Re-inventing Tech Meetups

First thing first, please forgive me for the Buzzfeedy, blatant disrespect of a headline.

Thank you.

Now, here’s what I’m thinking. There are lots of tech meet-ups  for designers and developers of all variety, from startup to enterprise, from niche specialty to full-stack. The one thing they all have in common–as it seems to me–is they all involve meeting up at bars, or venues where you stand around and drink. (I’m not talking about events where there’s a presentation or a talk, I’m talking about straight up socializing.)

For me the tech meet-ups represent three personal trade-offs:

  • Moving my body (and stilling my mind). A perpetual problem for me is deciding whether to spend my evening getting exercise, being outside, moving my body, which is much needed after a day of sitting and typing, vs. getting out there and meeting people with a common interest in the community.
  • Drinking. I also don’t drink much. I was ordering Scotch neat regularly, and then I turned 30 and my body said, “Ok, that was fun, but we’re done here.” Most of the time this is not a problem. I can usually get a non-alcoholic drink, or get a house wine and hold it in my hand to blend in socially. But I’ll confess there are times when I get more particular and wonder, why couldn’t we socialize with something like tea, or juice, or kombucha? I know, I know, liquid courage and social networking and all that, which leads me to my next point.
  • Introverting. In her book, Quiet, Susan Cain describes Introverts as “Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.” I’m an Introvert, and unless I have a friend or two, networking events are pretty much mostly small talks, which at best can be draining and at worst horrifying.

I had this Jerry Maguire moment the other day after getting back from bouldering around the  Volunteer Park Water Tower. Why can’t we host a tech meet-up doing things we love? Like climbing? Or yoga? Or walking? Or… actually making something?

Why can’t we talk about Designing for Cats at our favorite climbing gym, like Dogpatch Boulders or Seattle Bouldering Project? Why can’t we carpool to Green Gulch Farm on Sunday mornings and sit and listen to the Dharma talk and walk to Muir beach and talk startup or product design? Or the SF Zen Center on Saturday mornings and Samovar after to share our side projects? Why couldn’t we walk around Greenlake with our dogs, you know, ahem, Get Out of the Building and all that?

What do you think? Do you have a similar experience? Would you show up for a tech walk-around? If nothing else, science says it’s good for us.

Feedback from my friends:

  • Kutta said this could be a complement to bars meet up, not a replacement, and I agree. It’s for climbers to tech, for example. “But if there was some kind of group session that’s social-friendly (like, hire a couple of bouldering instructors to teach a loosely organized group class, who can tailor their teaching to both noobies and more experienced participants)… You could get 10-20 people to hang out and socialize and bond.”
  • Brendan (@brendanreville) favors meet-ups that “actually involve people making stuff in the shared space.. or show off what they’ve made.”
  • Jonathan (@jmfd):  “I think it’d be much more fun to do demo-style meet ups, and actually show what you’re working on and discuss the problems.”


The Lean Relationship

My friend Brendan (hi Brendan) once half joked that he’d like to have a couple kids, “I think they’d make good side projects, you know?” (maybe he wasn’t joking at all, it’s hard to tell with that Aussie deadpan accent). I laughed out loud, and played along, “Oh yeah, totally, I can see that. But first you need to find a willing and able cofounder. ‘Cause it’d be pretty hard doing those side projects solo.”

Then we stared into space, each chasing our own thoughts. I’m not sure what Brendan was thinking, but maybe he, like I, was thinking about the design specs for a cofounder, personas, scenarios, and storyboarding how the sign-up workflow would go.

(You think I’m joking.)

(Ok, maybe I’m joking. Except for the sign-up workflow.)

But lately, this idea has been sitting in my head, what if we ran our relationships like a lean startup a la Eric Ries? After all, those of us in this tiny corner of the world who are obsessed with making Good Things are perpetually seeking, and iterating, on ways to build a better company, a better product, a better user experience.

Why couldn’t we do that with finding a romantic partner, a co-founder, who’s essential to the product development process? I mean, you don’t even have to want to procreate. A great relationship could be the source of happiness, contentment, inspiration, crying shoulder, etc. It could be *the* Good Thing springpad from which you build other Good Things.

Also, and this is an important point (imho), startups fail, a lot, often. Same with relationships. Everywhere I look, it’s almost like people are getting fries with a side of divorce.

“The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build–the thing customers want and will pay for–as quickly as possible. In other words, the Lean Startup is a new way of looking at the development of innovative new products that emphasizes fast iteration and customer insight, a huge vision, and great ambition, all at the same time.”

In his book, Eric talks about the feedback loop process of driving a car, which happens so quickly that we don’t even register the fact that we’re constantly adjusting the steering wheel. He contrasted this with launching a rocket ship, which requires precise calibration from the get-go and leaves no room for error adjustment.

When I read about the steering wheel and the driver, I immediately thought about an exercise I did in my yoga training with Judith Hanson Lasater. You can do this too. Stand up, and close your eyes. You’ll notice that your body is constantly swaying, shifting back and forth and side to side. After having us observe and confirm this in our own bodies, Judith declared, “Standing is the constant adjustment of falling forward and backward.”

“Instead of making complex plans that are based on a lot of assumptions, you can make constant adjustments with a steering wheel called the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop.”

Can BML be applied to relationships, or is my analogy totally perverse and asinine?