Tonight I held my first office hours in Palo Alto at Coupa Café. Office hours are an idea I got from my good friend Buzz Andersen, who held them on a semi-regular basis at The Alembic in San Francisco, and which I endeavored to attend whenever possible.
The basic idea of office hours is that I (or whoever holds them) will be at a certain location at a certain time, and anyone who wants to talk to me, ask questions, etc, can come by and do so. It seems a bit ego-centric, but really I feel that it’s the opposite. I’m interested in what other people have to say, and feel that modern society has disconnected us from talking to one-another on a regular basis in the ways that were previously available. The sharing of ideas that were the foundation of social clubs, pubs, libraries, coffee shop discussions, and even secret societies of say, the 17th through 19th centuries have been eclipsed by water cooler discussions and team meetings. Instead of a roundtable of ideas shared in the open among a group of like-minded people, we have substituted proprietary trade secrets and patent applications, action items and Gantt charts, vapid launch parties and lavish offsites.
I feel that office hours are a good start in getting back to the foundations of the Enlightenment and, with much less importance, our industry. They are a brief pause where we can exchange ideas, talk to each other frankly, share our ideas, and come together in a spirit of pushing society and ourselves further. Many may consider this to be utopian garbage, but even on a utilitarian basis I’ve found office hours to be a welcome break from the hyper-competitive nature of our industry, and an invaluable way to exchange approaches to problems, solutions and expertise, and even industry gossip (*gasp*).
At my first office hours, the topics ranged from iPhone memory management questions to open geodata initiatives to the future plans of our respective lives and businesses. It was a lively exchange of ideas, and one I’m glad to have had. For those of you in the Bay Area interested to coming to my next office hours, I encourage you to follow me on Twitter. For people interested in holding their own office hours, I say, “just do it”. You may just be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Update: Tom Robinson of 280 North suggests using an #officehours tag in Twitter to announce office hours. I think this is a great idea, and will be using this for my future office hours announcements.