Writing your own narrative & using code strategically w/ Tom Critchlow

Tom Critchlow and I talk about strategic independent work, writing your own narrative through experiments, and finding your squad.


Glenn Stovall:
[00:00:00] All right. Hey everyone. I'm here with Tom Critchlow. He's an independent consultant and he is working on a book called the strategic independent. He's sharing his writing online right now. You can find a link to that in the show notes. How are you doing today, Tom? 

Tom Critchlow: [00:00:13] I'm doing well. How are you doing? Thanks having me on the show.

Glenn Stovall: [00:00:16] Oh yeah, I have you on here. And speaking with writing, I want to start with something I saw you tweeting about. I think it was yesterday. You were talking about writing a piece on the power of internet writing and using that to shape your career and identity. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:00:29] So 

Glenn Stovall: [00:00:30] I'd say all of that's coming along. And if you had any sort of thoughts in that space or preview you on to share.

Tom Critchlow: [00:00:35] Yeah, actually by the time this podcast goes out, that piece will be up. It's going to live tomorrow, as we're recording this. So for my newsletter, little futures, which I write with my friend, Brian, little futures is a near future, exploration looking at kind of the changing landscape of work, and strategy work in particular, through the lens.

Because I'm not going to big features, which are these, manufactured, abstract realities, but more like little teachers, which kind of things that are here. And now today that we can do, to meet the future where it is. And I have a post going out tomorrow, called permissionless identities, which, Explores the idea of, it's like old world of career change, where there was this kind of idea that, when you figure out what do you want to do with your life?

You lock yourself in a room, we'll go for a walk in a desert, do some holiday thinking and then, figure out where you want to be. And then go do that, could chase it with a series of deliberate actions. and I read this book, working identity. I, how many, Ibarra pronouncing your name correctly?

and in that book, working identity, she outlines a whole bunch of, alternative or different ways to think about Raymond's and your career. And, a lot of them boil down to this idea that, a sense of identity, he is not fixed iterative and multiplicative. So we have multiple identities at once and those synths, those identities evolve and change over time.

And that the way to reinvent your career. and in this book, how many, I actually explore as a bunch of case studies, in a kind of academic sense of individuals who have undergone career change. and she looks at this idea that actually, taking action, like doing things deliberately in the world.

and then. And then using that feedback loop to do new things, new experiments, do ideas, is the thing that gets you into a kind of career reinventions kind of big career changes, big life changes. and right that I had read in that book, the book is wonderful. I really recommend it. But the insight that I had is that, the internet and network writing, which is just a fancy name for blogging and sending an email and sometimes tweeting and so on network writing, has you already enabled this idea?

All right. Taking deliberate experiments, trying on new identities for size and then deliberately networking those and circulating those new, new networks, new people, you connections. and that's the foundation that how many outlines in the book that drives career change. And so I was like, I reflected on my own career.

I thought, huh? Through my blogging and, to a certain degree through my social media presence to just being a kind of quote, unquote, very online person. I have reshaped my career a number of times, with nothing more than, the power of a, kind of a blinking cursor and, writing.

and that's been really interesting to me. yeah. Anyway, that's the piece, it's called permissionless identities and we can look in the show notes. It'll be up tomorrow. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:03:09] Awesome. Could you, how specifically did writing and on the internet, shape your career, like you said? 

Tom Critchlow: [00:03:15] Yeah, I got my start in the, in my career in the SEO industry, search engine optimization for those who don't know, and.

when I got started in that was 2006, seven, eight, some of that back in the UK and the SEO industry, I think in true today, but even more so true back then was it was a very kind of, ill defined a nebulous industry, right? There was no. There wasn't really a sense that SEO was a career. You could have it.

Wasn't very, I defined saying haven't been around very long. There was no university education. There were no courses even really nor accreditation. and so everyone in the SEO industry was this kind of grab bag. Group of like rebels. we had owes outcasts and that people who had otherwise stumbled into it through one form or another.

and because of that, there was an extreme culture of blogging inside the SEO industry, where people were sharing, what they've learned and sharing their ideas, sharing the tactics. and so I got into blogging pretty early specifically inside SEO industry, SEO community. I'm just firsthand saw the power of.

writing, circulating ideas, commenting on other people's blogs and really building a network through that. And as the SEO industry became more mature and more grown up, and I was at the right time at the right place. I went from, this kind of 20 something. Do we who didn't know anything about the internet to, Oh, I'm like onstage talking about SEO at these conferences all around the world.

and so that was my first taste of how writing you just power your career. and then as I started to look outside of SEO, I started to fast forward 2012 and I'm living in New York. and, seeing the writing on the Wolf, SEO no longer is going to be the kind of most dominant kind of digital strategy realm.

I feel SEO had this kind of golden age where you could work with the biggest brands in the world at the very most senior levels. Because if you worked in SEO, you knew more about the internet, almost everyone else did from a strategic person. but that change that's always changed.

And around sales and 12, if we can create a that, SEO is actually becoming increasingly marginalized and less senior as a strategic activity. And I could sense that yeah. instead of working with a CEO or the CMO, we were starting to work with the VP of digital or even like the VP of SEO.

And we were like moving down the food chain a little bit. No, it's all the SEO traffic is not relevant anymore in this world. All of the, SEO isn't a booming industry or anything like that, but I can just sense that for me personally, I was excited about doing that kind of strategic work and working with the senior layer, with clients like us, either working at an SEO agency, he was not going to cut that, that wasn't going to be where the industry was heading.

I started writing about these kind of adjacent spaces, and exploring these different ideas, both around management and organizational design, which are things that I was interested in. I imagine the team, where I was working with him at the time. but also about know content marketing, content strategy, and digital strategy more generally.

And then through all of that, I landed at, at, the creative lab at Google, working in New York, spent, there are a couple of years. and then for the last six years, I've been out on my own as in kind of strategy consultant. And again, through that process have essentially written my own narrative.

like I've summarized in a depth to my own identity, through writing, to really figure out what is the kind of work that I do, what does what I want to do and how do it, I expose enough of those things too. My network flexes to those around me, such that I can get, the right kind of clients, the right kind of work, to then meet the identity.

So it's this iterative process of, overreaching a little bit in my writing about what I'm interested in and who I want to be, and then finding the clients that kind of attracted to that. And every new client pushes you slightly in the direction you want to go. And, so anyway, that was a long winded.

That's a joke question, but that's a potted history, of where. Of where writing has just been meaningful for my own career. Yeah. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:06:53] No, that sounds really interesting. I'm also curious about what is your approach with writing today because something else I thought interesting when I was looking at your work, because you have a lot of.

like for a long time, blogging was like a chronological list of articles, but now you mentioned little futures. I've also seen you have blog chains, you have a digital garden. Do you have the strategic independent, which is a, a book in progress, a long form article series. I'm not even sure what to call it.

Tom Critchlow: [00:07:18] Yup. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:07:20] So when you have an idea and you wanna explore and writing these days, how are you deciding 

Tom Critchlow: [00:07:25] what shape that's going to 

Glenn Stovall: [00:07:25] take and how you're going to approach it? 

Tom Critchlow: [00:07:28] That's a good question. I would definitely be overreaching if I said that I had any real kind of formalized process or idea around that.

writing for me is a very kind of instinctual and reactive process. and inspiration tends to strike me as, and when, and I'll jump on it. So writing as I, as like an interested in it, and run with it, sometimes that. Sometimes it will start as an email and that email that it becomes a blog post and maybe then becomes a chapter in the book.

it was I'm not afraid to revisit topics that I've written about for, to either add more nuance or write it in a new frame, with the kind of hindsight of experience. I see all of the different vehicles as being. Just different ways to explore ideas.

I is sometimes I want to write it in a way it is couched around, Hey, I have these questions. Anybody else have these same questions? Sometimes I want to write about something which is more like his 5,000 word like exploration of a very specific thing. But, that I've recently, thought about or whatever.

so I really don't. I think some people have got a very formalized. Approach to writing. You have to write a newsletter, let's say every week or something like that. And for the most part, I've not been very good at sticking to those formalized structures and instead just take a more ad hoc and reactive and instinctual approach to writing when it's originates.

 Glenn Stovall: [00:08:42] what was the inspiration for the strategic consultant? 

Tom Critchlow: [00:08:44] yeah, so the book grew out of a couple of things. I wrote a blog post called the consultant screen. this is, must be a couple of years ago now. basically exploring kind of the challenges of getting things done inside of client organizations and how some things feel very easy to get done.

And some things feel almost impossible. To get done, and how the client's culture, that culture reacts to things that you're trying to get done. and it was the first time. And I think I wrote something that, was a little bit novel or a little bit different about consulting directly.

So not about your client problems or anything like that, but about your specifically the process of being an independent consultant. I think got a lot of really good feedback on that piece. and at the same time as I wrote it, I was working with an executive coach, somebody, that I was working with to help figure out a little bit of like senior quote unquote, what I wanted to do with my life and what I want it to be when I grew up.

and. through the process of that, I was like, Hey, I think I made one, I write a book one day. maybe it'll be a scifi book or some other kind of book, but, books have always been important to me and maybe I want to write a write, something like that. And, it was my coach who turned around and said, this is new.

You're already doing this writing about independent consulting. You want to write a book? What about if you wrote a book about independent consulting and that was a light bulb moment for me to actually say actually, writing a scifi book is a nice pipe dream, but. There's no kind of space in my life to fit that kind of time.

Yeah. I had one small kid at that time and I've got two small kids. and yeah. Consulting career and et cetera. And, I realized that writing a book about consulting was much more realistic and much more kind of manageable in a sense. Cause I can fit that into my existing kind of workstreams and world view.

That's why I embarked on this adventure to write a book about independent consulting. and that's where the strategic independent came from. And that's the, what titled, but I think will probably be the final title as well. I'm about 35,000 words into it, all of which, a public on my blog.

and I'm really trying to write something which is much more introspective and exploratory about. Kind of theory and practice of being an independent consultant. I will ask about, I think there is, there is, a ton of writing on the already out there online about, YouTube a million dollars.

And he fell on my full step plan, on his that'd be like a six figure freelance journalist kind of things. And I really want to take the approach to actually say. like, why do I want to throw up every time I send an invoice, and who was going to give me permission to go bike riding on a Tuesday afternoon, they don't have any clients.

I really want to explore a little bit more of the psychology and in a life of being an independent consultant. and obviously, much of that writing also, touches on. client work like being at a client's office, being in the middle of the client engagement and how do we affective and, how it feels and so on.

But, I'm trying to write something which has maybe a little bit more, a little bit more open ended, or a little bit less prescriptive than a lot of the writing that's out there today. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:11:29] Yeah. what I really liked about it when I first found it was like I'm someone and I'm sure there's a lot of people out there who.

if you're a software developer, you sometimes get pigeonholed into Oh, you're the coder, or you're this troll under the bridge, it's Oh, you're just going to build what we tell you to build. And do you know, you get frustrated building like ill-advised solutions just to make other people a bunch of money.

And, you always say this. I used to, I was a freelancer for about five years and I hear a lot of advice of Oh, don't be a freelancer. Don't feel yourself as a software developer, position yourself as a consultant, but. None of it really said like what that means or how to do it. It was, it made it seem like it was just a change the title on your business card.

And I was like, Oh, but how do I consult quote unquote. And 

Tom Critchlow: [00:12:15] I feel 

Glenn Stovall: [00:12:15] like when I found the strategic consultants, as one of the first things I saw where I'm like, Oh, that's finally starting to make some sense to me. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:12:21] That's great. That's good to hear. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:12:23] Yeah. And, see, I kind wanted to go through one or two of the concepts it's for the listener, if they haven't read it.

I think one of the biggest ones was, you talked about working in context. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:12:32] Yeah. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:12:32] I thought maybe, could you explain what that means and how to start thinking of your work in higher context? 

Tom Critchlow: [00:12:38] Yeah, totally. I, the foundation for this was really around. I spent a lot of time talking about strategy consulting.

partly because it makes me sound important. I'm probably because it makes me sound good. so it's useful frame him, but, I was thinking about how to already unpack law, what strategy work is and what strategy consulting is relative to other types of work. Like you said, like regular freelancing work or, copywriting or web design or marketing strategy or whatever it is.

And I arrived on this frame that. strategy work is nothing more or less than work in context. and, whatever project you'll work, none, there are always kind of layers of the UN. There are always these kind of like wide context around the work and the more that you can be aware of and included in those other contexts, the more that quote unquote, it is strategic, the work that you're doing.

And then the example that I give here is, let's say that you are a web developer and, you're being tasked with, as a freelance, building out some kind of microsite for client. and I think everyone has been a freelance, so I can relate to this situation where.

let's say you're like 95% of the way through the product deck. Everything is you're almost done. You're just waiting for a few final bits and then suddenly the client goes dark. And then suddenly the priorities have changed on this website that you spent six months working on, never even goes lies.

And you just feel like a chump. You're just like, why I did, I spent a lot of time doing that. I'm like, hopefully you still got paid for the work. best case, worst case, obviously, maybe you don't even get paid for the whole project or whatever. and, it can just be really demoralizing and like, why am I doing all this work?

And never even seems like a day clearly, wasn't that important to the client in the first place, et cetera. And, the flip sides of that story is that on the client side, maybe the marketing, microsite was important, until priorities changed. and, maybe they went through a, like an acquisition process and they just bought another company and they now have to figure out how to integrate that other company.

and that's just a higher priority or a kind of a more Asian context for them. and I always think about this idea that if you're like below this kind of this awareness line of the context, then. You get these moments where the situation just crashes. Like I say, everything is something on fire priorities, completely change and, work for you or what gets scrapped or ignored or whatever.

and if you're above that context line, then it isn't that the work changes, it's just the context changes. And so it's Maybe, if you were above the line, you would have been able to reuse the microsite to reposition it, like in a rapid way to say, actually we need a landing page up for this acquisition we just made, or, we need to integrate that website into our website.

Let's do that. And, I think, what I'm going to try and get that gets you with all of that is that, There's kind of two ways to think about it. And as you get more  with your freelancing work or your consulting work, in my mind, it's nothing more or less than just getting access to more and more of those contexts, and rising up through the food chain to be able to see things on the horizon and to be able to see those, Those moments of kind of change and uncertainty as they happen rather than being blindsided by them and having everything had to go shit.

and that's the foundation of, What I think about whenever I do my consulting work is, every client engagement they come in for, there's always kind of the work that the client thinks they want or that they're asking for. But then there's always a set of context around that, that are impacting or affecting it.

and I'm always, basically this kind of Nosy or curious if you prefer that word, individual to be able to, I'm always going to sniffing around the client. They'd be like, what else is going on? What is, why are we doing this piece of work? Why are we doing it now? Who cares about this piece of work?

why did we not do it six months ago? Why are we not doing it six months from now? if we put it live tomorrow, what will change about the business? And I'm going to just try to understand a little bit of the mechanics. So what is going on inside the organization, what else is happening and how does this project that I'm working on relate back to that.

but then the flip side of all of that is, I think that's the, aspirational and positive side of strategy work, I think, in the sense that you want some kind of, keep reaching upwards to these other contexts. But the other way to think about it is that you can do as menial or, trivial, simple work as you like.

As long as you're doing it in the right context, it's still strategic work. And I think this is the flip side of the coin, which is as people get more senior and as they get more expensive and as they get more, as they grow in a work, there was a tendency to think why I don't want to do that junior work.

Like, why am I doing. why am I like spending nights and weekends searching LinkedIn to try and find some example of resumes for people that might want to fit this job, that the client is trying to fill. it feels like very straightforward on Monday and work.

and the flip side is any work can be strategic work as long as it is important to the client right now. And you properly understand why you're doing it. and so I've already embraced this idea where my own work of, I really try to be a consultant and a partner to my clients where. I want to be hungry to understand all the context, and then I want to get to do anything for the client, but is urgent and important.

and to make myself useful and not to care too much about, whether that work is difficult or senior or any of those other kinds of labels. so yeah, that was a little bit of a, Oh yeah, 

Glenn Stovall: [00:17:43] no, that's really fascinating. Like it's, because I've definitely heard that from other people and felt up before where.

if we go back a few weeks on the show, if the listener wants to listen to, I talked with Eric diet rich, and we talked about how, if you want to be, you want to avoid someone who's being defined as a coder and try to step away from code for that reason, that 

Tom Critchlow: [00:18:04] code, 

Glenn Stovall: [00:18:04] the coding tends to be at the bottom of 

Tom Critchlow: [00:18:07] the 

Glenn Stovall: [00:18:08] context, I guess the ladder or chain.

And I'm sure what metaphor do you use here? But 

Tom Critchlow: [00:18:14] yeah. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:18:15] Yeah, I like that. Like you said, you could still. It's not necessarily what the work is, 

Tom Critchlow: [00:18:20] but how 

Glenn Stovall: [00:18:21] and where you're doing it. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:18:23] Yeah. and, I think,  people who write code in particular are a little bit prone to this way of thinking because, code is kind of production focused, or a lot of it is where it's very focused on making something and making something is it's very easy to then be obsessed with the thing that you're making instead of why you're making it. and that can be a very hard context shift to make. I'm not gonna lie, I certainly don't get all of the contexts of all of the clients I work with and all the projects, it's a never ending process, but, I definitely think that it is a useful frame. and if you can master it, then I think, yeah, you can unlock both more satisfying what, but also I higher paid work.


Glenn Stovall: [00:19:05] what are some of the other things developers can work on skills? I can try to work on if they want to try to move up and doing some higher context work. Wow. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:19:14] That's a good question. I think, I don't do development work myself, so I'm a little bit kind of one step removed from that process.

one thing that I think, here's something interesting that I've seen in my own time is when the higher up you get inside an organization and I'm, in particular talking about mostly non technical organizations. I'm not talking about like a technology company like Google, but maybe like a media company, like the New York times, the higher up you get inside the organization.

The fewer people are writing code. it tends to be a kind of roughly true statement. and in particular, you can get to the VP level of a C suite and nobody can write a single line of code. and what's interesting about that and where I found myself a couple of times is. Sometimes I'm the most technically proficient person in the room.

And as a result, I'm able to be like a prototype, whether it's a web app or web page, or even just like a Google spreadsheet script, or something to do some very simple miles, the ultimate automation or scraping or whatever, really just like prototype something. But I can do it essentially like on the fly.

I'm not always doing it like in the meeting, but like very quickly react and be like, Oh, we had that meeting yesterday on his just a prototype of what it could look like. Is that what you meant? and when you do that kind of work for, the C suite for a CEO or CFO or COO, you can blow people away with, you, they don't normally have access to people who can turn things around that quickly.

So I think. so to answer your question more directly, when we think about writing code, I think, it's useful to remember just, how monolithic and, difficult. Engineering and coding and development organizations are within companies and how executives get conditioned to expect long turnarounds.

And so having a mindset of kind of rapid prototyping and, what kind of building things that aren't complete, but demonstrate an idea. And you using that kind of very tight feedback loop, with a senior executive, can be incredibly powerful. It can be incredibly useful to the executive team, inside an organization.

and so that's one area I think is, is really interesting. The other area is, and this is going to sound like a no brainer, but, Figuring out how to talk about technical concepts through the lens of business. I lose count of the number of times that, clients have shown frustration to me.

and they're trying to evaluate a kind of roadmap that, like 20, 20 planning or 2021 planning would say, and they're trying to say, my VP of engineering or my CTO is telling me that we need to, change our hosting provider or migrate from one platform to another platform.

And yeah, you've given me this kind of like technical jargon approach to why, but have not been able to frame it in the language. The rest of the business users use uses around, revenue, the pain points, using needs, et cetera. And so I think figuring out ways to talk about engineering and coding through the lens of business, again is another thing, but I think, even though I think what I'm saying was true 10 years ago, but I think it's still true today.

is there is a, there was a lack of kind of commercial acumen and just general, No, sense-making you'd be able to craft a well articulated reason and pitch for why a project should be green lit why we need the budget, what the alternatives are, what the options are, what the timeline is going to be, what the impact will be.

those things are still, I think, in, in short supply, on the engineering side of most organizations. So if you can figure out, and this goes back a little bit to the idea we talked about earlier about writing, right? And about how writing can empower a career, if you can figure out.

Ways to become good at explaining and articulating. the differences is between, whatever technologies you work with, whether it's, cloud hosting providers or whether it's front end technologies or whatever, SIA you're in, if you can find ways to bridge the gap between the technical side and business side.

I think you'll set yourself up for success. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:23:01] Yeah. It's yeah, I know developers, it's so easy to get caught, like way down in the weeds, especially when you're working on big, complicated systems that I think you lose sight of how valuable, just be a, being able to explain that a high level, how it works and be like you said, just building a, just being able to whip up like a crappy prototype.

And just something very simple. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:23:23] Yeah, I think, I think, specifically around the, the, the business case for engineering projects and coding projects, I think one of the hardest things to stomach is in the field of engineering and web development, it's easy to try and imagine that there is a black and white right answer and a wrong answer in a way that you're marketing.

For example, my struggles already, have a kind of good black and white right. And wrong. It's true though. every single discipline with an organization, your organizations are messy and there is never a simple right or wrong answer. there was never a kind of black and white openness check case.

and so you're diluted if you're chasing the kind of quote unquote answer and what you have to look at as a more pragmatic, What is the right answer for this organization at this moment in time with the resources that we have. and that answer is usually much messier on that, relies on narratives and assumptions and so on and so forth.


Glenn Stovall: [00:24:16] I just saw a really great example of this on Reddit today. remote. OK. Dot IO. I think the founder, it's at levels IO, his actual name escapes me at the moment, but remote okay. To IO is a site. It's a remote job board. Doesn't use a lot of that complicated tooling. It's one large file. Doesn't follow a lot of, coding, quote unquote, best practices, but.

It brings in $60,000 a month in revenue for them. And there was a threat on red or all these developers are like, Oh, that sounds awful. Oh, this goes going to be so bad. And, Oh, there's all these problems with that project. And I'm just like, dude, I would take, I would take some shitty code that makes me 60 grand a month, like any day over.


your well architected dream that hasn't has never left your laptop. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:25:03] Totally. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:25:04] Especially this guy, he's a, he's an independent, you don't have to worry about a huge, scalable piece of code and how he's going to work with a team and how he's going to maintain it.

Like it works. It does its job it's done. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:25:15] Yeah. And I think, the flip side of that is okay. Especially in the, within the field of engineering, there are times when. you really do want to get something, whether it's infrastructure or security or whatever. there are times when it really does matter, whether you all think running on shitty code, I'm all good code, Technical, and really matter. Even in those situations, the answer is not to the executive level of an organization. The answer is not to paint the picture around right and wrong, but to paint the picture around, like risk and cost benefit. And then to be able to say, it isn't about. This is more secure than that.

It's about, what does being more secure mean for the business? what is the cost of being hacked or what is the cost of that infrastructure going down? and usually those assumptions are pretty easy to make, right? Because that usually pretty critical. so that sort of business, And you got most, technical teams will still struggle to make those articulation chips, They'll still articulate things and sense of right and wrong. and as such, struggled to get buy in and struggled to get the resources they need. and so I think that's, again, just a good lesson around, I'm trying to. Trying to make the work that you're doing urgent and important and inside knowing the right organization requires some storytelling requires narrative requires some business.

Glenn Stovall: [00:26:25] Yeah. And there's always going to be trade offs too, like with the right and wrong. an example I heard with the kind of software is, some people are building cars and some are building airplanes and with a car you could optimize for iterating quicker. And if something goes wrong, if he.

Proverbial tire goes flat. You can put a new tire on, but you can't do that with a plane. Or if you're building planes, then you need to optimize for being reliable because the crash in that scenario is much worse, which might be medical software or something in this case. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:27:00] Yeah, gotta shift gears a bit.

There was 

Glenn Stovall: [00:27:01] something else I saw you talking about online. I wanted to dive into you. You shared a link 

Tom Critchlow: [00:27:05] a few weeks 

Glenn Stovall: [00:27:06] ago. I think about, it's called squad wealth. And I think he also just published something about that today. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:27:11] I don't know. I did just, 

Glenn Stovall: [00:27:13] and I know you remember us something called the yak collective.

So I was wondering if you could talk a bit about. I think it's called, I think I saw a van Katusha. I'll call it fourth, wave consulting and independence, finding new ways to work together these days. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:27:27] Yeah. This is something it's very alive for me right now. And I'm thinking about a lot is, there's a number of things all coming together in my own world.

some of them are logic trends and some of the book kind of personal timelines, but, there is this kind of meta narrative, I think, around the shift from large scale, open social networks, like Twitter, Facebook, et cetera. towards what I think after hours call the kind of more domestic cozy, sense of social networks, which are these kind of like semi closed spaces, which might be like telegram groups or WhatsApp groups, or they might be disgorged servers or Slack groups.

and I think creasing. subterranean a, model of social media. So that's one trend. Yeah. It is like looming and generally true. which is the more and more of these more and more of the kind of social layer of the web is moving into these kind of sub terrainian domestic cozy spaces at the same time.

I think it's sh also talks about, fourth wave consulting, which is loosely modeled around fourth wave coffee. so those of you who are familiar with those Wells, he wrote a great post about this on his off gig, newsletter, which I definitely recommend it. and Lucy speaking is this shift from, you think about, if I get this right, I think.

The second wave was about the, the kind of professionalization of players in the space and the kind of growing up with the industry. And this is the McKinseys and the Bains, in the consulting Wells, the third wave was about the, the, the micro independent, wave. so this is the Indy consultant, the indie freelance, and so on.

And the fourth wave is about those independent, Outfits, whether they're like small, independent groups or actual, a solo entrepreneur, solo independence, starting to create shared infrastructure and groups and collectives that are specifically slightly more values based than previously. So on just economic engines, but are actually identify entity engines as well.

helping shape and form people's sense of who they are and what they belong to. And, and then this is peace squad wealth, by, by the LA incident folks, Toby Sam and, Lauren, and, They talk about  it was a slight tongue in cheek, I think. what kind of like provocative kind of exploration around the power of squads, and how 2020 in particular, but bit, but there is a larger trend going on as well.

has created this will environment where. people are increasingly relying on squads, like small groups of trusted contacts to power, everything from careers. And so identity support systems, co living situations, and the bound is a blurring between. Kind of work like professional spaces and private spaces.

the people you're friends with, also the people you are collaborating with the work and helping get jobs actually, explicitly like pulling in on indie consultant, gigs and so on and so forth. And, again, how those spaces are specifically powered by the kind of realtime chat space.

Again, whether that's a WhatsApp group thread or whether it's a kind of multiplied discord server or whatever, And I'm really fascinated by these trends. I recently started a discord server myself, specifically for independent consultants, called the gas and soda. and, it's early days for it, but I'm really interested in how to create a.

What kind of robust ecosystem independence. and that means all kinds of things, whether it's helping us collaborate and pitch work together and do what together or whether it's just sharing stories and have a kind of emotional reliance on a sense of team and comradery, or whether it's helping educate people who are new at, to independent consulting.

here's the ropes, here's how it works. Here's some advice or helping out. and Yeah, I'm just really interested in this trend. And I think, for myself personally, I'm almost six years into this and the consults in Korea. And so I feel like, yeah, I have gone through this phases myself, as, first go out on your own and you're like, Oh shit, everything's new.

how do I get clients? How do I do this? How does it work? Is even make it work and then you gradually gain some confidence that, okay. I think I can, I think I can make this work. I think I do know what I'm doing a little bit and then you're like, how do I, how do I make it better?

How do I do better work for more money, with more clients, et cetera, could make it more robust and more reliable. And then eventually you where I think I'm just starting to get to now six years in is okay, what does the next 20 years of my life look like? Not that I need to figure out what I need to do with my life, but rather Is this lifestyle that I have, truly sustainable, is actually working for me, in the most holistic kind of biggest sense of the word and realizing that, the image of the kind of lone Wolf, independent consultant, is not really. Accurate. actually we need communities.

We need, collaborators and colleagues and teammates, and we need a sense of identity. We need as a community. So that's where I'm at the early stages now, Starting to build out some sense of that, in the independent consulting space. and I'm trying to try to question my own ideas around.

What's needed. How does it work? what's valuable, et cetera. so yeah, I just posted a, just a collection of notes and links really. not really an answer to any of those questions, but a post this morning that went up about some of those ideas. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:32:19] Yeah. so I'm curious how, when you're working together with these other independents, when it's actually collaborating on a client project, I'm curious what that looks like.

Does it tend to be like, One person owns the relationship and everyone else is a subcontractor or are you, or does it work some other way? 

Tom Critchlow: [00:32:38] I've done it a number of different ways actually. I've done it well. I am getting paid by the client and I'm spending the client's money pulling in some other independent consultant at some of the agency.

I've done it where I have build the client and then, pass that revenue, pack food to a collaborator and kind of subcontracts it out. work, or I've even done it where we like toe pitch, as guys kinda equals and, we both send invoices and go up called charged, like side by side.

so I've done a number, different ways. my philosophy that is very much around. Trying to build just in time relationships and not overcomplicate things by trying to build a kind of shed brand or a mini agency or any of those kinds of things. I think a lot of those things fail by trying to, professionalize and, formalize the wrong things in the relationship.

so a good example here is, I've worked really closely with my buddy Toby shore and, who was one of the authors of that squad wealth piece. we've done a bunch of work together where we collaborate on client work. sometimes he bring it's me and sometimes I bring him in, and we have a very productive working relationship.

He's more of a product design and brand strategist. I'm a bit more of a, marketing strategist, and organizational designer, And we compliment each other very well. And we've done a bunch of words together, but we don't have a kind of a landing page that says you can hire us.

And we don't have any like a brand for our work together. and I think that what's been nice about that is it keeps us honest and forces us to make sure that we're working together when it makes sense, rather than trying to get work together, if that makes sense. and, and so I think, these collaborations are, they worked for me when I try to hold myself accountable to do them with the right people at the right time, rather than trying to build some kind of shared revenue stream with somebody else, or like a mini agency or a brand with somebody else.

the, that might force me to make the wrong decisions 

Glenn Stovall: [00:34:28] and, yeah, I'd also be 

Tom Critchlow: [00:34:29] curious, how do you. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:34:31] How are you keeping track of all these relationships? Do you have a thing of the article you mentioned you have some people that you're on the bench? 

Tom Critchlow: [00:34:40] Yeah, I don't. yeah. I know some folks who haven't, what kind of formalized CRM system.

I don't have any kind of CRM system. It's all in my head. which is probably. Probably not optimal, but I'm also, one of the things that I've realized, and this is true for kind of note taking apps as well as it is to like calendar systems and CRM systems and invoicing technologies, as an independent worker, one of the most precious resources you have.

Is your own attention on your own on Headspace. And it is amazing major advantage to keep your whole business environment as simple and as streamlined as possible. And for me, that means that. Like my business is incredibly what you might call bare metal. I keep track of my finances in a spreadsheet and I send my invoices.

It's like Google docs. and I don't have a accounting software. I don't have CRM software. I don't pay for almost any kind of SAS services. and yes, I'm sure that at the margins, there are some times I've left money on the table due to doing that. But at the same time, I can keep my mental model of my entire business, in my head, or like on the back of the post it, right?

the, like how am I works? Quote unquote is incredibly straightforward. and I find a huge benefit to that. To me personally, again, other people might have different ways of working in different styles, but for me personally, being able to keep everything here incredibly simple and straightforward, is a huge plus.

and every new complexity that you add, just takes away, available. Headspace and available kind of working memory. and I think that is best. That's so important specifically when you know each new client that you add. demands like a whole chunk of kind of brain space and head space and emotional stress.

no matter how big the client is. so working with two clients is, just as stressful, as when they're the same size as when one is bigger than the other. it's yes, bigger clients or a little bit more work and a little more head space, but, Is, you're much better off working with a few numbers, clients that are bigger than a large number of clients at a smaller, cause each new client is going to chew up your head space and you were available with memory.

Glenn Stovall: [00:36:45] Yeah, it makes a lot of sense and that to bring it all together. I think another good thing about this sort of, the sort of squad model, as you say, is like one way you can do higher context work is being able to make connections and bring in the right people to do the work 

Tom Critchlow: [00:36:58] sometimes. Yeah, totally.

that's been a big unlock for me, as I've transitioned from. very loosely speaking, doing SEO in the early days. So then doing a wider content strategy type work. So then doing slightly wider digital strategy. and as I leveled up through each of those increasingly, the work that I do looks like, client comes to me with a problem.

We figure out what the problem is. We figure out what a potential solution might look like. that naturally ends up looking like we need some kind of team to work on this project. that naturally looks like, okay, we need to hire some people to lead that team or to be in that team. and then I end up working on a combination of hiring and organizational designs, put that team together.

and so I'm I don't do a lot of work around team building, team formation and what I call what I jokingly refer to it as like small O org design, it's going to differentiate it from kind of thing. Oh, old design is professionalized service that people like August and the ready or noble, those kind of agencies do where they're doing organizational design it's companies like Coca Cola or Pepsi or GE, these kind of A thousand thousand employees, companies, my organizational design is very much in service of a particular strategy or a particular project, and is very much focused around how do I put the team together to do this thing that client needs to get done?

Glenn Stovall: [00:38:09] Yeah, no, that's really cool. yeah, or getting in pretty close to time here, I was gonna see if there's anything else you want to add in, and also, if people wanna find out more about what you're doing online, where can they find 

Tom Critchlow: [00:38:18] you? Yeah, sure. pretty much everything I do is I talk to actually.com, and, or Twitter.

A.com/ . those are the two places where I spend my time. and, yeah. What else can I add you? there's a book course that I wrote that I think is particular a particular interest to folks who are developers or who can write code, that's cool. fuck ESI project. and it's a story about how, when I interviewed a dual mechanism and 12, I had made it, you go through this typical Google hiring process.

And I went through and I moved to seven or eight different interviews. And in every single one, the thing that people wanted to talk to me about was that it's music startup, but that I'd made, or the fact that I was a music entrepreneur. and. It was very confusing to me cause I was neither a music entrepreneur nor did I have a music startup.

but what I had done is I'd made this kind of like weekend project that was about 25 lines Python, gold Saki has Spotify. and all the data is aggregated the top tweeted Spotify albums of the day, and posted them up. and what's fascinating about that is. The kind of the unreasonable power and effectiveness of small projects that are well-named and well-defined on how, even at a place like Google, the number of people who have actually built something on their own time and under their own steam is still, it's still not universal.

and w what I encourage people to look at, and then particularly folks who might over-index on. Like he was talking about that kind of the remote work thing. over-index on building something that's robust and scalable, building something, but it's a interesting project. It doesn't have to be revenue generating, can still unlock meaningful opportunities and networks and maybe even jobs.

so there's a, that's a fun post in the archives that I think these folks, in your audience, my like, but yeah, anyway, all of that is on some cordial.com. that's why you can find me. Alright. 

Glenn Stovall: [00:40:00] Sounds good. Thanks again for coming on top. 

Tom Critchlow: [00:40:02] Yeah, thanks for having me.


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