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.

Services rather than teams

I want, no NEED, to make our organisation even better for the people who choose to use us. To this end i’ve been wondering if thinking of our organisation’s internal workings as a series of services rather than teams is a better way to define the knotty web of a museum.

I hear frustrations from our users/customers/partners and workforce that aren’t often easy to solve and currently it is very hard to follow the “string” of what we do from end to end in order to better understand it and make it better. Typically a user’s journey with us crosses multiple teams and this often leads to both a disjointed user experience AND disjointed design/running of said thing. Who is responsible? If they are both trying to achieve the same then isn’t it really one team anyway? To be clear much of the problem isn’t org specific but the nature of having lots of competing priorities for any organisation that has more than a handful of people.

You never see a diagram or explanation of how many museums actually function. Instead we have team org charts that look similar, even when different organisations do very different things.

The default reaction when something isn’t working is to either move about the teams or change a team by adding people as the theory is more will be achieved. However in practice it is rarely the case. It’s led me to follow the thread of a team through it “doing” something from start to finish.

Long story less long I really now like to thing of whatever we’re delivering as a “service” which let’s me consider the whole process from end to end regardless of the teams it has to through. As an example, The Home Office have approximately 50 services. I’ve been asking people what services they deliver for a few years and it always seems to make people stop in their tracks as they haven’t thought of it (to be fair they know what they do just not articulated as a whol service). I have found some orgs that have a list of servies rhey sell but never their actual list of services.

Thus I wonder if many of our organisation problems would be better served in the lens of designing an organisation around its services not its teams. A team of teams can be born around service design.

Finally it then begs the question if a named team is needed at all or if it should simply be that you deliver X or Y service(s). Once you can define a service then you stand a much better chance of being able to make it better.

I’m not aware of museums currently using service design across the board so thought I’d share now in the hope others come forward. You can read about service design in the context of digital teams at Museums on the Web 2016 and of course Seb Chan has.

In which I am dose one vaccinated

Photo of me standing at the entrance to the vaccination centre to get my first dose of Pfizer covid-19 vaccination. I'm wearing a beige beanie hat, navy hoodie and orange U-mask.

Today I received my first of two doses of Pfizer vaccine at Cwmbran stadium in Wales. The second dose will be up to 12 weeks from now and in 14-21 days I will have 50% or so immunisation again Covid-19.

There was a steady flow of people but nobody had to queue and the whole process from entering the sports hall to leaving was 20 minutes including the 15min post jab wait. The nurse said they expected 1,400 today. Thank you to everyone involved in helping to make us all safe. Salute.

Good email habit: Can I respond in under two minutes?

I have a pretty good handle on my email inbox. One of my best habits I have adopted is that when I’m processing my email, if the email response will only take 1-2mins to reply, then I MUST reply there and then. Simple. No need to procrastinate, flag it, or move it to a heaving folder never to be seen again.

And for a bonus habit: it helps if YOU write better emails in the first place. Make your emails as short as they can be, so that the email subject can read and reply in the same vein.

On listening to advice

Should you listen to advice from others? My answer would be that you should always “consider” other people’s advice if you are stuck and you have asked!

The actual answer to your specific question is nearly always “it depends”.

It depends on XYZ with a smearing of your own context. so having advice from others  will let you think differently and maybe come up with a more informed position. Because if you already knew the answer you wouldn’t be asking. 

Launching our BMT labs blog

This week we launched a new “labs” blog for the good folks at Birmingham Museums Trust to share their experiments, announce new things or share opinions on any topic they wish. The aim of the game is to keep shipping.

Reading list 2021

Last year I managed to read 21 books. I’d like to hit 20+ again this year. I usually buy my books from my local indy but I sometimes read in the early morning or late in the night when it is dark hence some kindle titles.

  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie finished 8th January 2021. Kindle. I really enjoyed this story. I liked the descriptions of Nigeria and the US and the tales weaved around the main character.
  2. Ways of Seeing by John Berger finished 13th January 2021. Paperback ISBN 9780141035796. A short series of essays which were interesting and have me going down a rabbit hole on art forms and artists. Sadly the book layout is poorly designed and crammed which made it a tough read.
  3. How Women Rise: Break the 12 habits Holding You Back by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith finished 31 January 2021. Audio book. My first ever audio book. I started listening at 1x speed but it sounded too clunky so I tried 1.5x which sounded much better strangely. I always like books on learning more about yourself and others so this fit nicely. Lots of useful tips provided across 12 habits. It helped me to reflect on how I can ensure I support women in my organisation and try to avoid common pitfalls.
  4. Culture is bad for you by Brook, O’Brien and Taylor finished 18 February 2021. Paperback ISBN 9781526144164. How strongly I recommend it: 10/10. I had this book on my long list of things to read but totally forgot to order it at the launch. Thankfully, Sara told me to get it quick snap. In short this book is a must read for any of us who work in the cultural sector and want to know why despite many years of trying, we aren’t yet for everyone. The authors split the problem domain into the creation and consumption of culture. Then through academic research explore how class, gender and race are impacted by our current structures and how this in turns leads to more of the same problems. Ouch. Having the problems lead out so clearly really made me sit up and think how can we REALLY help turnaround. No spoilers but it is safe to say it needs many different people, orgs and policy reform. I’d rather be part of the solution than the problem and this will be a much thumbed through book in the next few years.
  5. Atomic Habits by James Clear finished 28th February 2021. Kindle format. How strongly I recommend it: 8/10. A good short read that gives you plenty of “That’s common sense but I’ve never thought of it like that” moments.
  6. Donut Economics by Kate Raworth finished 14th April 2021. Kindle format. How strongly I recommend it: 9/10. Apparently Economists make the world go around so I thought i’d find out more. Kate does a really good job of not only explaining the lay of the land but provides lots of examples of what can be done to do better.
  7. The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon finished 25th April 2021. Paperback ISBN 9780692701492. How strongly I recommend it: 9/10. I’ve been a big fan of Nina’s work for years and I was kindly gifted this book by Phil Walker. Through a series of case studies Nina takes you a journey to understand how you must change. In summary Nina says “We need to matter more to more people” and I couldn’t agree more.
  8. Black and British : a forgotten history by Davis Olusoga finished 24th May 2021. Audio book version.
  9. The Brutish Museum by Prof Dan Hicks finished 19 June 2021. Hardback ISBN 9780745341767. How strongly I recommend it: 10/10. A really strong book that I found difficult to read at points as I have family from Ghana and the brutal stories are alarming.

My first week as CEO

On Monday 16th November 2020 at 9am (or was it the stroke of midnight?) I started alongside Sara Wajid as part-time CEO at Birmingham Museums Trust. Sara and I are a job share who will both be working three days a week. We have a grand plan which I’ll talk about in the near future. For now I wanted to summarise my opening week, in part for myself but also to help communicate what a CEO does in these critical early days for others.

At the time of starting this role England is half way through a national lockdown and everyone who can work at home must work at home. So the context of my starting is during an international health emergency which also means remote working is our default for now.

Fortunately I love remote working and have plenty of tools to make the transition smooth for me. I’ve long said that I’m really a permanent remote worker due to the nature of my two previous roles, which included regularly working across the UK or locally with teams distributed around the city, I see myself as a remote worker even when I technically have “an office I’m based at”. Thinking back over the past 5 years I can’t ever recall being at my desk for more than a few hours at a time. Don’t get me confused though, I very much think work happens in our buildings but just not the kind many assume. A busy workplace isn’t the place I get my deep work done. Too many interruptions from well meaning people. The same is true of online tools that mimic the workplace with their beeps and notifications stealing time.

I had the foresight to collect my laptop during my last informal visit to see Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery at the beginning of October so at 9am I was good to go.

I like to work in roughly 6 week cycles which is conveniently 16th November to 24th December. This period of time is just short enough to gain momentum but not too unwieldy. Whilst we’re remote working Sara and I will work one full day each and every morning. Coupled with our internal use of technology we expect this to give us the right initial balance. If there is something unmovable in the afternoon we can easily swap.

I want to use this first cycle to get up to speed by learning as much as possible about the priorities, internal culture, systems and skills across BMT. In short I will be reading, listening and asking “why” lots . To this end, in the first week I’ve done 11 1:1s with team managers asking the same three questions (what’s good about BMT? if you were a trustee what one change would you make? What are the attributes of the best line manager you’ve had?) and on day one we held an all-staff online hello event for just over 100 staff. Furlough permitting I want to meet every member of staff 1:1 in the first 30-60 days. I had my first audit and finance committee which was no light read at over 100 pages!

I also want to form alliances as connection is fundamental so I have a long list of people to introduce myself too. I was pleased to meet the Council’s main contacts with the trust in an hour’s rapid fire session.

I mostly use trello for collecting ideas and I can see my private “thoughts on” has collected over 50 items already. I introduced a simple kanban trello board to the leadership team on day 1 that we’ll use for reviewing options and decisions which will be open for all staff to see as part of us being transparent. The beauty of this approach is that Sara and I can contribute in our own time so that all options can be considered without the need for real-time meeting in most cases. Talking of internal communication tools, I really want to introduce Basecamp but week 1 seemed too quick so I’ll take a little bit of time in the cycle to stretch my thoughts on the matter. The aim is to design out remote working with intent for the long-term so then it won’t matter when or where the team is. More on this in 2021.

I also squeezed in recording my talk for the Change for Good seminar about decision science and gave advice to a Scottish based organisation about making money online.

My summary of week one is that the team are clearly passionate and despite furlough, lockdown and difficult recent times with redundancies everyone is eager to make BMT work for its users.

I look forward to the weeks ahead.