Thinking Out Loud No. 27
Making a course, reliance systems and patronage
|Michael Ashcroft||Aug 2, 2020||1|
Welcome to Thinking Out Loud No. 27.
It's been a warm few days here in London, with Friday hitting 36ºC / 97ºF. All of summer concentrated into one day, as is the British way.
This week I'm happy to share that I'M MAKING A COURSE and will, naturally, be 'building out loud. The story is below.
I also share some early thoughts from a book I'm reading called The Spatial Contract, co-authored by one of my Carbon Removal Centre co-founders, part-time lifeboat coxswain, and all-round swell guy, Dr Stephen Hall.
I'm making an online Alexander Technique course!
Something exciting is happening! After a few months of what feels like playing around, I've decided to make a course.
You may be aware that I have two newsletters: this one is my Resonance Engine, while Expanding Awareness is reserved for the Alexander Technique content. I did this to avoid boring two potentially separate audiences — those who care about Alexander Technique itself, and those who are more interested in my 'build in public' approach.
Where the two intersect, consider that Thinking Out Loud will talk about the 'how', while Expanding Awareness will talk about the 'what' (feel free to sign up over there if you'd like).
So let's talk about the 'how', then. First, once I made the decision, it was time to unleash the power of h y p e, because if I'm going to be selling something, it's important that everybody and their canines know I'm going to be selling something.
But this isn't just about self-promotion. There are two much more fundamental principles that I want to highlight.
Maintaining play. It's increasingly obvious to me that I'm at my best when I have a playful attitude, and that includes exploring and tinkering with all the back-end process stuff required to do something like this. Sharing that gives me an outlet for all that geeky fun, and has the added bonus of attracting people who like that stuff too.
Audience-first development. As I said in the tweet thread, I didn't expect to be here. Alexander Technique was just one of many things I played with (there’s play again) publicly, and peopled liked it. Thus, it's the continual back and forth between me and audience (👋) that helps me build in the right direction. This is exactly what David Perell talks about in Audience-First Products, by the way.
It's these two things that have led to the course. I decided to try my hand at introductory Zoom calls, which then led to demand that outstripped my capacity to supply. Each of these was run on a donation basis, which kept it light and playful for all involved.
The course itself will be an enhanced, scalable version of the call. I don't have the skills to create a "learn Alexander Technique online" course, but this won't be that. This will be the equivalent of a first lesson: giving a taster, an experience of new ways of being, and a gentle push into a new world of self-experimentation.
And I'll be sharing my process, highs and lows, both here and on Twitter. I hope you'll follow along and that it'll be useful for you.
Feeling gratitude for reliance systems
I'm going to use this piece as an exercise in Roam-based output, again sharing behind the scenes.
Reliance system, huh? Let's define what that means, first of all:
This image, by the way, is a screenshot from my page for [[The Spatial Contract]], which is open in my sidebar right now..., which looks like this as I write this in Roam. The [numbers] are page numbers from the book.
So back to reliance systems, which are all the things that need to exist for me to be able to express my agency in some way. Here are some examples:
Walking down a road. First, the road has to exist. That means there it was once built and is now maintained. It needs to exist in such a way that I can walk down it, i.e. someone decided to make it physically accessible for pedestrians and I must also be allowed to walk down it, i.e. it's public. These point at the political and economic environments in which the road sits.
Cooking a meal. Well, I need food to cook, so that's the entire food production (farming), distribution (supermarket logistics) and transportation (roads) systems right there, as well as the systems that enable them. I need fuel — say electricity or gas transported by electricity and gas grids — to be able to heat the food. I also need equipment — a stove, pots and cooking implements — and a place that is conducive to cooking, say a kitchen, which is probably in a building, itself a reliance system.
The discussion of reliance systems is just an introductory element of the book, but it grabbed me for its sheer complexity.
I decided to turn the idea of a reliance system into a gratitude exercise. Every time I engage with an expression of my own agency (walking outside, cooking, publishing a newsletter), I take a moment to consider all the reliance systems that made it possible.
It very quickly becomes overwhelming, but in a wonderful way. Multiple reliance systems emerge rapidly, creating fractal chains of prerequisite and interlocking sets of more reliance systems.
And, when my mind can no longer hold onto all of it, I'm left with a sense of awe, and cooking my dinner seems like a fundamentally different experience.
Playing with Patronage
I mentioned that I am running my Alexander Technique calls on a donation basis. Recently, someone I ran a session with said that PayPal, the payment platform I was using, didn't work for him, so I set up a different option.
Buy Me A Coffee is — in their words — "the best way for creators and artists to accept one-off support and membership from their fans." The idea is that if you appreciate someone's work, then sending them some amount of money, "to buy them a coffee" is one way to do this.
So I set up a Buy Me A Coffee page, which integrates the card payment processor Stripe, so that this person could send me money. And, of course, I tweeted about it.
Wonderfully, three additional people decided to buy me coffees! This is all very new to me, but it seems like a fun thing to play with.
And if you want to support my creative work by buying me a coffee then you can do so here
Image of the week
Here is a reliance system that used to occupy a lot of my thoughts.
This is the GB Electricity National Control Centre (“the control room”), operated by National Grid Electricity System Operator, my former employer. I used to design innovation projects for them.
(Image source: National Grid, via The Turing Institute, who we worked with to develop better solar forecasting models.)
The big screen shows the island of Great Britain lying on its side. On the left is Scotland. On the right is England, with Wales roughly at the bottom. Each coloured line on the map is a high voltage electricity transmission line, either 400kV (blue), (purple) or 132kV (red). Yellow lines are offline. (And if I remember correctly).
The yellow squiggle on the left shows grid frequency, which varies around 50Hz, while the other displays show current electricity demand, generation from different sources, weather forecasts and the power flowing through inter-connectors with Northern Ireland, France and the Netherlands.
This is one hell of a reliance system that requires continuous balancing, all so that the light will turn on when you flick a switch. I'm pretty grateful for this one.
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