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    Thursday
    Mar212013

    Personal Resilience - A Patchwork Quilt of Earning

    Tomorrow I'll be attending Compostmodern - a design conference with resilience as it's theme this year. I wanted to share why this subject is so personal and immediate for me and why I'm so excited to be a part of the on-going conversation about how we might move from abstract "pie in the sky" concepts to day-to-day practice to gain far broader insights into the people we design with and the connections we seek to build.

    Over the past few years my work life has had to be designed over and over again. Each time I thought I had found a sustainable business model, a resting place, a place/time/path to simply get to work - things would quickly degenerate and become unworkable.

    I spent enormous amounts of time trying to figure out a single path through to a sustainable work life, growing deeply frustrated and feeling incredibly stupid at not being able to do so. Until one day - after reading a great article on resilience by Ezio Manzini, I finally got it - a single path to a rich and financially stable life wasn't what I needed. It wasn't even possible for me because of my life circumstances. What I needed was a nimble and responsive way to earn money - I needed a patchwork quilt of earning.

    "We can look to the people of the planet in two ways. We can see 7 billion people on the planet today or 9 billion people tomorrow as the biggest threat and the biggest problem, because we are a little planet. But given that those 7 billion people are you, me, my friends and the people we know, we see them not as problems but as people with capabilities, intelligent operators. So the planet is very rich with potential intelligent operators. What does it mean to enable all the potentialities of so many intelligent people?"

    TALK TO THE NICE PEOPLE

    Excited by that quote by Ezio Manzini from the article and relying on the design process I've been practicing more and more over the past few years - I set out to "talk to the nice people" to listen (and learn) how others in my community were creating their financial and work lives in a tough economy and rapidly changing world. I talked with friends who held 3 jobs, contractors who kept multiple projects moving, folks in "traditional" 9-5's with a side business doing things like making jewelry and selling it on Etsy or picking up weekend gigs doing odd jobs for people. I was a little shocked at how many people are cobbling together money from different sources even when they have big "full-time" salaried jobs.

    Feeling heartened - as discovering a community of other humans working the same problems always does - I set out to test out my hypothesis that a nimble, broadly-based earning strategy would work for me.

    TO THE WALL

    Then I did a little wall work - throwing out ideas of small ways I could earn money - starting from past experience and then working into new possibilities. I thought about all of my past jobs, training and variations on those themes. I even threw in some of the different ways that I might work rather than just sticking to job names (i.e. remote, video, new work paths such as Task Rabbit or Skillshare). My stickies were filled with over 50 ideas of potential ways for me to earn.

    To winnow things down I divided the ideas into a quick "4-up" grid that used like/dislike and hard/easy as it's organizing factors. This is a great way to take tons of info and winnow it down into the things that are most immediate and the least risk for you to try.

    As I was sorting I had the insight that my "easy" choices were those that I could pick up and run with immediately. Things became hard, but not impossible if I were to choose to do the prep work to set myself up to pursue them. In this process though, we only use the upper-right quadrant. I chose 3 in of the like/easy category to pursue immediately - a Skillshare class, product design consulting and startup facilitation.

    EXPERIMENTS IN PROGRESS

    The next week I put up my 1st Skillshare class description (Creating an Awesome Twitter Community). A couple of friends appeared who needed accupressure sessions. New opportunities to do lean UX facilitation appeared via LUXr - and via a good friend - I had the chance to work with a couple of accelerators and incubators as both a facilitator and mentor to the various startups from all over the world. I began a simple pricing plan for my product design coaching - offering my knowledge base and mentoring to entrepreneurs and teams on the fly. One of the companies I worked with came 4 separate times to do 1-2 hour sessions vetting their ideas. They found a good one and are running with it. Last month I had my first non-profit contact me to do some coaching & facilitation. And I picked up a 6 week product strategy contract.

    Suddenly my work life was transformed. My patchwork of earning was in full swing after only 2-months of experimenting. And as I continue laying more groundwork, it's expanding my possibilities. For example, you can watch my brand prototyping on this site and for my new lean UX workshops starting in April. It'll be wonderful to get back to teaching to learn.

    LEARNING AND GAINING INSIGHTS

    This is not to say that things have been easy or a happened in a straight line. I've had several big failures that had great insights and next steps buried in them. For instance, my Skillshare class was tiny. I learned that I need more lead time for marketing and that I no longer have any strong marketing channels beyond my Twitter feed. It's been six years since I taught regularly and my new brand (and name - teacher formerly known as MD Dundon) no longer have any recognition for people. I'm working on that. I've learned that I have to practice switching gears. Very different activities (accupressure/consulting) need to happen on different days. Teaching amps me up - not good to have quiet activities follow. I need blocks of time to write and design on my own. I need "wandering" time to let things percolate. I need co-working time and people to help keep me moving.

    And one of the main reasons for this radical shift - my need to be up in Seattle to help out with on-going family challenges - continues to require my time and attention. Keeping all of these balls in the air has been an adventure, but again, as I lay in better architecture, community and connections - this is becoming simpler all the time. I really am becoming more resilient.

    In resilient design we talk about designing with, addressing cultural issues and building social networks and communication. I'm very clear that this journey to design resiliently has to start with my own life. And I have no doubt that this will help me in my broader design practice - I can't help but become more collaborative, curious and connected with so much learning woven through my life. And if I can find ways to allow my own capabilities to shine - how much more fun will it be to allow others to do the same. Now that is a beautiful design life.

    What does your patchwork quilt of earning look like? How are you being resilient in designing your life? How are you building life architecture that allows you to be nimble?

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