Learning to say Yes
Austerity measures in Europe are crippling economies as governments and the wealthy just say No to the social contract. And here in the US - from saying No to protecting black kids in Florida to saying No to Women's Rights in Texas to the big hell No from the Supreme Court to all non-white citizens of the US... We are increasingly living in a world where the default answer to anything is No.
And I simply hadn't realized how negative an impact the pervasive culture of No was having on me. Sure... I've been stressed and frustrated and increasingly disillusioned and disengaged. But I figured that was life and work transitions bringing me down.
It was within this context that I thoughtlessly said Yes to something that has changed things for me.
I was moping about - probably working on a blog post about something I hated. And then three people I love and respect (Thor Muller, Ted Rheingold and Derek Powazek) each independently asked me if I was going to go to YxYY (Yes By Yes Yes).
I (being hopeless at anything cool or hip) said, "what?" And they filled me in. Honestly... as a misanthrope and curmudgeon - it didn't really sound like my bag. I don't go to Burning Man (seeing my co-workers naked on drugs doesn't sound like a good thing to me). SxSW is (for me) just a slightly less awful version of CES.
But these were friends. And they were convinced this was going to be awesome.
So I said Yes.
I'll be honest.
I almost backed out. A few times.
I feared Kumbaya.
But I went.
And it was.... Amazing!
Others have written about the event in far more interesting and emotionally accessible ways than I can. So I will only briefly touch on the event itself to say that:
- I've never before understood the meaning of a "safe place" or why it would be important in this context and now I do. Watching everyone open up over the first 24 hours and then seeing their delight when they realized that they truly were not being judged but simply were accepted as they were was truly a priceless experience.
- The combination of a self-selecting audience and a curated audience was perfect. There was rarely a conversation that was not interesting. Think about that statement. When was the last day (much less 2.5 day period) where the majority of your interactions with other people were interesting? Seriously. And in this case more than 75% of the conversations were really interesting.
- It's all about the people. Really. You get the people right - they'll take care of the content. They'll take care of the vision and the activities and execution.
So... enough about the event itself. What I want to talk about is the impact it's had.
First of all... as I've said before, the tech world has a bunch of very fucking loud douchebags. But this event made me realize that this community also has a lot of really wonderful (often quiet) people. Actually... what it's made me realize is that the tech fucking douches are not my community. They are not part of this community period. They are parasites on the community. The community itself is largely filled with pretty awesome folks. But they've been drowned out in any conversation by the assholes - and until YxYY there was no way for this community to self-organize in a manner that wasn't immediately co-opted by the asshats (and was safe and respectful as a result). For me... this realization was a profound one that has given me new hope.
Secondly... there is a lot of talk around the tech scene about folks not focusing on fixing "big problems" but instead working on optimizing small features or engineering a quick flip acquihire. Well... I think that is, again, because of the S/N issue with the loud douchebags because believe me... most everyone at YxYY was talking about solving truly big issues. And the ideas were incredible. But without a voice (and while the fuckers have their Pravda outlets like Pando) it's hard for this community to get heard. My hope is that now that we all know that we're all working on this - and now that we all see there is hope - folks will start speaking up more and start getting heard as a result.
Thirdly... there is no easy way to create innovation within a culture of No. And within a culture of Yes innovation flourishes. That was made extremely obvious to me. As the meta-culture around us continues to shift darker, more negative and more No - if we want to continue to do amazing things and be truly innovative, we are going to need to create a sort of "protective" sub-culture to enable and encourage us. I think that YxYY could in fact become that sub-culture.
Finally... my entire attitude has changed. It's not just the hope I mention above. It's not just the realization that I'm not surrounded by douchebags. A huge part of it comes from a very simple resolution I made for myself while traveling back from YxYY. I resolved to try and make my default response always be Yes. Sure... there would be times where I'd have to say No. But rather than starting from No and requiring that I be convinced to say Yes - I'd take the positive and hopeful view and start from Yes.
And it fucking works.
With every day my attitude is improving. With each new odd discovery or great experience - with all the positivity feeding into my life I feel like we're not all going to hell in a burning 1977 Pinto.
It's so simple.
Just say Yes.