Engagement Terms

Even after I retired from the rat race on February 10, 2014 there were people who still wanted me to do work for them. I would say that although I no longer need money, if what they were doing was interesting then I’d be open to a collaboration.

They liked that, perhaps because that way they still get what they want without paying for it. I even wrote some ideas for what a collaboration would look like. That is what was on this page before I revised it with what you are reading now. You can find the prior version on the Internet Archive here.

The reason I’ve ditched it is because a few of the collaborations I’ve had since retiring didn’t work out. On reflection, I’m not sure it was a problem with the engagement terms. I think the problem was with me. I’m not a good collaborator, at least not in the ways others think of it.

I like to make things. This involves putting things together in interesting ways. It might be physical things that I’ll bring to Burning Man, lines of code that become the basis of a stock trading business I built and ran for 18 years, or the people that turned the code into a business.

What I’ve found is that in the world of unpaid collaboration, what most people want is not a co-worker to make something that sees the light of day but rather they want company and reassurance.  I want that too, but my needs are not massive. Sharing a home with a great wife who keeps herself busy doing her thing while I do mine is wonderful, don’t you think? And, pretty much, the only reassurance I need is that I haven’t done anything today that would make her want to divorce me tomorrow after she’s had a chance to sleep on it.

Often people also want money even if they don’t say so. They want money not because they have a good idea of what to do with money, but rather they just want to stop worrying about money and they think that if someone gives them money then they can stop doing that.

That doesn’t make sense to me because when I was entrusted with other people’s money I took my fiduciary responsibility very seriously — even when I was in school spending parents’ or scholarship money. You must spend other people’s money with greater care than your own. If you weren’t raised to believe that then nobody should invest in you, should they?

People also try to buy my time and want to know what I charge.

I tell them that I’ve gotten myself into an enviable stage in life where I have only two price-points: “You can’t afford me” and “zero.”

If you want my time, here is what I want you to do:

  • Tell me in clear and unambiguous terms what you want me to do.
  • Make the case that it will help lots of people other than you or me.

If you want me to help you with a problem only you have then that puts you in the “you can’t afford me” category.

The most interesting opportunities are where you have had a problem that you have solved and you want help getting the word out to everyone else. That’s a cool thing to work on: you have empathy for people with the problem and you know how to solve it. If you had plenty of people in your life who were doing that, you wouldn’t want to make time for people who can’t solve their own problems and want you to do it for them, would you?

Some people ask me to review their business plans or pitch books for a new business or a new product. If you ask me to do that, and I agree, then you are in for an experience.

By training and experience I am a writer (of prose and code) and more generally a thinker. William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, said, “Writing is re-writing; it is where the game is won or lost.” Similarly, programming is re-programming [aka debugging], it is where the game is won or lost. Generally, thinking is re-thinking, it is…  you get the gist.

If you want to get an idea from “interesting” to “might work” or at a minimum “worth other people’s time” then you would do well to find someone to debug your thoughts. Writers use: Beta readers, critique partners and a whole host of editors (copy, content, developmental, etc.). Good shops do code reviews where you might need to defend your program line-by-line to a room full of peers.

If you ask me to be a beta reader or a critique partner for your ideas then expect a lot of ‘what’s wrong’ and ‘what could go wrong.’ This has been described to me once as ‘nerd kindness’ where ‘nerd’ is defined as someone who cares more about being right than about what you think of them.

Most people want to believe they are right whether they are or not. Get between them and a most cherished belief with an irrefutable fact and they will never forgive you. Nerds know they can never be 100% certain they are right but they can easily be wrong. The kindest thing you can do for this kind of nerd is to point out where they are wrong.

I could go on, but perhaps I should stop here. I’ve given you enough to know what I want to hear from you and what you might expect from me. If you can think of a good reason to write then please do. I’m Brooke@BrookeAllen.com