O Brave New World

“O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”

-Miranda, from “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare

This past weekend, I accepted the role of Chief Technology Officer for BraveNewTalent, a social recruitment startup based in London. At the David Allen Company, I have been using technology to help bring the GTD® methodology to millions of people worldwide, freeing them up from organizing tasks in their head so that they can focus on doing their best work in any context. BraveNewTalent seeks to help the workforce of the twenty-first century find, not only ideal new workplace contexts, but the relationships and aptitudes that will unleash the best work of an entire upcoming generation.

Led by visionary young entrepreneur Lucian Tarnowski, the company has already assembled a fine team and is rapidly accumulating blue-chip clients and media attention. It is an exciting time to be bridging the gap between baby boomers in corporate leadership and an inherently digital generation, who hold the promise of a new way to work. Doubly exciting is the opportunity to join not only a well-positioned startup in a high-potential emerging marketplace, but to do so in London — which is itself emerging from the ashes of the financial meltdown as a technology innovation powerhouse.

I am looking forward to doing interesting and meaningful work, with talented people, in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Art and Organization

“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you may be fierce and original in your work.”

-Gustave Flaubert

It pays to be organized. This morning, I wrote an email to the editor of a poetry journal, eight months after I sent him some poems, to confirm my suspicion that my poems had been lost in the mail. It has happened before. To my surprise, the journal had actually accepted one of my poems, but somehow the notification never reached me. Had I not kept careful track of my submissions, I might have not reached out, leaving the fate of this now-soon-to-be-published poem somewhat uncertain. I have written here before about how using a simple system to track submissions helped me take some of the angst out of sending out my poems. Yet today this approach paid off on the other end, with a poem on its way to a galley proof that might have otherwise been sent to the gallows.

Several months ago, my Powerbook G4 gave up the ghost after more than five years of loyal companionship. While gathering sufficient funds to order the new 13-inch MacBook Pro upon which I now type, I loaded up an interim laptop with Ubuntu and transferred my poems and tracking sheet over to Google Docs. Because I maintained continuity even while in laptop limbo, I had everything I needed this morning to see that, the previous year, it only took this particular journal four months to reject a different batch of poems. A simple, four-column system tells me the submission date, titles of the poems, status, and date of acceptance or rejection. This is just what I needed today to follow up, when several poems I care about, sent to a journal I respect, seemed to have lost their way.

All of this runs contrary to the image of the poète maudit, that reckless supposed genius who wanders in a cloud of chaos — not unlike Charles Schulz’s Pig-Pen — letting others keep his affairs and, more often than not, clean up his mess. Instead, I systematize as much as I can — both of my daily living, and the business of poetry — to leave my mind clear and receptive to the muse. As I have also said here before, it would have been imposible to complete an MFA degree without using the GTD® methodology both at work and home. Today, once again, eschewing the myth that success — in the arts or anywhere else — is somehow an accident, and striving, as best I can, to keep track of what matters in life as a conscious discipline — paid off in a moment of snatching success from assumed defeat.

Poetry and Productivity

I would not have been able to complete an MFA in writing poetry while holding down a job as a technology executive had I not been a longtime practitioner of the GTD® methodology. In a recently released podcast, David Allen, my boss and the inventor of GTD, asked me about how the GTD concept of the ubiquitous capture tool relates to poetic inspiration. (That conversation begins around 16:56.) My process has evolved considerably in the past few years, from capturing phrases and lines whenever they came through my head to “assemble” later into a poem, to establishing a regular practice of opening up to the muse. This shift sees me capturing fewer individual lines in the moment, and focusing more on getting my head clear of work and personal responsibilities — by using GTD — so that when I do sit down to write, I can slip through the keyhole unencumbered into that poetic space.

The practice of capturing inspiration in the moment is nothing new to artists and writers. After the Ojai Poetry Fest Fundraiser, I had a stimulating conversation with a fellow writer who also happens to be a journalist. As our chat got interesting, he whipped out a pad and paper, seemingly on reflex, and began to take notes. He was “off duty” in the sense that he wasn’t taking notes for a news story — but it got me thinking that if one is, indeed, a student of life, there is no “off duty.” And a good student takes good notes about subjects that fascinate. The difference GTD makes, of course, is that it presents a systematic approach for what to do with those notes — including tracking any resulting commitments to oneself or others, and executing appropriate action and regular review in order to make one’s dreams more than just a scribble on a notepad.

So, in case I haven’t said it lately, thank you, David, for bringing this methodology into my life, helping me to bring appropriate focus and attention to the many different worlds I inhabit. The gift of being more present in my life is truly precious.

Exposed: the Secret of My Success

I deeply regret to inform you that my illustrious colleague Eric Mack has revealed the real secret to my success.

This doesn’t just apply to technology, folks. Any poem I attempt that takes more than two minutes to write gets likewise round-filed. Clearly, haiku is about all I have time for, and usually without all that restrictive syllable-counting nonsense.

Speed poetry, like speed chess? Now there’s a perverse thought.

This post took 1:56.