Weeknotes S9 Ep14

Where you are

[Gif] Bulbasaur and Squirtle wearing party hats.

This week has been brought to you by the following “biggish” things:

  • It was my 5 year Civil Service birthday!
  • This is my 100th (yes, 100th!) weeknote!
  • We finished Sprint 12 and moved into Sprint 13!
  • At home, we took delivery of our new Fatboy hammock (truly, a life changing purchase!)
  • This is now my 5th week of social distancing, shielding, being at home!
  • I got really into using exclamation marks!

I sit in the new hammock as I write to you now (I’m Friday afternoon). It’s a bit chilly today in the breeze but I have a blanket. I’m listening to the birds and the sound of the movie Cars that my little boy is watching cuddled up next to me. He is really enjoying the hammock – we thought he would with his autism – maybe it’s the gentle movement, maybe the cosy cocoon-ish-ness of it.

Either way his happiness makes it worth all the money on what some would consider an extravagance.

[Gif] Me right now. Jokes, this is a baby orangutan in a hammock.

This week

It’s been a short week, following the long Easter weekend (which was not nearly as long and boring as I had thought it might be).

Returning to work was a bit of a shock, as it always is after a holiday, but then that made it seem very normal, which was comforting.

Because of the long weekend my week has been only 3 days. Maybe because of that, or maybe for *looks around* some other reason, I’ve felt like I’ve been trying to cram things in. Working with Morgan has meant working in the morning while she takes the reins in the afternoon. This has been awesome, but Morgan would probably tell you I’ve been having a hard time switching off (I continue to pester her when I’m not supposed to be working).

I’ve been finding I feel like I haven’t achieved enough during the day and I’ve been making up for it by working until late in the evenings. I’ve done that this week, but it’s not sustainable in the long term.

My brain

This week I have felt like my brain has been pushing beyond its normal thinking. I’ve been playing with different perspectives and ways of looking at the work we are doing, turning things over in my brain, feeling at the edges and working out how to make the most impact. I’ve enjoyed that even if it may have been a bit much to inflict on other people at times this week. I need to remember that it’s not fair of me to expect other people to be in the same place as me (mentally) at the same time as me.

[Gif] a cartoon person with a squiggly scribbly brain

I’m also realising that though I’m striving to team, I’m not always good at it. Though, like everything, I know this is a practice but it can still be hard not to beat myself up about it.

My brain is one of those that feels momentum acutely and needs closure. That means it’s hard to stop or even pause sometimes, hard to turn off when something isn’t finished or is left unresolved. My brain will continue churning until I get to some sense of resolution. That can make me pushy or mean that I can sometimes steam ahead with things.

I’m worried that others might either find that disempowering, or that I’m inadvertently missing out on diversity of thought – opportunities to make things better – because I’ve already skipped to the end.

[Gif] A cartoon brain in glasses with arms and legs looks like it is thinking. Question marks appear above it.

As I reflect on this now it feels clear to me that some of these things are traits of my anxiety that are creeping back in.

I’ve spent too much time this week disproportionately worrying about “what people must think of me” and it’s not healthy. It’s the start of a slippery slope into burnout.

This is what therapists call mind reading, believing we know what others are thinking. We rarely do, this is just our inner voice convincing us otherwise. I’m going to keep looking out for this and try harder to catch it.

On the subject of….

Mind reading

…I’ve been thinking a lot about user research, evidence and about how much effort it takes to really learn about other people, particularly people who use our services, but also our leaders and colleagues.

I’m thinking a lot about how regularly we make un-evidenced assumptions about how people are feeling or how they will react.

I think sometimes the perceptions we have about people mean we don’t try new things because we think we already know how they will react (is this misplaced confidence or arrogance?).

Or maybe, because we want to be certain but are actually uncertain, we let risk aversion make us overly cautious — because we worry that the person or people we want to know more about will react negatively.

The point is that as humans we are extraordinarily good at believing we are mind readers, but we aren’t and we can’t predict the future.

On a personal level that’s one thing, but when we are designing services it’s the difference between building something and building something good that does what people need it to. It’s the difference between spending or wasting taxpayers money and we shouldn’t let our personal assumptions or presumptions do that.

https://aeon.co/essays/think-you-can-tell-what-others-are-thinking-think-again

I’m growing more and more impatient of hierarchy, and how it gets reinforced in often subtle ways. I’ve noticed how within the civil service (and maybe other large organisations too) we soften our language. We make lots of excuses for why we do this; our leaders don’t have time, they won’t be interested in this subject so we have to overly explain it.

Both of those things could be considered doing someone a service, not wanting to waste their time and making sure you are clear are both admirable aims, but I wonder if our cautiousness, or assumption we know what others want is really driving this.

I’m feeling kinda done with making things palatable rather than speaking with candour, and I’m starting to get on board with some of those Radical Candor principles (even though I found much of that book a bit bleugh).

https://aeon.co/essays/think-you-can-tell-what-others-are-thinking-think-again

Maybe also it’s partially my background, but I can’t understand the point of not saying what you mean.

When we do these things we dehumanise other people, because we essentially make decisions for them rather than treating them like a human being with opinions, experience and nuance. We don’t ask them what they want or need.

I know I’ve done this with leaders before, having expectations of them that aren’t fair or even accurate representations purely because of their position and responsibility. It’s not a good place to be, because when we do that we reduce the opportunities for discussion and, as a result, the possibilities and opportunities for connection.

[Gif] a cartoon child looks at a ball of threads all tangled together, the shot zooms in to the thread.

Sprint closure

We moved out of sprint 12 and into… eeek – 13 on Wednesday. It was really good to take stock of all the things that we’ve done in this sprint because it’s a lot! Different threads are finally coming together, catalysed by our COVID-19 response work, that will have longer term impacts on the work of the organisation.

For a while the digital team have been sat on a number of pieces of research or insight waiting for the time to come that they will land and be useful to the team. There has, frustratingly, been lots of unrealised value in the team. But I can see this is finally being realised now, and that feels really good. It also means we have a lot in our back pocket and can respond to things very quickly, which is partly why it feels like so much is going on.

I’ve been enjoying working with Morgan as she helps me to get some of these thoughts and threads into a structure – thank you Morgan x

The biggest thing that has shifted this sprint is our ability to really pull together as a team, not as a digital team (though that is happening too) but as the NLC.

For a long time I’ve felt that digital has been out on a limb; seen by others as something that happens over there and “delivers stuff for us”. That’s not the best use of the skills and it’s not good value for money.

[Gif] A cat hangs from, and falls off of a branch

The value of having a digital team is only truly realised when we get a seat at the table early, the skills that we bring can push other teams forward and include coaching, supporting ways of working and helping teams to define a path.

Knowing about tools and software mean we can find ways to try things quickly, in a low-effort way. Given the right parameters – testing with small groups – means that, given the chance, we can help teams to get somewhere more quickly.

Because our work is inherently about making others shine or improving their work these skills are often not visible or are reduced to being seen as a “support” function. But coaching and leading people through is an important skill that not everyone can do on their own, especially if they are operationally very busy.

[Gif] A curtain falls and a magician stands behind it, the caption reads “I’m invisible”

The good thing is that I’m feeling less like this is happening now, through partnering with the liaison team we are part of the conversations and able to support more effectively. I’m really grateful to Jenny and the team for being so collaborative and sharing their thinking with us so that we can do this work – because I believe it’s important.

Reading list

Wow, I’ve got all of the way to the end this week without sharing my reading list. Here you go: https://trello.com/b/BBJ726mr/progress-bookmarks

I feel like I’ve read less this week, partially because everything is still all about COVID-19 and there’s only so much of that you can read, but hopefully you’ll find something you enjoy in there.

Bye for this week! xx

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