Experimenting with Timelapse: Network and Community Map

For an exercise in examining social networks and communities, I shied away from using visualization software and opted instead go analog with dye-filled cups. I love digital media, but practicing the craft means I often work at my computer until I see blurry. Manipulating the cups (relationships) provided a much needed return to 3D physical visualization. This physicality was again revealed in an interesting statistic I found while analyzing my Facebook and Linked In connections: 97% of my social networks began with a face-to face interaction. This timelapse was my first take on the exploration of shifting relationships and the variables of physicality, proximity, relevance, and size. The attempt truly makes me want to geek out on data visualization.

By the way, if you do want to analyze your networks and make some techno-maps using digital tools, I’ve been hearing good things about the open source data visualization software Gelphi.

Take a macro look at your communities and social networks, digitally or analog, and share with me if you find any interesting themes.

Books, Personal

Be the Change We Want to See… in Our Networks?

In continuation of a discussion on the intersection of leadership and communication, our class at UW is reading Adam Grant’s popular Give and Take, a critique on how our individual actions influence our success. Grant places individuals within three categories, “givers, takers, or matchers,” describing them by the way each interacts with others in personal and professional relationships, while challenging common behavioral patterns around reciprocity and competition that guide our social interactions. As a whole, Grant’s text creates compelling reasons to ditch societal tropes like the Golden Rule for new ways of operating that focus primarily on giving.

I found, on the individual level, one of Grant’s strongest arguments for a “giver” is the “norm of added value” their unbounded giving can manifest: each time an individual engages in an act of giving within their network, that individual therefore encourages a culture of greater giving within their network. I found Grant’s words to place Gandhi’s omnipresent “Be the change you want to see in the world,” within the context of business-oriented professionals and their associated networks. Who wouldn’t want to help create a culture of giving?

One test I often put forward for sweeping ethical principals, and to those that proselytize them, is the accessibility test: how much of the advocated theory applies to individuals in a variety of situations, locations, industries, and financial situations? Many of Grant’s suggestions and case studies are geared toward giving in a networked professional world, even citing examples of Adam Rifkin’s writing of 256 recommendations on LinkedIn as giver behavior (and it is). Even though Grant strongly advocates “creating value for others” as essential to giver mechanics, which has wide applicability across many segments of society, Grant’s case studies and examples lose broader applicability. In other words, the text often comes across as very white-man person business “professional” while his principles do not.

Despite some drawbacks, I fundamentally enjoyed the thought-provoking and reflective read. I found Grant to blend core philosophies of Buddhism, such as the importance of giving without any expectation of reward, within language of the corporate world and its incessant emphasis on success. Although here again the blend felt a little disheartening at times (Do we need to think about our giving as having tangible benefit that manifest themselves in material gains for everyone, even if it’s not self-motivated?), overall Grant created a text for a business-driven society that defines success on some tangible material progress; any movement toward collectivism is progress in my mind.

Would you define yourself as a giver, taker, or matcher (or other) in the workplace? How does your perspective apply to your daily communication?


On Creative Process

I was recently asked to reflect on my creative process in an exercise called a “scratching” (a la Twyla Tharp’s recommendation in The Creative Habit).  My take on scratching, and not the type requiring vinyl and Technics is: what you to do clear your mind so interesting ideas fill the void. Something you fall back on when you’re forced to be creative, need to be creative.

Somewhat elusive, I find setting the stage for “spontaneous creativity” results from several processes in succession.  First, the tried and true, I clear my head. A more inviting mind provides the mental space to start part II, behaviors that fire me up to feel creative. Lastly, I get started with the making. A great mass of inertia from the weight of our daily lives requires much energy and focus to overcome, so the process of movement takes dedication. What these actions look like,of course, will be different for everyone.

As part of the first step I need to set a disciplined slot of free time. Disciplined and free, under normal human circumstances, don’t belong together, but in juggling work, grad school, babies,.and kittens, scheduled free time is part of the creative package, or it rarely happens. I’ll say to myself, “No matter what comes up you will not miss that dance class on Tuesday.” And this leads me to the activity that clears my head the most…

Movement. Jogging works a little, as does yoga, but what works the best by far is dance. (I’m suddenly remembering the iconic line from Dazed and Confused while writing this) Give me a salsa class, an uncomfortable improv where I’m forced to stare someone in the eye for five minutes while dancing Riverdance, african, pole dancing (haven’t tried it yet, but want to), or hip hop class–any movement where I feel simultaneously old and spinally-liberated and my mind will clear. I’m way too busy trying to move 175 lbs. of flesh weighted down by Pho and IPAs to care about anything else in the world for 90 minutes.

Lately I’ve been dancing at Velocity Dance Center, a studio in Seattle upon which I can’t heap enough praises. Their instructors are phenomenal, and their classes strike a perfect balance between challenging and emancipating. As part of this scratching exercise, I went to Velocity’s Bottom Heavy Funk class last Tuesday where I tried to dance like one of Beyonce’s back up dancers to Partition, a bass heavy track off of her December digital release.  I pray no one actually recorded me, but the video of the talented Yanis Marshall and his crew teaching a class in the Ukraine sums up my intention:

This usually leaves me feeling pretty (and?) creative.

The next step I take to encourage visual thinking is not nearly as eventful, but just as insightful. I browse photography and graphic design magazines at bookstores and look at the minute details of a piece or technique that catch my eye. Also, browsing Asian grocery stores tends to leave the same graphic impression: with cute seaweed, taro bun, and soy milk packages abound, I’m ready to go home and create something round and happy.

Like most people, I’m assuming, the part that most often holds me up is the actual act of starting a project. The lesson that has been long in the making, the one I still need to remind myself of often is: just start. It seems simple, but it’s rather profound. Stop thinking and start working. If you’re working on a writing project, sit down and start writing or typing, even if it’s I can’t think of anything to say right now. If it’s a portfolio, start placing a few of your favorite images into a spread. For a video, shoot something outside of your apartment. Start with some concept, or a basic building block, no matter how silly it might seem, as your project will quickly evolve.

More than anything, I find the most inspiration and excitement in the moments above, or others, when I’m not judging myself, allowing ridiculousness and lightheartedness to take over, even if just for a moment. This is difficult practice. And that’s where I see these types of activities to be most effective. Go scratch yourself some Beyonce in your bedroom, paint a still life, put on that bright kitty print shirt on a grey day, or emulate your favorite graf stencil with a can of spray paint out on the sidewalk (on a piece of paper, of course…outside for the fresh air). Just be more fearless with your badass self. Let the creativity follow.

How do you feel inspired on a time crunch?