by Keith Johnstone’s Impro – Improvisation and the Theatre, Tom Critchlow explores the analogies between the improv actor and the consultant in four five posts:

  1. The Office is a Theatre for Work
  2. Optimism as an Operating System
  3. Generative Strategy
  4. Status Switching
  5. The Contrary Consultant

In the first post, Critchlow discusses the challenges associated with working as a consultant compared to somebody on staff. He suggests that the consultant is akin to an improv actor, forced to find ways to fit in at every opportunity. A part of this is associated with spreading ideas informally through the use of the client’s language, defending ideas not points and focusing on outcomes not debates.

In the second post, Critchlow explores the first challenge, to be a pleasure to work with. This comes in a number of ways, including providing routine solutions, balancing between front and back-stage, and creating a level of optimism.

I love this quote: “a problem is a point between two complex systems”

So, to reframe our initial statement about problems – the key when engaging clients is not to hunt for problems but to hunt for systems. (source)

In the third post, Critchlow talks about the use of the co-creation process to build on top of the ideas of others. This all comes back to capacity building, rather than problem solving.

Problem Solving vs. Capacity Building

A useful strategy is to interrupt routines from within.

the better way to interrupt routines is via a thorough understanding of existing workflows, processes and routines I’m reminded of the phrase amatuers talk strategy, experts talk logistics here. Most new capacities relate to an existing routine either directly or indirectly and the job of the consultant is to map the organization effectively to understand where and how we can interrupt to build new routines.(source)

In the forth post, Critchlow discusses the difference between topology and topography within an organisation. This includes the different forms of localised power, whether it be decision makers, gatekeepers and makers. The consultant exists outside of this.

I like to imagine the consultant as a quantum structure on top of a classical map (the org chart). While the map is fixed and tangible, the quantum structure behaves strangely and has bizarre properties like non-locality. This non-locality of the consultant brings with it an uncertainty with regards to power structures.(source)

Instead a consultant engages in fast status switching.

In the fifth post, Critchlow unpacks the power of the fool. He reflects on how you respond to a clients answers, the fine line of speaking truth to power and engaging in the disruptive act of fitting in.

It needs to be noted, playing the fool is about generative destruction not defensive destruction.

I found this a really useful series in thinking about how I work with different schools, adjusting to each as I go.

Bookmarked Introducing: Quotebacks (tomcritchlow.com)

Toby Shorin and I have created a small tool called Quotebacks. The ultimate goal is to encourage and activate a deeper cross-blogger discusson space. To promote diverse voices and encourage networked writing to flourish.

A browser extension to help capture quotes and embed them within posts. Just not sure if it works on a Chromebook. Kicks Condor applauds the strategy as a return to the web. He also provides a useful breakdown.
Replied to Library JSON – A Proposal for a Decentralized Goodreads (tomcritchlow.com)

Thinking through building some kind of “web of books” I realized that we could use something similar to RSS to build a kind of decentralized GoodReads powered by indie sites and an underlying easy to parse format.

I created a proof of concept by converting my own bookshelf into a JSON file https://tomcritchlow.com/library.json.

This maybe the beginnings of a federated site to support book clubs etc. I too keep my books on my site, the next step is a reader and incorporating a bit more nuance. I was also interested in Cory Doctorow’s thread on Twitter, as well as Matt Webb’s call to build on top of RSS in a similar way to podcasts.

I know that using RSS instead of JSON objects looks more complicated on the face of it… but RSS is already battle-tested and there’s no point reinventing the wheel. And in terms of building an ecosystem, it’s faster to start with RSS rather than doing something bespoke. It worked for podcasting!

Liked S, M, L 1 – Wither Substack (tomcritchlow.com)

I’m with Ben Thompson – VC money doesn’t tend to play well with a mass of indie content creators.

See exhibit A: Medium. Remember, Medium started out all cool with the street cred and the high quality bar and gradually raised too much VC money, pivoted too many times, screwed over the very indie creators they saught to sustain and ultimatley limps along too bloated to either die or raise more money

Bookmarked How (and why) to roll your own frameworks in consulting engagements (tomcritchlow.com)
  • Frameworks are simple tools for thinking that can create a shared world view and be easily referenced
  • The first instinct of many consultants is to grab a framework that you’ve heard of but this causes problems in three ways:
    • They’re too complex
    • They’re not relevant enough
    • You didn’t make it so there’s little attachment
  • Instead I believe you should be making your own frameworks and they you should focus on:
    • Simple frameworks (even a simple categorization is a framework)
    • True frameworks that say something about the client’s business
    • Co-creating them with clients so you get the IKEA effect
  • I’m still figuring it out but I believe doodling, sketching, notebook diagrams and visual thinking can help you get better at making frameworks
  • And, finally, for maximum effectiveness you need to focus on memorable names – compress to impress.
Tom Critchlow reflects on the use of frameworks to inform decision making. He touches on the failure of pre-existing framework and instead suggests we should focus on co-creating:

  • Firstly you avoid almost-true frameworks. The client almost certainly knows more than you do and has an awareness for the corporate memory so can help you avoid evolutionary dead ends that might not be immediately obvious.
  • Secondly by co-creating with the client you get at least one senior member of the organization fully immersed in the theory, not just the summary of the framework. Remember frameworks are abstractions – by design – but you want at least someone who understands the whole system not just the abstraction
  • Thirdly, because the client co-created it with you they are proud of their work and far more likely to use, reference and share the framework than if you hand it to them fully formed.

This process stems from ‘client-ethnographies’ that is a part of ongoing work:

Every time you’re on-site with a client’s organization you’re studying the people, the behaviours, the motivations. You’re asking questions of as many people as you can.

Activities such as doodling and refining the name can help with with the process.

Replied to Integrating Annotations into a Static Blog (tomcritchlow.com)

Hypothesis doesn’t have a good concept of a site owner so there’s no way to get alerts for new annotations on my posts.

Tom, I think that I would use Hypothesis more if it better integrated with my site. This is something that Chris Aldrich and Ian O’Byrne have been exploring quite a bit lately.
Bookmarked Exploring the UX of web-annotations by Tom Critchlow (tomcritchlow.com)

So it felt like a good time to take a quick peek at a few common design patterns and think about some ways forward.

Tom Critchlow takes a look at web-annotations, comparing Hypothesis, Genius and Google Docs. Another example of annotations not mentioned is Diigo. I still turn to Diigo, especially when capturing marginalia. Although I then store that in my own space.
Bookmarked Small b blogging (tomcritchlow.com)

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.

And remember that you are your own audience! Small b blogging is writing things that you link back to and reference time and time again. Ideas that can evolve and grow as your thinking and audience grows.

Tom Critchlow provides a case for network blogging where your focus is on a particular audience:

So I challenge you to think clearly about the many disparate networks you’re part of and think about the ideas you might want to offer those networks that you don’t want to get lost in the feed. Ideas you might want to return to. Think about how writing with and for the network might enable you to start blogging. Forget the big B blogging model. Forget Medium’s promise of page views and claps. Forget the guest post on Inc, Forbes and Entrepreneur. Forget Fast Company. Forget fast content.

This stands in contrast to the idea or argument that blogging is first and fore mostly personal.


via Doug Belshaw