Who am I?

I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

Currently Consuming
  • The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    by Eric Ries
  • The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    by Daniel Coyle
  • Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    by Ron Chernow

Paul Tevis

Entries in navel-gazing (46)


Finding My Voice

There are two people I want to be able to blog like: Rands and Scott Berkun. Both of them write in an engaging style and pass along valuable, useful advice. And I’m not sure how to do that.

My difficulties seem to break down along three lines. First, I have a hard time seeing what I sorts of things I have enough experience with to write confidently about. Rands has had years of experience managing software teams to refine his points of view for his essays and books. Scott has had a varied enough professional life to have a similar depth of knowledge for his posts and books. The topics I’m most interested in writing about, however, are those that I’m just now starting to explore.

The second issue is that, in general, I write in a much shorter form than these two. Rands’ blog posts tend to fall in the 2500-3000 word range; Scott’s most popular are of similar length. Mine rarely make it past a thousand; I have hard time believing that I could put together something coherent beyond at that length. Granted, that’s largely a matter of writing practice, which is something that this year’s Post A Day project will definitely help with. And I assume both them spend more time on blogging than I do, so I do have the option to up my time committment. Still, it’s an obstacle I haven’t yet overcome.

The last problem is that I have a hard time generalizing beyond my own experience. I know well enough that different people are, well, different. I have no problem presenting my own account of what I did or how I dealt with some problem (as you probably already know from reading this blog). What isn’t clear to me is what parts of those experiences are applicable to others, which is why I leave the “How does this apply to you?” question as an exercise to the reader. But quite frankly, writing about nothing but my own experience and couching it in those terms seems at times like self-indulgent narcissism. I think that until I’m able to come to terms with this, I’m not going to feel like I’m really writing.

The solution to this, of course, is to keep writing. The issue isn’t that I don’t have anything to say. It’s more than I don’t know what I have to say. And I suppose now is as good a time as any to figure that out.


Dreamt Of In My Philosophy

Robin Laws posted on his Livejournal that he (along with several other folks I've met) played A Penny For My Thoughts on Wednesday night, and that in said game he played a fictionalized version of Paul Tevis, the author of A Penny For My Thoughts. My mind boggled at the idea that arguably the greatest roleplaying game designer working today not only played my game, but played me. There are stranger things Horatio, indeed.

Once I got over the initial disorientation, I thought about what Robin had to say about the game. To wit:

The game follows the common indie approach of asking a GM-less group to weave a story in response to a very specific and detailed series of rules structures. We experienced some confusion in identifying and following the structure. It might have benefited us to more strongly bring to mind the game's fictional framework of its memory-challenged group therapy session.

I've talked with Robin before about story structure and games, so I see where he's coming from with his observation about "the common indie approach." One thing his comment made me realize is that I've thought of Penny as different from most indie/story games in that its techniques of play aren't intended to create story. Yes, story can (and hopefully will) emerge from the process of play, but to me the focus it puts on the moment-to-moment interactions between people at the table is more important. When I was designing Penny, I thought of it more in social terms than in narrative ones. I suppose once the book is out my hands, it doesn't really matter what I think; what matters is what people get from it.

The other thing that I discovered from Robin's (quite valid) critique is that I'm worried about being judged as a game designer solely on Penny. It was a deliberately experimental game. I wanted to see what it would take for me to put a book together. I also wanted to see what would happen if I made certain bold design choices and stuck with them. The result wasn't anything like the way we normally play on Tuesday nights, at least structurally. As I'm slowly working on More Questions Than Answers (the system we're using for our Delta Green game), I'm rediscovering how we play together, and for some reason I'm anxious to show it to the world and say, "See! This how I really play!" What I'm not sure at all about is why that is.

Stranger things indeed.


Arete, Purpose, and Virtue

I find myself compelled to write about arete.

In college, I played Sir Thomas More in a production of Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons. I can't put my hands on it now, but I recall at the time reading something (possibly by Bolt himself) about what the title could really mean. How could someone truly be "a man for all seasons?" What is a man for? And if he has a purpose, how would we know what it was?

(In a moment of sychronicity, Gwen just walked in wearing a shirt from that production of A Man For All Seasons.)

The ancient Greeks had a concept called arete. In a nutshell, arete is the idea of "excellence" or "virtue" but applied to fulfillment of a particular purpose. So a sharp knife has arete, because it is well-suited to cutting, and that's what knives do. The problem is that I keep applying the lens of arete to how I see myself.

It's not really a problem so much as an ideosyncrocy, I suppose, but it's intellectually challenging. I see myself as acting not out of some cosmic sense of Purpose, but out of a sense of being in the moment. Over the last few years I've turned away from long-term plans and large-scale ideas in favor of constant re-evaluation and re-prioritization. How does arete work in that context?

One way out to see myself as acting purposefully, that my individual actions have purpose even if there is no grand, overarching Purpose to my life. When I act, I want to achieve something. Acting in an effective way towards whatever that specific goal is, then, can be said to have arete. But I'm not sure that really resolves my conundrum.

Virtue and arete are slippery things for me. On a poetic level, I'm attracted to them, but on a rational level, I have a hard time pinning them down. Expect to hear more about them as time goes on.


Gather 'Round The Fire

This week has been about getting back in touch with my inner extrovert.

It took me a long time to realize that I am an extrovert. When I was a kid, I didn't have many friends, and I spent a lot of time alone. That meant I must have been an introvert, right? Sure enough, every time I took a Myers-Briggs test, I came back as an "I." Nothing simpler than that right?

It turns out that while I thought of myself that way, it was only because I hadn't been in situations that let me think otherwise. It was only after four years of college and about five years of post-college life that I realized, "Hey, I really do draw energy from being around lots of other people, don't it?" (This stands in stark contrast to Gwen, who really is an introvert and finds those same situations exhausting.) But eventually I figured it out, and I got comfortable with it.

Over the last year, however, I've interacted with people (particularly online) a lot less than I have in the past. This is mostly due to my efforts to cut back on and refocus my activities. But As a result, people didn't email, IM, or call me as much as they used to. What I failed to do until recently was recognize that my diminishing social contact was my fault.

Earl Nightingale talks about expecting things from the world. It's simple: the more you serve the world, the more you receive. And it has to start with you. You don't expect the stove to get hot, he asks, before you put wood in it, do you? That's precisely what I thought was going to happen. I'd let my fire, which I'd spent several years building, burn down, and I needed to put more wood in it.

That's what this week has been about for me. I've been posting here, dipping back into forums, getting back in contact with folks, and generally trying to warm things back up. What's surprised me is how quickly I've seen a change, not only in the world, but in myself.

Let's keep that fire going. If I've let things grow a little cool, talk to me, leave a comment, or IM me, or email me, or whatever. I love to connect with people. I thrive on it. And I can't believe it took me this long to figure it out.

Smart Is Dumb

The problem with being smart is that I think I understand stuff.

My particular version of this problem is that I think I understand something I've encountered before. I heard or read or see something that makes sense to me, and I think, "Oh, I get it." And I do. I just don't internalize it and act on it. And then, some number of months later when I see reference to the same idea again, I skip over it, because I think I already understand it. But I don't. I know it, but I don't understand it. And the dumb part of being smart is that I don't let myself go back over the idea again in detail, reflected against my experience since the last time I encountered it.

(This happens with all sorts of ideas and to a frustrating extent. Rather than make a list, let's just assume that if I've written about it here, I've gone through this process with it.)

If I'm lucky, I'll finally encounter the idea after I've once again failed to fully understand it. If I'm lucky, I'll not realize that it's same idea until after I've consumed it again and let my experiences shuffle around it. And then, if I'm actually smart (and don't just think I'm smart), I'll finally understand it and let it make a difference in my life.