The State of the Union

“The ancient Greeks did not write obituaries, instead they asked only one question of a man (or a woman): ‘Did he have passion?’ – Serendipity

It was pointed out to me recently that I’m not currently practising what I preach. The exact words were to “walk the walk while you’re talking the talk”. This was not always the case.

I started Crucible Design in 1996, prepped Cimota as a IT consultancy in 2002 (it was my original exit plan from Nortel), started Mac-Sys in 2003 and started Infurious in 2005. I still do a little for Crucible Design (via Lategaming – just book sales and the very occasional blog post) and I still own Mac-Sys. Cimota morphed into this blog and I resigned from Infurious last year due to a conflict of interest.

The Now
I currently work as the “Network Facilitator” for Digital Circle, an ERDF-funded collaborative network developed by InvestNI. It’s work that I enjoy, that I find challenging and that I think has some lasting value.
My Digital Circle contract ends in March 2011 so I’m now with little over 9 months to figure out what to do next. It’s not clear that Digital Circle’s funding will be renewed (due to reduced budgets in Northern Ireland) and it’s also not clear to me if the real time benefits of my work in Digital Circle really have the economic impact necessary to support the funded activities. [1]

The Next Thing
This is a tough one. I have big dreams and I know I can’t do all of them. I’d like to put together a user experience consultancy because I’ve been a UI/UX bigot since I first studied Human Computer Interaction at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown back in about 1995. I’d like to pursue my interests in Augmented Reality and Alternate Reality Games. I’d like to work in ‘gamifying’ mobile Healthcare and e-Learning because I find the subjects fascinating. I like working with groups of developers around projects like Open Data because I enjoy the potential benefits to the wider society. I have considered politics and also attempting to form a ‘think tank’ policy organisation for technology and media – both roles I think I could do well.

I have also considered changing tack and getting out of the technology space and that’s what prompts this musing and considerations. I am resigned to the fact that I will never have the time nor the attention span to devote to becoming a programmer (that is assuming I even have the talent or intelligence) and develop wondrous concepts for the iPhone and iPad, devices which have fired my imagination for over three years now. I think the most compelling career in the western world must be that of a software developer. These talented individuals are literally making the stuff of dreams on touchscreen devices and I am frustrated at how little of it sticks in my head. At WWDC this week I cannot count the number of times I have been inspired and then been frustrated that I cannot create these works of art which I dream about. I instead spend my time giving ideas away to startups and developers who cross my path. My work has been very enjoyable in many ways and this blog, though sometimes controversial, has provided a lot of catharsis along the way (and it is obvious that I write for me, not for others as I honestly have no idea if anyone reads it). Doing this work is not without its perils: being out in public can make you a target. And that causes the stress and uncertainty that one would expect. In all it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

I have to wonder what it is that I really enjoy, what is my passion.

Opportunity exists in many shapes and forms and the philosophy espoused around ‘passion’ comes from Aristippean philosophy:

Aristippus propounded a philosophy that was based upon the human reaction to pleasure and pain through sensation of the world. Pleasure, he thought, was the test of right perception, while pain was the warning of error. It was the goal of every man to seek pleasure and to avoid pain, and human understanding of the good was directed by the correcting influential sensations of pleasure and pain. Thus, men should seek what is pleasurable and thereby learn what is good. For Aristippus, this would lead to right moral behavior, as wrong behavior would inevitably bring about pain, while right behavior would result in pleasure. For some later Cyrenaics, and for the Aesthetes, this could be interpreted as advocacy for heightened sensual experience. And, as every man was the judge of his own sensations and had his own peculiar natural tendencies and gifts, each man would tend to find this heightened experience in the cultivation of his passions, for they were expressions of his basic nature. The goal, then, was to “Know thyself,” since that was all that could be known.

In this development of the Cyrenaic philosophy, the passion is the personal, internally generated, inherent urge of the individual, which finds satisfaction when pleasure is achieved.

If a person has no passion, then he has failed to identify this most important part of his own being.

As opposed to chasing ‘pleasure’, I interpret (much as the Serendipity screenwriter did) that pleasure comes from pursuing your passions.

As I have responsibilities, I must turn my consideration to what to do next. It would be unwise in the extreme to gamble on the project being renewed in the current economic climate and therefore I have to put in place some plans in the event that I am not able (or perhaps even willing) to continue in my current role. Which of my many and varied passions would I follow and which would give me the most pleasure and, perhaps more importantly, which would keep a roof over my head.

I welcome thoughts, observations and criticism.

[1] Economic impact in this sense is a measure which is made up of statements from individuals and companies who have received some benefit in the activities of Digital Circle. It’s difficult to get this kind of validation from the digital media industry which is a constant source of frustration, not only for me but also for the teams who lobbied for and pieced together the project. Click to return

0 thoughts on “The State of the Union”

  1. Matt, probably not the response you are looking for, but felt compelled to throw in the following thoughts.

    I’m sure that you agree that for x there is and equal and opposite re-x, and laws of conservation of all things – including passion. Passion, therefore, comes with a tax, a burden, that derives for all the un- or anti-passion that one must battle every day. It’s tiring, exhausting. It leaves one vulnerable. But despite that, it exceeds the rush of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin.

    Two quotes for you.

    “In the absence of clear vision and passioned leadership, one is left managing apathy and mediocracy.”

    “Passion. Check”

    Enjoy SF.

  2. “I have been inspired and then been frustrated that I cannot create these works of art ”

    What makes you so sure you can’t?

    Writing software isn’t brain surgery. You can learn it by doing it.

    -jcr

  3. Hi David,
    I think it’s a state of mind to be unsatisfied. I know it annoys Arlene that I constantly shift my own goal posts but I am firm in the belief we should judge others by their intentions and ourselves by our achievements. I need to work on my achievements.

    Hi John,
    Writing software is not going to be possible for everyone. It takes a decent amount of time to learn. Time I don’t have (in usable contiguous blocks).

  4. This resonates with stuff I’ve been thinking about recently, having taken a change in direction, so here are my thoughts, which may, of course, have no relevance to yours… 🙂

    What’s interesting to me are the feelings around having to choose between following the interest versus following the experience. When you’ve been working for a few years, experience and achievement tend to go hand in hand, and it’s the achievement that provides the comfort zone, and the sense of security, because they are most outwardly visible.

    If I’ve achieved this, then I can persuade someone that I am capable of achieving that. It can be a powerful drug, even if one’s achievements have been modest (in my case).

    To change direction to follow something that really fires me up means stepping into a zone where there is much less experience and, initially, zero achievement, and mingling with people who are way ahead of me in many things. This is not always comfortable.

    So, for now, for me, I have the choice of either passion or achievement.

    And, apart from the occasional thought of ‘hey, it’s not like I’ve done nothing’, I’m trying to leave achievement behind for now (and maybe forever), and when people ask me what I do, I’m telling them that I’m just messing.

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