Categorybiographies 2.0

So this happened in the first half of 2014

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Personally I always have a tendency to think that I’m not doing quite enough: Not pushing hard enough, not putting enough hours to learn new skills, not shipping enough. Partly that’s certainly true (especially the part about making time for structured learning). But partly it’s hard to see progress and get an overview while you’re working on something. You can’t see the forest for the trees.

A friend made that pretty clear to me in a recent conversation where we caught each other up on the things that had happened in our lives, both privately and in our work: As we talked, it surprised me when he asked how I could possibly have been involved in so many projects – a thought that had barely occurred to me before. To me it’s pretty much business as usual to be working on several things in parallel.

Looking at the first half year of 2014, though, he was right. It’d been unusually productive (and explains why I’m really feeling like a vacation). The list of things I did or (in most cases co-)created just earlier this year is longer than I had realized:

  • ThingsCon #1, a conference about the future of hardware businesses & the IOT
  • UIKonf #2, a conference for iOS developers
  • NEXT Berlin (as program director), a conference about the macrotrends that shape digital businesses
  • Connected, an printed essay collection about the Internet of Things
  • Dearsouvenir, a prototype for a souvenir finding service
  • The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook, a handbook for running an independent conference
  • Was invited as a speaker to six events or conferences, including biggies like O’Reilly Solid, in Berlin, Amsterdam, San Francisco and Tokyo, mostly about the Internet of Things, emerging technologies, the exchange of skills between startup land and the German Mittelstand, and Berlin as a tech hub
  • Contributed quite a few interviews & articles, mostly around the Internet of Things or 3D printing and other emerging technologies
  • Set up my new company as an umbrella for all these activities

Currently in the making: the next issue of Connected; the next steps for Dearsouvenir; a digital magazine about maker culture; ThingsCon 2015; and a few early stage ideas that might or might not materialize.

So that makes, what, three conferences, two publications, a prototype and a bunch of writing and talks. Seeing it like that I now know what my friend meant. And yet, this seems to me to be the default, if not the only way forward, for this industry and the model I choose to operate in, which is always about collaborative explorations of emerging technology.

What I find interesting (and what I’m a little proud of) is that besides NEXT Berlin – who I’ve enjoyed working with for a long, long time by now – these projects are all self-initiated stuff, in other words not client work but built from the ground up. This is something I’ve set out to do a while ago, and it’s great to see this working out so nicely.

So on that note, on to the second half of the year. Can’t wait!

 

PS. If you want to get occasional updates about projects I’m working on, often a little bit before they get announced here or elsewhere, why not sign up to my personal newsletter. Say hi if you do!

A crossover between Technomad and 3CK?

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Third Culture Kids (3CK for short) are people who grow up between several cultures – home in none or all of them. Kids who grow up between several countries, whose parents move around the globe – children of diplomats or military families, of emigrants and expats, of parents from two different countries or cultures.

A recent discussion about the notion of 3CK got me thinking. Because almost everything about my life spells 3CK – except, well, my heritage.

See, I grew up in Germany, with German parents, didn’t move at all until I was 18. Had it ended there, there wouldn’t be much to report. But then I started to move about and my life changed quite a bit. I moved within Germany a couple of times, spent some time in the US, studied in Australia. Started traveling more and made more friends in other countries and time zones. Married an American who grew up between the US and Germany (mostly in Germany actually), which means our relationship is half German, half English. In my work it’s mostly English and some German. My job has me travel a lot and work with people around the globe.

 

My travel and work history probably has something to do with it.

 

In other words, my life pretty much feels like a Third Culture Kid, confused time zones and languages and pop cultural references and all. And I’m not alone in this, I think a sizeable part of my peer group feels the same.

 

One of the widgets on my dashboard I use daily.

 

Unlike many of my friends, I don’t identify with the label of 3CK. A true Third Culture Kid wouldn’t recognize me as a fellow 3CK, yet to The Local People I probably often seem to be a weird global nomad of sort, a Technomad as Sean Bonner refers to this kind of lifestyle.

So I’m wondering: What’s the equivalent of 3CK for people who don’t formally match the criteria? Is it Technomad? Something else, and if so, what? How does this group self-identify, and how large is it? Maybe there are so many of us that it isn’t even worth pointing out?

Mentally I refer to the whole bunch as The Tribe, particularly if their global nomad life is also powered by jobs in technology and run through the web. Close to Technomads, but not quite. A subset, maybe?

Curious to find out what other labels there are, what identifiers, social signifiers, etc. Any pointers welcome!

Updates for February: ThingsCon, UIKonf, NEXT Berlin, new portfolio

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Not that I’m about to start writing regular weekly updates again, but here’s a quick snapshot of what’s been going on, what I’ve been up to, and what I’ve been thinking about.

ThingsCon

The Call for Proposals has ended and we’ve just notified the submitters. It’s painful to have to reject good proposals, but of course at this scale it’s impossible not to. (We had almost 50 proposals just through the official form, plus countless more on all kinds of other channels.)

Realized all of a sudden just how awesome & comprehensive the whole industry is going to be represented at ThingsCon. As far as I can tell, there will be representatives of Intel, Highway1/PCH, Bosch, BERGCloud, Good Night Lamp, reaDIYmate, Silabs, Fairphone, Phonebloks, Dustcloud, Ultimaker, Xively, Blaze, Provenance, Technology Will Save Us, Product Club, IxDS/Fritzing and many more. It’s going to be quite wild.

UIKonf

The Call for Proposals at UIKonf is still ongoing – it’s a different process altogether. First of all, it’s completely anonymous to foster diversity and give a better chance to lesser known names. It’s closed for submissions now, so we enter the phase where feedback can be given and we’ll start the voting phase next week. Check out all proposals here (all you need to vote & give feedback is a Github account).

NEXT Berlin

We’re getting to the point where a concrete program is emerging out of the mass of proposals and potential speakers.

New portfolio site

Taking a hint from both friends and clients, I am (at last!) preparing a portfolio site of sorts. Basically a quick overview of what I do, to make it easier to share with others and make introductions easier for those introducing me.

I might also transition my business into a new company of sorts, but for now it’s mainly a communications thing.

Part of this is to also make it even easier to recognize how I split my time between client work and self-initiated projects (like ThingsCon, UIKonf and a few as of yet largely announced ones). Scribbles like this one help me structure my thoughts:

 

Scribble: my process and value chain

 

So what about that new portfolio site? The draft is live at guildindustries.com:

 

Screenshot of guildindustries.com

 

Yes, it’s live, and yes, it’s a draft. If you’re wondering about the name – I wanted to reflect that I tend (and try) to work with external, trusted experts whenever possible. While my skill set is necessarily wide so I can connect the dots and discover the best opportunities for both clients and my own projects/products/services, I find it tremendously helpful and effective to work with experts whose skills go deep rather than wide. Domain experts that truly know their field inside and out, people who don’t just know the field damn well but also advance and shape it. Which is kind of what I associate with a guild in the best, traditional sense of the word.

Since a good deal – and my main motivation – of my work is knowledge transfer (aka Empowering Others To Be Even More Awesome), I find it useful as a metaphor for sharing the insights of these innovators.

What can I say? It’s a work in progress. Things might will change. Once I find it’s ready I’ll probably flip the switch and retire my other site (peterbihr.com) that currently serves the same function.

What do you think?

Some quick updates: ThingsCon, PETS, SolidCon, Highway1

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you live the surprise results of old plans

 

Writing the weeknotes for KANT I just noticed a few things I haven’t mentioned here, so I’m just copy&pasting them in:

ThingsCon is making big, big strides, including an advisory board and a ton of freshly confirmed speakers. To follow the progress, keep an eye on Twitter and the blog!

This week I’m off to Amsterdam to talk about 3D printing at a big conference for the pets food and toys industry called PETS. I’m going to take Chris‘ new Mac presentation tool Deckset for a spin there, which I’ve been playing around with for a few days and which is great.

Brady Forrest, speaker and advisor at ThingsCon and co-founder of PCH’s hardware incubator Highway1 also made me a mentor for Highway1, which I’m excited about.

Speaking of being excited about hardware/software things, I just learned I’ll be speaking at Solid, O’Reilly’s new conference about the convergence of hardware and software. San Francisco in May it is!

Thanks & Happy Holidays: That was 2013

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This is my sixth end-of-year post (all prior ones here). Stunned!

So what happened?

Friends & Family

 

In the spring, I married M, and couldn’t possibly be happier. This alone would have made my year perfect.

I’m very happy that more friends married, and that some had babies, and that my goddaughter is growing up nicely, and that my family is healthy & happy & overall very well. So that part’s all good.

That alone would make for a (very happy, but also) really boring post, so here goes.

Travel

Once more, I feel very lucky in that I got to travel a lot. Destinations include (in alphabetical order) Bad Herrenalb, Bad Kreuznach, Belgrade, Brighton, Buenos Aires, Hamburg, India, Karlsruhe, Kassel, London, Portugal, Rijeka and Scotland and Wales, spread out over about 15 trips and about 102 days total. Among other things, I got to spend about a month each in Buenos Aires and India, and got to hike in Scotland, Wales and England.

In this order: India, England, Buenos Aires.

A year of experimentation & learning

Even more than in many previous years I got to experiment and learn a lot. I got to dig into a whole slew of tech & business ideas, work with old and new collaborators, and generally just opened up the possibility space really wide before slowly starting to narrow it down again. Maybe the biggest change for me in terms of business thinking was to slowly adjust away from the mental model of client work (which is all about billable days) and into product/dev work (which is all about progress first and cashflow/billable time second). If, like me, you’ve worked almost always for clients (ie. sold services) this is a big change, and one that takes some getting used to. It does feel great, though, to invest time into building something new.

Along the way, I started and subsequently pulled the plug on one company and one service, started two conferences that are going strong (UIKonf, ThingsCon), and am in the early stages of launching another thing with a much-esteemed partner. Long-time collaborator and office mate Matt and I also built several prototypes of digital-to-physical print things, one of which hasn’t made it past the “print-out-a-test-dummy” phase, one of which is about to go into production. All of these also serve as an example for my previous point – it’s a mental shift from billing hours to investing into product development.

ThingsCon & UIKonf & Ignite Berlin & NEXT Berlin

If anything, chairing or programming (and sometimes initiating) conferences has taken on a whole new quality for me this year.

There’s NEXT Berlin of course, where like the last years I’m a curator and program director along with the fantastic Monique van Dusseldorp. (Disclosure: SinnerSchrader/NEXT Berlin are clients of mine.)

Then there’s Ignite Berlin, which has now been going strong since 2010 I believe – we just had #4 a few months ago.

UIKonf was such a resounding success that Chris, Matt and I aren’t just continuing it into 2014, but also incorporated to make it easier to run sustainably.

And then of course there’s Things, which started out with a harmless conversation with Max & Simon and then took on such a life of its own – my mind’s blown. We’re just getting started, and already we’ve been getting so much fantastic feedback on all the backchannels that I can’t wait for the day.

Wrote some stuff

I got to write a few things, and give some talks (actually, mostly panels this year).

Wrote the cover story for this issue on T3N.

Didn’t actually write for this second issue of The Alpine Review, but did manage to contribute at least some content, interviews & contacts. Here, the copy doubles as backdrop for a planning call for UIKonf.

Oh yeah, over at KANT, we also expermimented with a topic sprint, aka five people in a room for a day cranking out a report that will be published come night-time, no matter what. Super interested time constraints to work with. Curious to refine this process some more.

Firsts & some things I learned along the way

Along the way, I learned some things and did some things for the first time.

I take enough steps every day. I should sleep a little more. Standing desks are great, but improvised standing desks are only so-so. Getting funding for a product is both harder and easier than expected. Kindles break easily if you twist their display. Built a lamp, and poured something out of concrete. Well-made shoes are awesome. It’s worth locking the door all the way. Travel is good and productive. Went to Argentina, Croatia, India, Serbia, Wales for the first time.

Some things I’ll try to do (read: resolutions!)

Policy input. For quite a while I’ve been wondering how to best make a contribution to how we can get Berlin/Germany/Europe ready for the 21st century on a policy level, namely what a digital agenda for Europe should look like. It’s a super relevant issue (rather, a whole slew of issues) that I feel a certain obligation to contribute my part in. How? Not sure yet.

Learn more languages. In terms of actual languages, I was lucky to attend a school that gave me a very solid prep. And even though I lost most of my fluency due to inactivity in French and Latin and stuck mostly to English (and my native German of course), it gave me a broad base to build on. So, no more excuses not to learn Spanish. I’ve been training a bit via Duolingo, and want to intensify it. But also I feel like brushing up on my meager coding skills. Codecademy & Co to the rescue!

Figure out how to best consolidate all the roles and hats I wear professionally depending on context. Most likely, I’ll just roll them all into one company to make it easier for others to understand, and to minimize administration.

More family visits. Been getting better about this over the last year or two, and I’ll try to make a point of seeing both my parents and my sister more often. Neither of us is getting any younger, so there’s really no good reason not to make the effort.

So what’s next?

I’m typing this on my way to a brief holiday trip to my family and later to see some friends. Back in Berlin, I’m looking forward to a pretty intense 2014. Between three conferences more or less back-to-back in May that will need quite some preparation in the first months of the year, a talk in January in Amsterdam, client work, a new venture and quite a few upcoming work-related trips, I won’t be bored anytime soon.

Happy Holidays

On that note, I got nothing more to say than Happy Holidays. I hope you’ll have a great start in 2014. See you on the other side.

A year ago I left my company. Time to take stock.

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Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

One year ago today I left the company I co-founded, Third Wave. It’s an intense step — leaving your own company — but one I felt was necessary.

Time to take stock one year in.

Some of my explicit goals were to learn more about product development and build prototypes (rather than do primarily consulting), and to explore new fields through collaborations. This has partly worked out and partly it hasn’t. Let’s see…

The goal of doing less consulting hasn’t quite worked out. Not just because the other projects haven’t opened up stable enough revenue streams, but also because some things are just too interesting to turn down. That’s really a good problem to have. So I’ve been working in a number advising and consulting roles, and as a curator for a number of conferences (like NEXT Berlin). But my focus is a different one: Now that I’m only responsible for myself, I can be even more picky about the kinds of gigs I accept, which I realize is a very privileged situation. I’m very grateful I get to enjoy that privilege.

On the product side of things, lots is happening, albeit a little more slowly than I had (naively/optimistically) hoped. Matt and I have been working on several prototypes that fall squarely in the “delight” category (as opposed to “tool”), and are slowly getting to the point where we might release some of them. Makers Make, an ambitious project started with Natasha C., is evolving slower than we hoped. That’s ok, since it still opened up so many doors and conversations for us that the slower pace doesn’t worry us. Together with Matt and Chris I shipped UIKonf, which was a resounding success. And with another external partner I’ve been working on an idea that now –years after the initial spark– we’re finally both in a position to make happen, which is great. And we’re cooking up some more stuff at KANT.

Speaking of KANT (our shared office/lab space), this too has been evolving nicely, and it’s fantastic to work alongside these good folks and cultivate that sense of community.

Additionally, I also was able to spend quite some time on the road and working from other cities, and to work with a ton of interesting, inspiring people. Again, I can’t say how grateful I am for that privilege.

Speaking of privileges, I’ve also been approached a number of times with job offers, some of which might have been quite tempting if I wasn’t so happy with where things are going. Again, I’m grateful for the offers. (Thank you, you know who you are.)

When switching back to self-employment, I had vaguely expected that there might soon emerge the one project to take over most my attention; it’s how it’s often worked for me, at least temporarily. This one project is still elusive, and in fact there’s so much going on that it’s sometimes hard to keep track. That’s a fantastic thing for me. The year went by very quickly, and differently than I had imagined it going in, but in altogether good ways. And there’s more to come.

So here’s to the next one.

Defaults

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@aol.com as first default? Rly? At SxSW 2011, a photo booth that strangely used @aol.com as the first default email provider.

 

I grew up in a culture of strong defaults.

 

Growing up in a small town in the Black Forest in South Germany, essentially life is good: It’s a prosperous region, has an overwhelmingly friendly (if sometimes grumpy) population, lots of nature and some of the best clean air and water you could wish for. Between our home and the Black Forest, the actual Black Forest, there was just our neighbors’ houses. I could get to play in the woods within hardly two minutes. In other words, a kid’s paradise.

Defaults v choice

However, and more to the point, this comes at a certain price, and that is lack of heterogeneity and choice. To give you some examples, for my secondary school I had only three school to choose from in my tier (secondary schools in Germany come in three tiers based on grades upon leaving primary school). One was in a hard-to-reach town with only two buses going there per day, so that was easy to rule out. So there was essentially a choice of just two schools, one pretty much like the other. If you wanted Italian or Chinese or Greek food, there was one restaurant of each of these. If you wanted burgers, you drove to the next bigger city and could choose between McDonals and BurgerKing. In other words, choice was limited.

Smart defaults matter

Growing up with strong defaults has a lasting, profound effect on my thinking.

M and I often joke about cultural differences in defaults over choice. Being American, she grew up assuming that you order what you want, indepently from what’s on the menu (within reason, of course). My impulse is to go with a recommendation and maybe deviate just a little.

Example: Ordering sandwiches while out and about, she’d build her order from the ground up depending on her wishes; I’d typically pick a pre-set menu and just tweak it (say, by removing the onions).

If it’s really a cultural difference or if I’m reading too much into it I don’t know. But either way it’s led me to believe that defaults matter a great deal. It’s important – and if we’re in a position to do so, our responsibility – to set smart defaults.

This is how you set the tone and leverage one type of desirable behavior over another.