It's kind of odd to be in the hacker world but not function as a pure thing-maker. From a conversation with Seth Woodworth last month: "The outcome of our work is other people having outcomes." After talking with Mike Lee in DC on Saturday morning, I've reframed it as a question: How do you recognize the value of your work when you're not trying to optimize under the metrics of any of the fields you're collaborating with?

The usual numerical metrics - dollars of sales brought in, people recruited, physical artifacts produced, bugs fixed - don't really measure up (we look downright paltry by their standards) even if we count our partial progress towards multiple metrics. Bridging amongst and switching between tasks - and domains of knowledge - takes a nontrivial amount of mental effort and time, an investment that's not always recognized as a valuable one.

My individualistic tendencies make me want to fight the impulse to quantify all my work, because I know that the only reason I'd do that right now is to prove my worth to other people. I'd like to think I don't use those metrics to mark myself other than in quick casual glances to help me establish a non-countable gut feel as to whether I'm doing something I should be doing.

Actually, wait. The word "value" connotes a quantity. Maybe I should stop using that word. Maybe a better way of asking it is to ask what my contributions are and what I'd like them to be. Then you can start slowly adding the notion of "improvement" in without the numerical connotations by asking how you could make those contributions most effectively (not efficiently, which presumes a measurable output - efficiency contributes towards effectiveness in some, but not all, cases).

For instance, one way I want to contribute to projects and organizations is by creating a welcoming environment for new participants and new ideas. I could be more effective at this if I made sure that the transition between (to paraphrase Gill) "the warm nest and the wide world" is both expected and prepared for. I could also be more effective if I could remind others how bewildering it is to enter into a new domain and how painful it is to be dismissed.

Or maybe I also want to contribute by being able to rapidly prototype and make-functional the visions that I and others come up - largely technical and social, but also political, economical, procedural, and so forth. I'd be more effective at this if I could improve my ability to see through the eyes of people who are trying to communicate to me. I'd also be more effective if I had better physical building skills (sketching, machining, fabricating, programming), ready access to a workshop and resources/materials/tools designed for rapid prototyping, and the confidence to throw more of my work out there without being fearful or ashamed.

These aren't particularly good examples, but one thing I'm noticing is that the things that make me more effective at doing whatever I want to do will also make me more effective at helping others understand the contributions that I do make because I'm "articulating the conditions that would contribute to improve success," to sound like something out of a glossy brochure.

Time to step away from this line of thought for a second and get my hands dirty with action before I go pontificating meta-things again.