Child Labor

For over a decade, my work has fundamentally been about creating a world that is more alive. My specific focus has been on building up society’s collaborative literacy — the muscles and mindsets we need to be and work together more effectively.

Every year for the past five years, I’ve carefully mapped out a set of goals and strategies that I think will put me on the best path toward realizing my vision. In each of those years, I’ve had three priorities, and the third priority has always been something around work-life balance. In each of those years, I’ve monitored my progress and made adjustments throughout, and at the end of each year, I’ve assessed my overall progress.

Every year for the past five years, I’ve seen a similar pattern. I do well on all of my goals except for the one on work-life balance. I’ve seen incremental improvement every year, but I continue to be far from my targets.

I spent a lot of time at the end of last year reflecting on this. Was this the right goal? Did I need to reframe what I meant by work-life balance? Or did I simply need to experiment with different strategies?

I decided that it was still a critical priority for both personal and professional reasons. I believe in the importance of slowing down, that balance and pace will make me a better practitioner and a better person. I believe that we as a society need to be better at this, and I want to model this practice.

So I kept it as a goal, but I made a few changes. I reframed it slightly, and I made it my top priority.

This year, my number one strategic priority is to work less.

Working less is a clear goal. I’m confident that my metrics (which are based on hours worked and some self-care indicators) are relevant, and I’ve got specific targets, which means that I can clearly and objectively see whether or not I’m achieving this goal. If I hit my targets, I’m confident that I will be happy and healthy.

The real question is whether or not working less will make me more effective at achieving my higher-level goals. I believe it will. If I’m forced to work less, that means I’ll also have to work smarter. I’ll have to make better decisions about how I use my time, which means saying no more often than saying yes. I believe I already have the muscles to do this. Constraints will give me the incentive to use these muscles.

Three months into 2015, I’m thrilled by the results so far. I feel like I have plenty of space to think about the big-picture and also to focus and get things done. I’m seeing the people I want to see, and I’m deepening my relationships and my practice. I’ve definitely had to take things off of my task list — it’s no accident that this is my first post here this year — but the tradeoffs have been worth it, and I think my focus will pay off in big ways.

To understand what this means more concretely, it’s important to understand my other two strategic priorities for 2015. First, I’m focused on building a platform for developing collaborative literacy. Second, I’m looking to engage with 1,000 changemakers.

Building a Platform

I believe that the best way to develop collaborative literacy is through lots and lots of practice.

I’m supporting practice in two ways. First, for the past two years, I’ve been developing and prototyping workouts under the auspices of my 15-week Collaboration Muscles & Mindsets program. I’m really excited about how the program has evolved, and I’m looking to document and distribute what I’ve learned more widely (and, of course, freely). I’m currently doing the program with Forward Together and some of its partners as part of a larger innovation process, and I’m looking for others who’d like to try it. (Contact me if you’re interested!)

Second, I’m trying to create the equivalent of balance bikes for changemakers. These have largely taken the form of DIY toolkits for developing strategy and culture, which I’ve been developing in partnership with Duende and many others and which will also be freely available.

I’ve been prototyping these with lots of groups over the past year, and I’m super excited by how effective they’ve been. Several practitioners have already incorporated these toolkits into their work, and demand has been high. I’m focused on continuing to refine and improve these toolkits and also documenting and distributing them in order to meet demand.

I care about chefs, not recipes, so I’ve been consciously focused on developing tools that support practice rather than writing things that are prescriptive. A number of colleagues have pushed back, suggesting that I’ve been too extreme about this. They’re right. Even though my frameworks are extremely simple, I still have them and ought to share them more proactively. I’ve written about some of them here, but they’re not easily findable. Part of the work of building a platform is weaving these frameworks together so that they’re widely accessible.

Engage with 1,000 Changemakers

Toward the end of last year, I sifted through lots of data to try to get a sense of how many people I engaged with. I came up with roughly 250. A surprising number of those were face-to-face or phone interactions, so 250 felt like a lot. But if my goal is to scale practices that will improve collaborative literacy, I need to reach a lot more than 250 people.

To some extent, creating a good platform — for example, simply documenting and publishing my aforementioned toolkits — will help expand my reach. However, simply hitting my numbers are not the point. The quality of engagement matters, which means going beyond simply making my work more accessible online.

Specifically, I’m focused on deepening my engagement with a core set of practitioners. I’ve been doing that with a small, local group of peers, which we call our “colearning group.” I’ve also been much more intentional about finding and working with emerging practitioners. All of this has helped my own practice tremendously and has also led to better toolkits.

It’s also been the best way to disseminate practices and mindsets for doing this work effectively. Every one of these practitioners are already taking what they learn out into their own communities, and a better platform will better support them in doing so. Furthermore, by modeling a culture of shadowing and mentorship, we are hopefully encouraging others to adopt similar learning practices.

This year, I hope to write less frequently, but more impactfully. I’m excited by what I’ve been doing and learning so far, and I’m looking forward to sharing more in the ensuing months.


  1. A poem that feels relevant, on work life balance & changing behaviors: Invitation by Mary Oliver

    Oh do you have time
    to linger
    for just a little while
    out of your busy

    and very important day
    for the goldfinches
    that have gathered
    in a field of thistles

    for a musical battle,
    to see who can sing
    the highest note,
    or the lowest,

    or the most expressive of mirth,
    or the most tender?
    Their strong blunt beaks
    drink the air

    as they strive
    not for your sake
    and not for mine

    and not for the sake of winning
    but for sheer delight and gratitude-
    believe us, they say,
    it is a serious thing

    just to be alive
    on this fresh morning
    in this broken world.
    I beg of you,

    do not walk by
    without pausing
    to attend to this
    rather ridiculous performance.

    It could mean something.
    It could mean everything.
    It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
    You must change your life.

      1. The Mary Oliver’s poem invites the soul to follow Eugene’s compelling invitation to work less. Thank you Brooking and Eugene for focusing your lives around what brings you most alive and sharing it with the rest of us. 🙂

  2. Remember, to ‘work less’ is taboo. It is consciously rejecting the moral and ethical fabric of our culture: ‘hard work.’ Gasp!

    Our work conventions and principles were established by monks in monastery circa 1500. These medieval masters were the first information workers. Their 40 hours/week information occupation was writing, copying, and making books. The physical plant of the monastery (office) was designed to facilitate isolated, individual information tasks. There was a strict vow-of-silence. Simple meals were taken alone, again, in silence, at long tables…

    Like today’s workers, monks strained to attain conformity. In the cenobitic monastic tradition, bishops (managers) were chosen (promoted) from the ranks of monks for their ability to conform (not perform). The industrial archetypes of the 20th Century scaled these monastics memes. They are pervasive today.

    Monks made and drank a lot of beer, wine and spirits, often in the morning, at meals and ceremonies. That is still popular today (hopefully except for the morning bit) among workers. Probably since it counters the withering boredom of work, both then and now.

    While ‘work less’ appeals to my own insurgent mindset, the more palatable, but hackneyed claim is to ‘work smarter.’ However, a more culturally sensitive and palatable mission may be: ‘Work less, create more.’

    Let’s all strive to exit the working class and rise in the creative class..

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