Campfire, marshmallows and conversation

Many moon ago, Movers Mindset had a weekly team meeting with 5 people. It was simply a video call to socialize. Work-related discussion was allowed, but mostly we were just talking about training, sharing instagram videos, discussing news and events in our sports and its surrounds, … that sort of stuff. Just hanging out with people who have a shared interest.

From the start we knew we didn’t want to record those calls. That suddenly makes everything too permanent; You have to show up looking not-insane, and you automatically hold back some of your energy to be on the safe side. But we also felt that we were losing something by having no artifact at all. Much of what we were discussing and sharing in the team call would be of interest to others— but we didn’t want non-team-members attending our private call. Thus, no recording. The meeting gave us what we needed, and that was good enough.

Time passed. (And many great team meetings were had.)

One day, as I sat around wondering how to make the already-great calls even better, my mind drifted as it so often does. It wandered back to the 80s/90s and I thought of the seemingly endless hours I’d spent on text-based chat with people in far off places. Stuck underground in some computer lab, (for real,) I’d open a text window and visit some distant friend. It was real-time interaction, but in a restricted medium; Restricted, at the time, because that’s all we had. But still, it was magical to have real-time access to other people. It felt so much more alive than bullentin boards (the online kind), Usenet, and email. Still wondering how to make our team meetings better, I recalled this once-in-a-lifetime experience I had.

It went like this…

A group of friends had all being doing Parkour together for several years. To be clear: We found ourselves doing Parkour together, and wound up a group of friends through countless shared experiences. (Ask me in person and I’ll tell ya’ some stories.) Two of the group eventually got married. The fellow ended up deployed to Afghanistan in a intelligence role with special forces. (I may have the details wrong, sue me.) Suffice it to say: Half a world away from everyone, and while not physically in immenent danger, his day-to-day surroundings drove him to depression. One day he apparently reached the cliff’s edge and in a fit of frustration he sent a message to a dozen-or-so of us, (which included his wife,) with an enormous brain dump of his current state.

He’d sent a Facebook Messenger direct-message—apparently one of the few channels he was permitted. This wall of text arrives in my phone, with a bright and cheery *ding* I suddenly have this giant message from my good friend. I was delighted to hear from him, but all of it was news to me, and frankly none of it was good. Then, two magical things happened:

We promised that we’d do pushups immediately when he wrote to us, if he promised to never miss a day. It had a terrifically witty name—which I’m not sharing because then I’d have to tell you his first name. Every day, around 2pm my time—but it was unpredictable—*ding* and I’d end up doing pushups right in the middle of the super market. Literally. Once I got caught driving, and pulled over to the side of the road to do my pushups, and message back, done! It didn’t take us long before those of us on the dm-list were racing to see who could reply, “done!” first. Our far away friend became a sort of evil pushup assigning drill Sargeant. But there’s a twist. On day one, we all did 1 pushup. On day 2, we did 2. Then 3. Then 4… And yes, we were somewhere above 100 by the end of his deployment. (Spoiler: He returned home safely.) He repeatedly told us that every day he pretty much spent the entire day planning his daily entry in the back of his mind, and day-dreaming about making us all suffer the next number of pushups. Somehow, we small band of merry idiots managed to create a small daily dose of inspiration for our far away friend. (We all got pretty good at pushups too.)

The second piece of magic happened because we were all there for it in real time. We’d each do our pushups—as the numbers got stupid-large, you’d do them in sets and start reporting your reps in real-time. And somehow, the entire thing became performance art. Soon, we were having our friend pick an “animal of the day”, and it had to be different each day. Finished our pushups, we’d try to find and share funny photos, making up our own silly captions. We tried constantly to Rick Roll each other. We did anything we could think of to make our friend, and each other, laugh. Because we were doing this at the end of our friend’s day, he’d eventually “call it” when he was ready for sleep, and we’d all drop off. Years later, we still have in-circle nicknames for each other, and inside jokes that make me giggle even now as I’m typing.

One day, after it was over, I realized how special it had all been. I opened up Messenger on my desktop browser, and I tried to scroll back through the thousands of messages. I wanted to screenshot it all and somehow make a book to give just to those who were involved. But my browser crashed from all the images, animated GIFs, etc before I got even halfway.

Now, back to those weekly meetings I wanted to improve…

Having that story about our far away friend flash through my mind was the spark I needed! In our team meetings, I wanted to capture some of that ephemeral, asynchronous-messaging based, magic. I wanted our cool meeting to somehow also be a little bit performance art that left us with something that others could enjoy, (and even find useful.) My “campfires” ideas was born.

Campfire, marshmallows and conversation! The MM team gets together occasionally in a sort of free-form discussion that’s not quite a chat, and not quite a discussion. It’s a cross between instant chat and performance art.

Each week, as before, we had a completely ephemeral video call. But at the same time, in real time, we would all co-create a long Google Doc. That sounds silly—it is. And it’s hard to do as things move around in the document. But it feels like instant messaging. At the end of the set time, we ended the call, and I simply copy-n-pasted the contents into a Discourse thread.

We eventually stopped doing them as the team shrank. But if you want to see what they were, they’re all still there, in https://forum.moversmindset.com/c/campfires/37 — they still make me smile, and I’m so glad we did them.

What—you might wonder—makes we write all this up now?

I’m bringing back this beloved idea as: Campfires in the Podcaster Community.

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A mover’s mindset

It’s become clear, that somewhen in the last few years, I’ve lost a certain spark— some urge that used to be the initial impetus that got me moving. Out. And about. Moving and playing. It’s probably, simply age.

Efficacy is the power to produce a desired effect. Recognition of your own efficacy means that you have recognized your own potential for continued success and growth. Your choices of actions at this point are not based on concerns about current limits of your ability or understanding. Instead, your choices are guided by what skills, practices, and accomplishments will give you the most enjoyment, make your life better, increase your skills, or broaden your knowledge. Your experience in life changes from asking “What can I do?” to asking “What should I do to make my life the best it can be?”

~ From https://forum.moversmindset.com/t/discovery-reflection-efficacy/614

Where once I used to simply begin each day, and sooner or later I’d realize I’m doing something active, now I find that most days were going by without doing something active. I don’t like that trend. I went over everything in my environment and, quite honestly, little has changed—certainly nothing that would have sabotaged my being active. If the problem isn’t without, then it must be within.

And so, I’ve made a small change: What am I doing tomorrow? …then make a plan for that to happen.

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101

It’s a small thing, and it was really really difficult. But I did it.

Instead of sticking to my “publish on Wednesday’s at 10am”… like I did for the first 100 episodes. 101 was published Tuesday around 7pm. I know that sounds dumb—but I’m not be sarcastic or hyperbolic. Over the years I’ve gotten really adamant about that publication day-of-the-week and time-of-the-day. Sure we weren’t able to do one every week… but I kept trying to keep things neat and tidy. “Wednesdays at 10am” was that one little bit of structure.

But really, who cares. Any structure you’re clinging to?

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Faith

The first thing you need to know is that individuals have far more power than ever before in history. […] The second thing you need to know is that the only thing holding you back from becoming the kind of person who changes things is this: Lack of faith. Faith that you can do it. Faith that it’s worth doing. Faith that failure won’t destroy you.

~ Seth Godin from Tribes

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I continue to enjoy the Movers Mindset project for many reasons. In recent months, I’ve been stepping back from the body of work and I keep having the same thought: I think this is really great, but I feel there should be something more useful as a result of all the work. (Useful specifically for me, I mean.) I’m convinced that there are lessons that I’ve missed, or not managed to hold onto; Insights that can only be seen from a perspective that is not within one particular conversation.

So I’ve been tinkering on creating, well, something. I don’t know what it is yet, or how to describe it either. But I have faith that it’s worth trying to create something which enables something new to be extracted from all the conversations I’ve captured.

Some days, I have far more questions than answers to share.

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World class or bust

Gillard had a very simple ethos: “If your stuff isn’t world-class, you’re not going to make it”.

~ Hugh MacLeod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2021/03/19/world-class-or-bust/

The other day I was in a Zoom break-out room with a few other podcasters. I was talking about how for 2021 I’m focusing on doing in-person interviews. How being a slave to a weekly schedule was (is, would continue to be,) putting pressure on creating podcast episodes. Most podcasters—well, every single one that I know of, but there must be some out there who aren’t, so I’m writing “most”… Most podcasters are willing to (happy to?) record virtually as that enables them to stay on their weekly production schedules.

Aside: Everyone believes that regular production is critical for podcast success. I disagree. “What’s one important truth that most people would disagree with you about?” is a good question, and this is currently the best answer that I have.

There are millions of podcast shows and many more millions of episodes. I don’t want to make a single episode of Movers Mindset unless it has some particular value or is special in some way; The human race doesn’t need simply, “one more podcast episode.” I believe that in-person, with the right guest, and with me doing my best work I can co-create something of value to humanity.

And “do it every week” doesn’t figure into that formula at all.

The idea of trying to do something at a world-class-or-bust level is a fairly new one for me. I have lots of hobbies and mostly I don’t care about being world class. But I do care about the Movers Mindset podcast being world class.

Do you have anything you’re intentionally pushing to that level?

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Enabling possibility

I feel my title’s use of “enabling” rather than the more common [that I’ve seen] “creating” is important. (Of course, I don’t craft the titles with reckless abandon; There’d be far more, “Wordy werds” and “Completely different” type titles.) But in the past couple weeks I’ve been focused on the distinction between “to create” and “to enable.”

I’ve been sprinkling a Lonely Hearts-inspired call in a few different places as I think it’s time to bring a writer onto the Movers Mindset team. Each time I post it somewhere, it kicks off one or two conversations with someone. Each of those little conversations gives me a chance to refine how I convey my vision for this new role. (As a certain reader would say, how I convey my intention—hi Angie!)

The first thing I realized is that what I am bringing to this potential new relationship is the resources—the raw material that the team has amassed. I don’t in fact know exactly what the new person would be creating. My intention is to enable someone to create something (some things?) from that raw material. I’m not creating the possibility—it’s there already. My hope is to enable that possibility to come to fruition.

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Microphones and the human voice

This is a well written article about the human voice, and how microphones really work in terms of capturing it. Even if you read this and plan to forget everything—you’ll come out *way* ahead when recording your and your guests’ voices.

https://www.dpamicrophones.com/mic-university/facts-about-speech-intelligibility

It’s full of insightful information, about the human voice:

…the voice chances spectrum in almost any other position than when we approach the speaking person with our ear – or microphone. Each position on the head or the chest has its’ own sound color – or timbre. For instance, the spectrum of speech recorded on the chest of a person normally lacks frequencies in the important range of 2-4 kHz. This results in reduced speech intelligibility. If the microphone does not compensate for this you should make corrections with an equalizer.

Important frequencies:

The important frequencies in non-tonal (Western) languages are illustrated by the diagram below. Here, the frequency band around 2 kHz is the most important frequency range regarding perceived intelligibility. Most consonants are found in this frequency band.

…and about what affects intelligibility in a reproduction of the voice:

A lot of research has been carried out in this area. In general, the results demonstrate that:

1. Optimum speech level is constant when background noise level is lower than 40 dB(A)
2. Optimum speech level appears to be the level that maintains around 15 dB(A) of S/N ratio when the background noise level is more than 40 dB(A)
3. Listening difficulty increases as speech level increases under the condition where S/N ratio is good enough to keep intelligibility near perfect

Furthermore, the 1-4 kHz frequency range should be “kept clear”. When, for instance, adding music as background for narration, a parametric equalizer cutting the music 5-10 dB in this frequency range will improve intelligibility.

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Nothing Fails Like Success

There are internet companies (like Basecamp, or like Automattic, makers of WordPress.com, where I work) that charge money for their products and services, and use that money to grow their business. I wish more internet companies could follow that model, but it’s hard to retrofit a legitimate business model to a product that started its life as free.

~ Jeffrey Zeldman from, https://alistapart.com/article/nothing-fails-like-success/

ahahahahahahahahhahaahahhaaa! Sometimes I like to share stuff just because it makes me happy. (The stuff; not the sharing of said stuff, I mean.) I regularly talk about how this web site is a vehicle for my reflection—I’m quite often literally thinking through things. Writing, (tappity-tap-tapping on the keyboard here,) and writing, (scratchity-scritch-skratching with a pen on paper,) are two of the ways I figure out if the dross I regularly find in my head actually corresponds to reality.

When I read sentences like the ones I quoted above, I leap (sometimes literally) to my feet knocking over my chair in the process. It does my weary—deeply deeply weary it be—heart good just to read sentences like this. And I hope—not in the sense that I little value your ability to think and “hope” you’ll finally get what I’m saying; no. I only hope that sometimes, some of the things I share make you happier.

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Listening to comprehend

When you’re in a job interview, a podcast interview, a sales call, a meeting… if we take the approach that this is a test and there’s a right answer, we’re not actually engaging and moving things forward.

~ Seth Godin, from https://seths.blog/2018/08/ignore-the-questions/

In a podcast conversation, if a guest slips into this-is-a-test mode, things get awkward. If I ask, “what’s something people get wrong about you,” the guest will think I’m looking for dirt, and that I want something they’d not want to share. Or worse, they wonder if I already know something, and that I want to drag that skeleton from their closet.

But the sort of conversations I’m interested in sharing are ones where those involved are working together to create something interesting, and which are respectful of the subject. So it’s important to create the environment where the guest naturally treats questions as prompts. It turns out that this is easy to do.

If I honestly want the good sort of conversations, then my actions follow automatically. I share things about myself and doing so invites the other person to share. I take things seriously which conveys that I value the interaction and what I’m hearing. I express my interest directly by asking interesting questions; questions which show the other person I’m generally curious. Overall, I demonstrate that I’m listening because I’m interested, rather than because I want to do something with what I’m about to hear.

I’m listening to comprehend; not listening to respond.

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Performing with a safety net

When recording conversations for the Movers Mindset podcast the guests know I’m not going to edit what they say to change their meaning. They know I’m bringing journalistic integrity to the conversation. (I’m not doing strict journalism, but that feature of journalism is present.) I do my best to set up the correct space (physical, emotional and mental,) so that we can co-create the best conversation possible. I’m not digging for dirt, creating tension, nor trying to create any other saccharine artifice. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are performing for an audience. The final necessary piece to facilitating a great conversation is a safety net.

Each conversation… each performance is better if we can reach just a bit farther than we might normally be comfortable doing. That’s why I bring a safety net. I very clearly give the guest a safe word which they can incant at any time to take back what they’ve said.

I don’t include the guest in the post-production process. They’re not invited to review the material, or to give additional thoughts about what to keep or what to cut. In fact, the only people who have time to do that, are wanna-be cooks, who will only mess up the soup if I let them in my kitchen. Instead, I and my team do all the post-production difficult work which is in fact our responsibility. The guest already did the really hard work of being themselves on-mic.

I do also say, “take your time— silence is free and we can easily trim out 30 seconds of you thinking before you speak.” I’ve also a few other little coaching tidbits I share to prep them for being recorded. But it’s the safety net which makes them feel comfortable trying something they might otherwise hesitate about. Part of the magic of a great conversation is how it develops organically, and without the safety net most people dial their caution up a few notches to be safe. With a safety net, most people are delighted to take a leap to see what they can do.

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