How Alby Bocanegra creates space by cleaning up and eliminating fear and doubt

Happyplaces stories (video)

Marcel Kampman
Jun 24 · 9 min read

Last week was the week of WeMakeThe.City festival in the Amsterdam metropolitan area. And on Wednesday there was a VIP event with drinks and a DJ. The DJ was Alby Bocanegra, currently serving the people of New York as Interim Chief Technology Officer in the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (MOCTO), after having served as chief of staff for the previous CTO. He has dedicated his career to building expertise in talent architecture, business strategy and performance management with a passion for civic tech. The office of the CTO is committed to make NYC the world’s leading city for tech development, and is the central point of contact for technology companies, startups, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and academia who want to engage with government to promote tech development. Alby is a lot of Alby’s: an urban & civic technologist, an army veteran, a talent architect, a diversity champion, a digital rights megaphone, a DJ, a skateboarder and a proud father of two sons. We made an appointment for Friday, where we met after his talk at Up Close & Liveable, a conference organised by the City of Amsterdam, filmed and then spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Amsterdam.


Space is a unique concept for me. When I think of space, I always think about physical space. I think that is where most human beings refer to. When you think about the concept of space, you always think about your surroundings, your physical environment. But for me, it is also the mental, the mind space. Where you are at mentally, and the clutter that lives inside of it. But there is also the spiritual side, the space that you have inside you, where your passion lives, even where your creativity lives. So, when I think about how I create space, it depends on the reality that I’m living in that moment. Let’s initially talk about how I create space in my mind for someting that I want to fit into it.

I think the first thing for creating space is to be intentional about it. To decide within yourself what it is what you are trying to create. Whether it is a personal passion or something in your brain that is asking your creative mind to take something on or even work-related, professional career-wise. The first thing is to decide that that is the space where you are going to live in. You have got to be really intentional about it. And what I mean with intentional is, you have got to a self-assessment, a personal inventory to decide if that is the right space for you, that you are going to live in that space. And to assess what you already have that you can use to already contribute to that space and what you lack. Then you can begin to absorb. But a part of absorbing also means purging. Thus making the decision what does not fits into that area, what is creating clutter in this area that I have to make room for. I think this fundamentally keeps you honest about what you are trying to create, and it keeps you focused, more than anything. As human beings, we tend to ‘want’ to continue to want. Even if we have what we have, we always want more, and we always want to feed this thing to hold or to achieve. But we also tend to hoard that stuff and hold on to it, even if it is not serving us.

I think every time you are trying to create a new space, I will use a very physical analogy; it is like your home. If you want to redecorate, or if you’re going to try something new, a new model, but you’re not willing to let go of some of the things that are creating clutter or take up space, whether it serves you or not; things that are taking up space that could be available for something else. If you want to create for something new, just like we do in the physical world, it is important in the mental or the spiritual or whatever we’re trying to do, that we analyse what is already taking up the space. And seeing what you need, what you don’t need, what you have that can be useful and what you can carry on to that new space. For me, it is a couple of different things. In my professional career, I would consider myself a generalist. I have done a lot of different things. I have been in talent management, architecture, I had a military career, so a lot of leadership. I’m a strategist as well, a technologist. I live in a bunch of different spaces. I’m also creative. I’ve been a DJ for twenty years, I have been involved in the music scene for a long time. For me, it is about putting my whole self into this new thing that I’m trying to do and the space I’m trying to be in.

When I shifted from talent architect to technologist, I had to make a couple of really difficult choices. And part of that was, inventorying everything that I did as a talent architect. For two reasons. Number one: the things that I could carry on into my world of being a technologist, that new space. Number two: to take into consideration the things that I had to leave behind. Then going from one to the other with very minimal baggage. Very minimal things to fill up this new space with which is super critical. Even though some of those things are hard to let go, because I love a lot of the things as a talent architect, I realised that to bring the most of myself or the best parts of myself into this new space that I had to live in, I had to purge. I had to cleanse. And I had to be intentional about what it was that I was bringing with me. This is how I created space; I said: ‘Here is the new path, here is this new world that I’m going to live in, but not everything from my old world fits in there. And that’s okay.

How you create space is about being really good at cleaning up.

A lot of people have a hard time letting go, and I totally get that. So you have got to go through a couple of things to examine yourself. It is a little bit of mindfulness, it is self-awareness, it is inventorying items that serve and don’t serve, and it is having some tough internal dialogue about things that maybe you don’t feel you’re even not good at. Things that perhaps you even have done and maybe experienced some success there, but that make clear that you’re not the best at it. So maybe you shouldn’t bring that with you. Or perhaps it is, then you can continue to build on it if it is necessary for the new world or space. Or maybe it is not. I think that is where the difficult internal dialogue comes in. And that’s where the self-awareness comes in. And then that dirty little ego is hiding somewhere behind all of those things, whether it is the good things or the bad things. It is also about finding where the ego lives and then attack it, making it clear what is important and what is not, and what your area of focus is. To then going into it with your heart, your mind, your passion, your physical strength. Because a lot requires some physical strength and some physical stamina to go from one place to another with minimal damage. I think that it requires a lot of self-awareness, keeping yourself in check, keeping your emotions in check.

I think that that’s probably is my philosophy for creating space for me is. Getting good at cleaning up, being intentional, mindful and know where you are going and how you get there.

If you are like me, a total gipsy in the physical and mental world, I never stay in one place for too long. If you want to be the kind of person that lives in a bunch of different spaces, not always simultaneously but sometimes simultaneously, then you have got to be able to be good at cleaning up. Maybe that is the message. How you create space is about being really good at cleaning up. Cleaning up for the new space, clearing out the old space means that you have to be a good cleaner. And cleaning up and clearing out the ego that is associated with a lot of the things that we do. I get that that’s tough. It is tough for me too. I’m not the golden child of creating space or the all-knowing, but I am merely self-aware enough to know the kind of work that I have to do inside of myself to make room for the new. I think that that’s probably is my philosophy for creating space for me is. Getting good at cleaning up, being intentional, mindful and know where you are going and how you get there. That will allow you to live in a bunch of different spaces, to make room for new ones, to do things you have never done before, to be creative and curious and excited about new things.

That’s another thing, the mental state that you need to be in when you are going somewhere new is to kind of eliminate the fear aspect of it and to eliminate the doubt. Either it is external doubt or self-doubt, but it is about cancelling out all the noise that is surrounding all the decisions that you have to make. Even within ourselves, there is a lot of noise. You have to tune that out when you want to create something new. Because that is baggage and you don’t need to bring that with you.


Happyplaces Stories

A library of perspectives from the Happyplaces Project, a playful research project to better understand all dimensions of space to eventually create happy places.

Marcel Kampman

Written by

Owner at Happykamping, astronaut at Happyplaces Project.

Happyplaces Stories

A library of perspectives from the Happyplaces Project, a playful research project to better understand all dimensions of space to eventually create happy places.

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