Reading time

I like to read. Reading let’s me drift off to alternative worldviews. I sometimes get asked how I find the time. One page at a time i guess. Yet for ages i found all sorts of excuses not to read. I’m too busy to read raising kids, working, being a husband blah blah. Instead of spending less time with family I worked around the problem. I played around with different reading times until I landed on reading when I wake up. In the gap between my wife waking and being disturbed by the kids. Some days it’s 5mins or 30mins.

I also purposely read in front of the kids when given the chance to show them reading can be for passing the time.

I can call my reading a positive habit that I’ve fostered.

This week I had the pleasure of taking the kids to the library to choose their own books. An activity that reminds me of my own childhood. I wonder if they’ll remember in 30 years time too.

Just enough milk

At home we get our milk delivered every Saturday by a local farm. To make it last we freeze two of the three 4ltr bottles. In theory that means we have the current bottle, one fresh bottle To ensure we have enough milk we have to estimate the best time to take the milk out of the freezer and allow 24hrs to defrost. Get it wrong and we have to try to speed defrost the milk with the kettle. Although this works sometimes, it usually makes a mess and tastes weak. The urgency of poor planning leads to a poor outcome.

Finding the balance took a bit of effort but pays off. The same applies to our use of resources in the workplace.

The trust battery for a CEO

In my career to date I have always had a slight (common?) distrust of those higher up in the organisation. Trust on a personal level is gained through interactions, Rarely do most people in a workforce get to know the boss. I have heard all sorts of rumours of things that I am alleged to have said that I didn’t. Or someone will have second-guessed something I did and assumed a different thing. Our worldviews may be different and the sum of “assuming or guessing” can make gaining high levels of trust a problem.

Knowing this has made me really think how I can reduce this problem. When I started 16 months ago I regularly shared a slide which showed a graphic of a battery that was half charged with 2 of 4 bars. Enter the Trust battery. Tobi Lütke who is Shopify CEO has talked about the concept that when you start a new role people probably trust you about 50%. With each interaction you either charge or discharge the trust battery.

So over a year into my role I recently had a moment where someone really took a leap to trust me. Yah. But that being said mostly people I feel are at 50%. One of my objectives this year is to see if I can get more people in the higher side of the battery than the lower side.

How?

By doing what I say i’ll do and showing through actions and transparency. Doing but then not sharing is def one piece of the puzzle as unless folk see/hear actions they can be left unsure and that battery fails just a drop more.

Reading list 2022

Every year I document each book I read. You can find previous year in the archive. I try to find 30mins a day to read. I support my local bookshop and read things in the kindle when I’m at a loose end on my phone or in the dead of night when I should be counting sheep.

  1. Rebel ideas by Matthew Syed. Finished 10 January 2022. Ebook.
  2. Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies. Finished 6th Jan 2022. Hardback ISBN 9781788167376. I do loooots of talks and this book is packed with short helpful tips to help beginners or seasoned folk like me. Sometimes my talks go went and other times not so much. I’ll be recommending this to others. Thanks to Matt Jukes for the reading choice.
  3. How To Live by Derek Sivers. Finished 30 January 2022. Hardback ISBN 9781991152305. As ever I love. How Derek makes me look at things differently. Whatever you choose to do in life is all good.
  4. BRIT(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch. It’s about what it says on the title. I really enjoyed it, especially as we are similar in age, both have a Ghanaian parent and young kids.
  5. Competing in the New World of Work: How Radical Adaptability Separates the Best from the Rest by Keith Ferrazzi, Kian Gohar and Noel Weyrich. Finished 10th April 2022. Audio book. I’m really interested in how the forced experiments of hybrid and remote working during the pandemic may play out. Keith and Co do a great job of highlighting the challenges and opportunities.
  6. The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger. Finished 23 April 2022. Kindle format. A leadership book by the CEO of Disney.
  7. Re-read The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias finished 24 April 2022.
  8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey finished 14 June 2022. One of the most recommended books in the field of personal development. I really enjoyed it as it was all about you and how consistent habits can improve home and work.
  9. Polar Bear Pirates: and their quest to engage the sleepwalkers by Adrian Webster finished 24 June 2022. Paperback isbn 9780857081278. Recommended by Rob HR and is a fun short read on reawakening dormant talent.

and then?

Yesterday I visited thinktank museum with my kid.

She chose to spend a day with me. Just the two of us days are very rare so I leapt at the chance. I already want more just the two of us days so I need this to go well.

On the trip to the museum she was asking lots of questions such as:

“Daddy you leave a gap between cars, Why?” I reply “I have been trained to practice keeping a two second gap”. She looks out the windscreen and says “and then?”. So I then reply “well if I keep a gap of two seconds the idea is that if the cars ahead have a problem I then have time to react and slow down”. She quickly works out that by avoiding crashing everyone stays safe through a series of “and then?” questioning. I teach her how I count two seconds by using large objects at the side of the road. She proceeds to count two second gaps for some time and kindly tells me when I’m slightly out.

I think to myself that feeding her curiosity is a great way to bond and for her to learn at the same time. I decide to follow her lead at the museum, ready to answer every question, mostly being saved by the object and story boards on display.

A museum is full of objects and stories. We do a trail about engines. She constantly asks me about each object on the trail and I tell her a story, leaving pauses for her to ask “and then?”

90 minutes flies past and we stay until the museum announcement says they are shortly about to close and then she says “Daddy can we come back again?”.

Choosing the same mode of communication

When you meet a friend for a leisurely catch-up it helps if you agree in advance if you’ll walk, jog or cycle. It isn’t easy to hold a conversation if one of you is walking and the other is trying to balance on a bicycle at 2mph. Inevitably the cyclist will end up begrudgingly pushing the bicycle. Fixing this is easy.

Choosing your mode of transport with purpose is like choosing your digital tools for communicating. Works better if we think in advance what we’ll use and what’s the point.

We’ll meet face to face for solving X type of communication

We’ll use email for Y type of communication

We’ll use trello for Z type of communication.

We didn’t just move the office desk

The forced experiment in 2020 and 2021 of working at home for many gave us a glimpse of the future. Less so where we work but fundamentally resetting how we operate. We could attempt to undo the shift or we can set about designing with intent a different path. If history does repeat itself then fighting the future seems a waste of time. The “Where you work” part of office life has been disrupted but is really only the beginning of the opportunity to meet the future halfway. 

First, a bit of back story. 

Remembering back to March 2020, within the space of a week most of us were sent home to work for a few weeks until Covid-19 died down. The exception being critical service workers.  Except it didn’t and we were in a global forced experiment of learning how to get things done remotely. We had to learn how to communicate through a screen or phone and also get things done without our usual working tools. In short, our whole working practice was thrown out the window on top of the difficulty of living through a pandemic which for me included severe anxiety and homeschooling. 

At the start of the pandemic I was working in Bristol in a leadership role and had responsibility for approx 100 staff and assets that included museum buildings.  

Fortunately I was one of the few with a work connected laptop so I could at least access the bulk of my work tools. I had a laptop by chance because when the previous director left I kept hold of it and hadn’t got around to returning it to ICT. Our service was still 95% using work desktops so sadly many of my colleagues didn’t have supported devices when sent home. The Council was slowly rolling out laptops from 2019 but hadn’t got to us. Quite rightly when the pandemic began the Council focused on deploying devices to critical services like social care and those directly supporting the pandemic relief effort. The knock-on impact however meant that the vast majority of culture staff didn’t have access to key work digital tools like our intranet, HR systems  for the whole time I was at Bristol, I left in November  so that was seven months and counting. A fair chunk of staff were able to do some work from their own personal devices which I was always grateful for, even though official IT policy prohibits non-work issued devices. 

My first hurdle was that our home internet wasn’t fast enough when the whole street was also at home. I haven’t looked into this but my understanding is that the infrastructure wasn’t really set-up to have multiple devices in every home all using their connections at the same time. Hence my average connection was fine pre-pandemic but rarely worked at advertised speed that wouldn’t normally been noticeable. I knew that having a faster broadband speed would be essential. At this point I discovered I was the average lazy person who hadn’t checked for the best deal in a few years. In upgrading not only did my speed increase 4x but it was £3 a month cheaper too at £27 per month.

From April 2020 I was working at home full-time. My wife split her time between her place of work and working from once per week. The kids were either doing homeschooling via iPad or streaming YouTube..ok mostly streaming Youtube. A lifesaver was having two Google Chromecast devices which let us send most audio/video to our two TVs. Perfect for the kids and for joining online zoom calls on the sofa.

The only time I stepped foot in an office was for my interview for my current job as Co-CEO at Birmingham Museums Trust in the summer of 2020. Writing this reminds me that I never went to collect my personal belongings from my desk.

My wife is a key worker so she kept going into work throughout the whole of 2020/2021. In fact only around 37% of the UK workforce was able to do some/fully remote working.  

Trying to homeschool, share devices and share desk space was a challenge worthy of multiple blog posts. My actual work though was totally fine working “remote”. I chalk this up to the fact that in my 15 years of working since finishing university I can’t recall working at the same desk for an entire week. I have always worked on the go and in different environments and designed working practices that work well regardless of where I am. In fact I purposefully use tools that work on any device and have offline workarounds for those times when i dont have internet, like on a train. I have long been saying that when you work for an organisation like Bristol or Birmingham that has staff in at least seven locations then it is already a distributed organisation that has the appearance of being co-located if you don’t move like I move. We have just never purposely designed our organisations around this fact and it may be one of the root causes of negatively when people don’t “feel” part of your organisation. 

Looking ahead into the fog

On the 19th July 2021, in England, most of the legal restrictions related to the pandemic were removed. This included the Government instructing people to work from home. In theory everyone could have returned to the office but we mostly haven’t. It turns out that in the 18 months of the forced experiment many of us discovered that the office wasn’t the only effective place to physically work. It wasn’t all rosy as the social aspect of being together in an office was invisible until the pandemic. Isolation caused by the lack of social interaction in particular has become a key issue for us to overcome whatever the future holds. 

What we learned about working from home is that it can work at scale. For many this appears to be the disruption and case closed. Except only people who wish we could go back to the old ways think this. 

In a very good thread on home v hybrid v HQ, which you really should read in full, is this nugget ‘Disruption is never one variable, but a wholesale revisiting of all the variables.’ says Steven Sinofsky , In short, yes working from home is disruptive but really we are only just getting started on the future of how an organisation will run in say 30 years time. Like a fish that doesnt know its in water, we can’t see the future of work even though we are in it. 

An immediate change even to 2020 for example is that from the 19th July 2021 we can move from just working from home to the more traditional remote working, that could include co-working spaces or a neighbour/friend to help reduce social isolation. However with the pandemic still being far from over I don’t expect a swift take-up just yet.     

What I’m noticing co-leading an organisation of approx 150 people is that the organisation blueprint has been shaken up across far more than using a computer at a different location. Staff are questioning what they want out of work, how it fits into their life  and how we get things done at organisation level. I’ve spent countless hours improving my personal productivity using tools like David Allen’s GTD but whilst useful doesn’t scale. 

As we try to work through the pandemic now feels as good a time as any to start to experiment by choice on the classic organisational blueprint. 

What that could mean for our organisational blueprint: 

  1. Strategic direction – society has no doubt been altered in ways we still don’t fully understand. Therefore we must be both proactive and reactive to change. We’ve all taken the time to reassess what is our purpose and how we can change our structural problems rather than ignore them yet once again. In our specific case, ‘how can we become a place of social trust and belonging?’ ‘how can we be more useful for more people?’ and ‘how can we support others to improve contribute to an improved equitable society?’
  2. Structure – The traditional command and control wasn’t perfect and has been the root of many issues. if the office/HQ is limiting us, how should we operate if we no longer meet regularly face to face or work the industrial age  monday to friday 9-to-5? If people are wanting more flexible work/life balance what does that look like? How do we measure any of this? 92% of our workforce support hybrid working but are we all clear on what we really mean? How can we foster a positive culture in a time of acute uncertainty? What other flexibility can we offer to a workforce who cannot work remotely? Employers must ensure employees have a safe place to work but how can we do this if we don’t know where they are?
  3. Core processes – What communication approaches, systems and tools are needed to allow us to experiment in a non-traditional way? What are the opportunities, pitfalls and risks? Will desk/room booking tools be good thing or a hindrance to creativity? Is it really the end of the office?
  4. Skills base – Do we have the skills to wrestle the disruption and what are those skills anyway? Can we improve our digital skills quick enough in a supported way? Can we diversify now that location and physical barriers aren’t the limiting factor?  Will Gen Z even want to work for us if we don’t change fast enough?

Oh and writing this piece reminds of the film Office Space and  the guy who kept getting moved around the building until eventually he ended up in the basement. 

Listening to audio quicker

I’ve been listening to podcasts forever. Yet it took me ages to realise that all podcast players have an option to listen at different speeds. I listen to most of my podcasts at x1.2 speed and only notice the difference when the podcast episode plays music. Same great content just a little quicker equals more time for more great podcasts.

Give it a try.

I have recently tried a few audio books and x1.5 speed seems about right as they seem to read soooo slowly.

Oh and Seth Godin has pointed to a handy video extension that does the same for video.