For the past two months, little has happened here, on this blog. But on the other side of the screen, there was mayhem. A good mayhem, that is. Put aside 15 minutes or so, a cup of coffee and prepare to read a story about connection, disruption, abrupt lifestyle changes and rapid evolution.
The Outside Story
For the sake of the perspective, I will split this story in two: the outside perspective, what happened in the open and was seen by everybody, and the inside perspective, what happened in my own intimate world and nobody seen it completely. Until now, that is.
Open Connect – The Event
A couple of years ago I started an event, called Open Connect. I wrote about it here a couple of times and it was even mentioned in my last book, Being A Digital Nomad, so if you want to know all the details, go get the book. In this article I will only give you a bird eye view of it.
In short, Open Connect is a networking event: people are getting together to meet other people, to present their ideas and get feedback on them, to be exposed to specific expertise from mentors and to create partnerships. It started out of thin air. Literally. I was sitting one day in my “office” – which translates in drinking coffee on a couch in my favourite Starbucks, actually – and I thought: let’s see what happens. Let’s put an event on Facebook and call some people. And that’s all I did. No expectations, no business plans, no projections. Just launched an idea.
The initial Facebook group had 200 members, all of them friends or business partners. The first event put together 60 people. After that, we started to meet each Thursday.
And we did it from August 2012 until May 2013. At that time, the group had about 1500 members and we organised more than 30 events. I called it “the first season” and entered a three months vacation.
The event was restarted in August 2013 in the same Starbucks, and I called it “the second season”. During the summer we organised two bootcamps and started a few paid workshops. We had more than 30 Open Connects until last Thursday. When we didn’t stop the event, as you may imagine, but we moved it into its own location. Last Thursday, Open Connect #33, second season, was held in Connect Hub, a co-working space created in only 3 weeks in a 550 square rented facility. At that time, the group had more than 3800 members and local editions in another 6 cities in Romania.
Connect Hub – The Space
Before telling you more about the space, I will briefly let you know that about 80% of the new features in the event (because it evolved into a 3 hours event with a fixed structure, a team, prizes and so on) were integrated from the community. I acted as a middle man. I almost never proposed any idea of my own, instead, I took feedback, turn it back to the community and see what happened.
The co-working space was what I call a “leveraged idea”, something that emerged from the community. In other words, a “hard core” of the community, a group of regulars, proposed to get together not only on Thursdays, but all the time. In a common space. So I started to search for a facility, contacted real estate agencies and began the whole process.
At this exact moment, an investor came in. A person who seemed interested in the idea, had knowledge about similar projects and found the entire community appealing. And in less than a week I had to chose between more than 3-4 investment offers for the co-working business.
I found a suitable space, an entire floor on a very big building, I signed the renting contract, got the money from the investor and started to work on it: I started to re-arrange the rooms, to re-decorate, I bought furniture, signed contracts and created a business offer with service packages. But, before that, I did something even more important: I created a team of two colleagues (two girls with management and communication skills) to help me out. I also documented the progress one the Open Connect blog.
The entire process took three weeks, but it was an absolute mayhem (remember the beginning of the article?). Now, after I finished, I realise that pretty much nobody actually believed that I will finish on time. Of course, they were used to my BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) but the space, the actual amount of work, the challenges, were simply too big. Anyway, now it’s done. It’s working. It’s there, we did it.
The actual price of making it on time (regardless of the money) will be detailed down, in the Inside Story part.
How did I manage to go from a weekly event, which took me only half a day per week, to a full time activity of managing a co-working space? The answer is only one word: disruption.
In any business process – and, since the second season, it became obvious to me that Open Connect is actually a business – disruption is vital. And by disruption I understand a big risk (managed, with fallbacks, but still a risk) which will take all the processes in that business to an unprecedented new level (of consistency, of visibility, of performance).
Disruption is difficult.
First of all, because it’s, obviously, risky.
Second, because it has an adaptation cost. Suppose the risk is balanced and you get to the next level. Even if you reached the next level, all the people involved (from investors and managers to workers and partners) will have to adapt and adjust to this new level. And that takes time (and sometimes, money).
And third, disruption is difficult because it will invalidate a working cluster of processes that actually used to work. In my case, this disruption invalidated the entire “happy-go-lucky Starbucks, hipsterish freelance” model which attracted a big part of the community. And added a new cluster of processes in which people will actually work in a new space. These new processes are yet to be validated.
The Inside Story
What you’ve read so far is the public part. What follows is what happened in my (more or less) private life.
Open Connect – Just Be There And Enjoy
I did Open Connect simply because I committed to it. And that is the truth. There were Thursdays in which I didn’t have any drive to get up from my bed and go there. There were Thursdays in which I had the flu. There were Thursdays in which I had to postpone other important meetings just to make room for Open Connect. But I didn’t miss any Thursday in two years.
I didn’t have any expectations. Not even one. I just got up, walk to the Starbucks, and moderate the event. Most of the time, I enjoyed being there. But sometimes I just didn’t. Sometimes I wished I could be in my bed and continue the things I did during the night (not necessarily alone). Sometimes I wished I could just take a break. But I didn’t. I stayed there.
I think Richard Branson once said: “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun”. It doesn’t have to be exhilarating all the time to enjoy it. Just as in my tango classes, I don’t always feel great, but I dance and teach nevertheless. Or just as in running marathons: at some point you will hit a wall. You will feel the urge to just stop. Well, you don’t. You keep running.
Open Connect had at least two very interesting consequences in my private life.
First of all, my private life became a little less private than I wanted to. I started to get recognised on the street, in the subway, at the mall. People will stop me, talk to me out of the blue and expect me to be social. Well, my social skills weren’t so advanced when I started Open Connect. And I’m still more of a shy guy. Maybe “shy” is not the correct word, but I happen to enjoy the company of my own more than the company of other people. Or, to be honest, I used to. Because now, after two years of being involved in weekly events, after talking with thousands of people (literally), after getting to know (and remember the names) of hundreds of people, that part of me changed.
I’m more at ease in the public eye now. I’m more at ease in the company of other people. I don’t know yet if this is a good thing or not, but it’s a change.
And that brings on the next big change, which will be detailed in the next paragraph.
Connect Hub – Take The Leap Of Faith
One day before signing the renting contract for the co-working space I signed another renting contract. I moved in with 2 friends (a man and a woman). That was probably one of the biggest stretches of my entire life. Apart from my two marriages, I always lived alone. And now, all of a sudden, I find myself sharing my living space with two other persons. I sugar coated this change into “trying a social experiment”. But deep down I know it’s not an experiment. It’s a very big lifestyle change. And a very necessary one.
So, here I am, living in a new apartment with 2 room mates, going each day to a construction site, soon to become a co-working space. From living alone, and floating in a Starbucks everyday, that was a really, really big change. Both areas were so new, so difficult to integrate, that I almost blocked myself into an “act, don’t think” pattern for the entire time. Somehow, I couldn’t process and integrate the change and I focused only on finishing the immediate goals that I set for myself. Yeap, it was quite a challenge.
And, as any challenge, it has a price to be paid. During the last 3 weeks I had two attempts to leave: one related to my new personal lifestyle, the other related to my new business lifestyle. I got burned out. Both in my personal and my professional life. I actually wanted to move out from my new apartment (I even visited a new one) and at some point I thought to retire from the entire Connect Hub project.
But both attempts proved to be actually very healthy reactions. And both were solved using a very affordable tool: communication. They were healthy because they were part of the new adaptation process. Both my personal and professional life experienced a deep disruption. And, as I said, one of the reasons disruption is difficult is because it requires an adaptation process.
During this process, a lot of “balloons” were created. And by “balloons” I understand fake situations or persons, projections filled with the air we blow into empty shapes, based on unrealistic expectations (I wrote an entire piece on Playgrounds and Balloons, if you want to know more on this topic). So, both my attempts to leave were actually attempts to “sting” the balloons, to see if they are for real or not. And, to my satisfaction, they both proved to be for real, and not just projections: I have two great room mates and two reliable partners in Connect Hub. We confronted openly and the result was that we go into the same direction. Which is very good.
Disruption – How To Embrace It
In short, the last three weeks were a mayhem. But a good one, that is.
I came to the understanding that in my personal life disruption was a way to accelerate a process of evolution, which, somewhere along the path, got stalled. In other words, I’m exactly were I’m supposed to be. As a matter of fact, because I didn’t embrace all the changes when they first got a chance to be noticed, and put my head in the sand, like an ostridge, I had to do it now in a rush. And on multiple levels. At the same time.
Well, it’s never too late, if you take the time to adapt and adjust. It’s never too late to refresh your lifestyle, to reshape your notions of friendship, romantic and sexual relationships, or business relationships. My entire field of relationships is, right now, like a garden in the spring: the soil was turned upside down, the seeds are carefully planted, it smells fresh and the garden is about to bloom, but during the process, the shape of the garden, as it used to be during the winter, was completely modified. And, every now and then, we had to get rid of some weeds.
One more thing about how I actually adjusted during the disruption. During those two moments of withdrawal, I had a “deja-vu” sensation. This moment when you want to just leave, I lived it before.
And I realised I lived it during my marathons. I finished two marathons so far and, during both, I had this urge to just give up. Because it was too damn difficult. Because I could barley breathe. Because I didn’t trust myself. Or because I was actually over my physical capacity. And that happened to me both in my new apartment and during the construction of the co-working space. I felt like it was simply too much for me.
And then I remembered how I overcame those moments during my marathons: I just kept running.
I didn’t stop.