Reading list 2018

Starting off the year with a book I tried to finish at the top of the year but didn’t quite pull off. According to my Reading List 2017 I managed to read 10 books which isn’t bad going considering the packed year and lack of public transport time. I love to buy new books faster than I can read them like a true book fiend. I hope to continue finding new homes once I’ve finished them too. Books are meant to be read.

  1. Originals by Adam Grant finished 5th January . Paperback ISBN 9780753556993. A look at how you can think and/or let others let loose their originality.
  2. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin finished 27th February. Hardback ISBN 9781250183866. A nice blend of military accounts and leadership principles that focus on owning mistakes and failures. Get Some!
  3. The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck finished 24th April. Paperback ISBN 9781846041075. Not my usual style of book and I struggled with it passed the first third. Oh well.
  4. the four by Scott Galloway finished 16 May 2018. Hardback ISBN 9780593077894. An insightful and witty take on four of the largest businesses on the planet. Lots of bits made me chuckle but there is a serious thread about the lack of control and tiny employment these guys generate directly. Def worth a read.
  5. Digital transformation at scale: why the strategy is delivery by Andrew Greenway, Ben Terrett, Mike Bracken and Tom Loosemore finished 28 May 2018. Paperback ISBN 9781907994784. A great recap of hundreds of people’s efforts in the past 6 years to drive digital change, for government but also to support folks like me in local government. The book does a good job of acting as part potted history and part guidance for getting things done. A message throughout is that it isn’t complicated, it’s just hard. A must read not only for those who are believers but also for folks who disregard or shrug off digital as something that can be ignored. Thank you to the GDS folks and everybody fighting the good fight.
  6. Hunting the Nazi Bomb by Damien Lewis finished 16 June 2018. Paperback ISBN 9781786482105. A story based on true events in and around Norway during the war to stop Germany gaining the ability to produce an atom bomb.
  7. It doesn’t have to be crazy at work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson finished 8 Oct 2018. Paperback ISBN 9780008323448. A welcome reminder that doing the hours you’re paid to do is fine and that you should find every way to focus and leave work at the office.

Sharing scales

If you need a tool, process or reference material then please do share that widely. Tell a colleague, speak at a staff meeting, write about it on the web. There is a very good chance someone else can benefit. Sharing what we do, why “that” choice and “how” we do something allows others to benefit. Your own  way  not  even  be  the best. Low cost for you but scalable for the sector.
How can I help?

Using a ChangeLog

A good practice I have done since my early days at University is to keep a record of notable changes I make to a project or “thing”. In computing this is super common as changes you make, often to code, don’t work the first few times, so you want to record what you changed to un-break it. The recording is a simple text file which is universally called a “ChangeLog“.

For example during October I changed our online shop shipping costs from being £3.50 to FREE. I have no hope of remembering I did this in a few months time so I make a note of it in my ChangeLog – I write these into evernote but you can use whatever you like. I write each change as follows:

  • Text documenting the change
  • Name of person making the change if using a shared ChangeLog

In addition to the ChangeLog being useful for my own projects I find it very helpful for my regular 1:1s with my boss/teams, workshops and even when preparing for job interviews.

The right out of office message means a clear inbox after a holiday

For most people the return to work from a holiday usually involves a great stress about peeking into your inbox to see what horror awaits. I get between 50-100 emails every day. This year I’ve had a three week holiday and a two week break. That would be hundreds of email to “catch up”. However I won’t be seeing any of these messages sent during my holiday on my return Monday.

I was finding it increasingly stressful last year playing catch up digging through hundreds of email just in case something important was hiding in that pile. This year I introduced a new way to completely side step the issue. I delete ALL email sent during my holiday with the exception of two people – my boss and my bosses boss. I have a modified version of Tim Ferriss’s out of office that is explicitly clear that if you need a response you have two choices, either contact someone else or email me from the date of my return. I’m serious.

It should be obvious why I exclude my line management – I like my job ha plus they know I’m away so anything I’m being sent is assumed for after my return.

After using this successfully for two holidays back to back it will now be part of my holiday check list. I can the jump straight back to work without wasting a week chasing shadows.

Notes from Banksy panel: Does Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art?

On Saturday 14th May 2016, to launch the 4th edition of the book Home Sweet Home by Tangent books we decided to host a panel “Does Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art.?” At M Shed in collaboration with the Festival of ideas.

It was a glorious sunny day and about 100 people came to hear Will Simpson, Marc Leverton and Katy Bauer, all authors of Banksy books. Richard Jones was referee.

The third edition was one of our best selling products last year so this event seemed a great way to fly the flag whilst quenching the thirst of the Banksy loving public. We can’t go a day at the museum without people coming specifically to see our Banksy statue on their trail across the city.

We sold £100 worth of books and people seemed to really enjoy it. I know one person came all the way up from Cornwall.

It was only my second attempt at book signing and I have learned a few things to make it better. Also I’m convinced that it needs to either be an event or pure book signing. Either you want a signed boom or you come for the chat/debate. Cool.

Anyway below are the notes I scribbled down. They aren’t exhaustive and I may have misunderstood of misattributed points so please forgive any errors I may have made.

My panel notes

The majority of the audience answered “No” to the question “Should Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art.
Will: explained that he was part of a group who went to Mexico with Banksy to paint and highlight the Zapatista movement. The plan was that Banksy was going to spend a few days painting and in-between they played some football. Whenever they were short of players, Banksy would be in goal. Will is recalling this trip from around 15 years ago and hasn’t seen Banksy in over a decade but remembers he was very smart and had a dry sense of humour. As Banksy was there to paint, Will remembers that Banksy had done lots of research and spoke to locals to see what they wanted. Will then backtracked to the Autumn of 2000 when Banksy was starting to get popular. To fundraise, he had an idea to use a painting, which was pink with a footballer doing an overhead kick and let people guess where the ball landed. The winner of the raffle would keep the painting. The painting was on display at Eat the Beat in St Nics for 1-2 months. Will and a few others thought of trying to rig the raffle but the person they sent pulled out at the last minute as they didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. The painting raised about £200 and eventually went on to be sold for £20,000 years later (Jo).

Katy: Described her encounter with Banksy’s people during the time of the Bristol tension with a new proposed Tesco in Stokes Croft. Chris Chalkley from People’s Republic of Stokes Croft funded a Banksy print to help fundraise. A Banksy contact approached Chris about the collaboration. It was very particular. All the proceeds must go to PRSC, it can only be £5 and they could only print the agreed 2000 [note – i have a signed copy of this as a wedding present…].
The prints were sold at the Anarchist book fair. Katy had asked if it could be sold for £10 as it was clearly going to be a sell out and the money would benefit but was told no. Katy says the experience was clearly very much that Banksy is in control and it must go the way he wants. Katy shared a story about a piece she wrote that never saw the light of day as Banksy censored it, Katy was appalled. The piece was intended for Paul Gough’s book on Banksy and was written as an honest piece that wasn’t meant to offend about Banksy maybe [recanted]. The incident left Katy a little disappointed that Banksy would do this.

Richard: The level of control and attention to detail is astonishing.

Marc: says that Banksy doesn’t have to be socially responsible but his size means that he almost has to. He thinks Banksy is very aware of his early start as a vandal and is now ironically part of the art world.

Richard: questions how much control Banksy really his over his own image and ability to affect anything.

Will: agrees broadly with Marc and that Banksy’s unique selling point is his leftie/punk

Marc: Says to answer the question you need to understand Banksy and he thinks punk was a big influence. For example Banksy and his contacts would have known the queue to buy the Tesco posters would have been chaotic and they probably like that. Hence why they didn’t stop people buying more than one.

Richard: If Banksy cares then why wouldn’t he allow a second print run, knowing it would have greatly helped?

Katy: Says it is sad that more people in the audience don’t think Banksy has a responsibilty as she thinks not only does Banksy but all of us should be helping each other and the planet. Banksy is the left-ing voice the media can’t resist. Katy def thinks Banksy would be left-wing and is very Bristol i.e. d.i.y with Marc saying Banksy is capitist. Katy doesn’t see addressing social issues and making a living as being exclusive.

Will: If Banksy making the news helps highlight a cause that is enough and is helping.

Audience now join in.

Audience: thinks his work is giving back to the community and showing we can take it further.

Richard: If he was Batman he’d have a charitable Wayne foundation surely?

Marc: Part outlaw, part capitalist

Richard: During the mobile lovers episode he thinks it was clear that Banksy only got involved as he was forced into it and that the piece wasn’t meant to be removed or sold.

Marc: Dismaland has lots of local people involved which shows social responsibility.

Richard: During the Banksy vs Museum exhibition Oxfam and the city benefited. Also the sale of advertisement opening tools for ads hells shows his view on advertising and his radical/left stance. However at the end of the show, all the works were sold.

Katy: Perhaps Banksy could be more helpful.

Audience: everyone has responsibility, especially with some power, influence and money. Being negative towards Banksy is a defence mechanism [claps from audience].

Audience: missing the point. Feels that Banksy is about making you think for yourself.

Audience: His work raises awareness when it disturbs us and his work is disturbing.

Audience (Chris Chalkley): we all need to be thinking of the arts as a movement to help. The techniques Banksy uses re purposefully the same as corporations. We should all be thinking about how to tackle keeping ownership of the visual spaces in the city. So much is now being hidden behind advertisement hoardings e.g. Bear at the end of the M32. We should heed the message from the Banksy piece laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge.

Audience: Banksy really appeals to everybody. The converted in the room but also the new people to his work.

Richard: The positioning of pieces at Bus height shows he is thinking of the average person not just car drivers. The Mild mild West piece in Stokes Croft was in response to the police breaking up a party.
Marc: Saw Dismaland as a return to form with the messaging, appeal and humour, even though the media missed the point. He thinks the GCHQ piece would really have annoyed him as it caused a headache for the family living in the house and this wouldn’t be be what he wanted.

Richard: the press didn’t like the dismal dismaland people

Will: His presence is important to the city.

Audience: He is a national treasure.

Audience: There is a battle for public spaces.

Chris: We should be fighting this attack on the visual public spaces – he turned down a lot of money when advertisers wanted to place ads around the bear pit in Bristol. Big corps should kindly go away

Katy: Sees Banksy as one of us.

Accepting mistakes

During a recent interview I asked the hopeful job seekers across the table from me “Can you tell me about a time you’ve failed?”

The reason that I asked wasn’t to make them squirm, although they did, but to better understand how the individual views making mistakes along the road to success. 37signals say that failure is overrated and I’m inclined to agree in principle. All the cool kids say “fail fast” which is fine when nowt is at risk. I don’t want to fail giving our visitor a highly satisfying visit. I don’t want to fail to meet my income target (Over £1M) and lose staff as a result. BUT me and the rest of the team WILL make a ton of small mistakes. Making mistakes is not the same as failing. We need to have a goal in sight and get there, but I’m sure that by accepting and adapting after a mistake WILL make getting to our goals a reality. Fear of making a mistake will lead to failure.

A few recent mistakes I’ve made:

  • Ordered 200 bespoke mugs too quickly and now I have 162 still unsold
    Assumed Shopify saying it works offline without testing in detail which means the till drawer won’t open if we lose connection…
  • I didn’t include staffing recharges in my monthly budget forecast

How would you have answered?

Think of an interview as a boxing match

Over the past 2 years I’ve done a fair share of interviewing which has taught me a few things. When I get asked how best to approach an interview I always say “An interview is like a boxing match”.

In a typical hire/recruitment we have the application process (round 1), a task or presentation (round 2) and finally a series of questions (rounds 3-12). All scored by 2-3 people on a panel. A boxer typically wins by scoring more than their opponent rather than knockout. Yet in many of the interviews i’ve worked on, the interviewee throws caution to the wind and goes searching for the knockout by offering a single answer. I’m telling you for free that you’ll almost always be swinging a miss.

Which leads me nicely on to “You score points for landing” as boxers don’t get points for throwing punches. They score for landing blows both small and big. An interview question will likely require multiple responses, each of which helps you climb higher on the score sheet PER question. If you don’t think you’ve worked hard enough with your answer? you probably haven’t.

Like a boxing match you should be thinking of the goal and work steadily until the bell chimes.

Professional boxing scoring according to wikipedia

100 days as Head of Transformation

Saturday 11th April 2015 marks 100 days since I started my new role as Head of Transformation for the Bristol Museum Service and therefore, a good time to reflect on the journey to date.

I’ll begin by saying that it is very much the challenge I expected and I’m loving it. I used to say my old job was spinning a 1000 plates and this role is no different, except the stakes are higher and more people are watching. Nobody said it was going to be easy, which is fine by me, as it’s a privilege to be helping a place to thrive (that I grew up visiting) and that was here long before me and will be here long after me.

Although my new position is an internal move and I haven’t left the museum, it immediately felt like a completely new place to be working! Since 2013 when I began working for the service, I’ve had no trouble making myself “responsible”. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar says in Creativity, Inc “you don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility” which is a career tip nugget. Also since I began working for the Bristol service, we are now on our third Director, have been restructured, won Arts Council England MPM funding and expanded our service remit to include the arts and events teams along with the Bristol Film Office, making us now ‘Bristol Culture’ and no longer Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives, so we have witnessed a fair number of changes!

If I dive for a moment into a few things I’ve done since my start in January it’s clear that my value often isn’t a tangible production line output:

  • Introduced Trello to the wider service AND management team so that no task is left behind
  • Given staff across BCC a discount in our retail shops to encourage buying from within
  • Passed all sorts of decision making to more people to help flatten our structure (to varying success)
  • Put into motion audiences and data front and centre for all
  • Been more visible than ever in the city’s wider culture community
  • Helped Laura ensure management are as transparent as possible by sharing plans and that data and decisions are made available
  • Kept up my weekly blogging
  • Introduced a framework for my team managers to use which includes using Trello, monthly budget kpi reviews, staff meetings and 1:1s
  • Began to identify patterns in our internal behaviour to contribute to our 10 year mission

In addition to my new gig I also got a new boss, scratch that we got a new “leader” – most people don’t need a manager/boss they need leadership. Before Laura had even started she came to our end of year/era wider management team session and laid a lovely straight line that stopped at her feet pointing to the new leader. Since this first meeting Laura has really been a fantastic leader for me personally and stepped up to steering the new Bristol Culture service.  In return, I offer loyality on top the stuff I’ve been mentioning here! What’s been great about working with Laura? Here’s a few of my observations so far:

  • Having clear leadership means I can have the confidence that Laura will fully support me and give me the direction I need
  • Laura hasn’t always agreed with my point of view. I’m not always right so this gives me the safety net of Laura catching mistakes and I recognize Laura is ultimately responsible so I dig that I feel safe in saying my piece then getting a decision I’ll happily stick to – I worry if I only ever get YES as I’m not that good but I feel listened to.
  • We work in similar fashion which is paperless where possible, inbox zero, clarity over waffle, with the same ethos – audience needs which leads to business needs not the other way around etc
  • I recognize I can learn more about running teams and working with wider stakeholders from Laura and I’ve been paying attention.

I genuinely look forward to helping Laura drive our service into the next chapter and transformation is at the heart of a lot of this.

Great leadership? Yes. Support? Yes. Phew! So what of the new role and remit? My task is to ensure we are both enterprising and able to be flexible in how we work to deliver what our audiences need. Since I’ve started I have said ‘yes’ to many things to help empower staff get things done and probably said ‘no’ to as many things that I don’t feel should continue unchecked.

What does he actually do?

The higher up the chain of command you climb the harder it can be to describe what you actually do as it’s often your team who “deliver”. I would hazard a guess that after 100 days even members of the transformation wing may be thinking this as I’ve had much less contact with them than my direct reports. Thus a large part of my job is hidden. So let me bring to the fore some of the detail that is actually pretty instrumental to service delivery even if you can’t see my tool marks. I help us craft vision and then action it.

Being valuable

As Liam Neeson’s character Simon says in TAKEN “I have a particular set of skills” which revolve around the rough edges of responsibility that others can’t or won’t do. Who wants to dig through kpi or visitor surveys seeking patterns and nuggets? I will! Then I’ll know the who, why, what, when and where which is very valuable when making choices on uniforms, programmes, partnerships etc. People buy into trust based on evidence not gut feelings. I like to ask Laura on a regular basis “is there anything I can do for you?”.

Setting standards

I expect and demand a relentless cycle of planning, doing and reviewing of processes. Feel the heat of pressure from your manager? That’s probably due to my input on something I saw that I feel should be changed. If I can see excellence,I want that process frozen for now so we can do it again. I want to know the detail and ask “why” constantly.

Finding constraints

The average member of the team won’t be keeping an eye on the budget, kpi or stakeholder needs but I am. I’ll shape the scope of the work to be done and pass this to your manager. I’ve banged on for years that constraints are everything and you need to know where the edges are.

Having a process

I’ve been told that the average length of service is 14 years which is plenty of time to develop your own ways of doing things! Yet things now aren’t what they were even a few years ago and we need to be constantly refining. This does not mean stopping what works well but ensuring there is a clear rationale aligned to our mission, values and service plan. You may only be one cog but we need the whole machine to work. So I find the grit that’s hampering us. Key to this is a unified process so that self forming team are talking along the same lines and we can identify the bits that work from the bits that don’t. Fading away is the idea you work for one manager in your area. I may need you to help out over in Engagement. These sutle changes in process have my mark on them. The 18 items of what I expect each manager to do with their teams has been designed purposefully to be uniform for all 30 or so staff. These items include having an annual business plan, fortnight reviews, an annual profit/loss sheet, staff development plans and such.

Picking our focus

We “can do anything” is unlikely to be a mission statement that anybody wants to get behind. I often hear folks saying the creativity is an essential ingredient in their role. Yet when I joined there wasn’t a clear focus, this made it very hard to start on any particular problem, giving me that all important creativity. So I chose to focus on helping people to use technology. Now we’re applying the same idea to give the service a focus by clearly developing our mission and values. This will naturally provide us with our overarching focus. Sign up or step off.

Solve hard problems

The easy problems have been solved. We’re now left with the hard stuff. I need to join our loosely connected dots. How should we price an exhibition? How can we measure success? Provide safe scaleable storage for physical and digital items? Work in real partnership with our local, national and international stakeholders? How can we further reduce our dependence on public funding? What are the patterns from all the raw data? One step forward at a time of course.

For example, staff development is a core strand of work we need to transform and I’ve actioned staff across the service to attend events that will keep our capabilities sharp. This needs to move into a more structured and formal programme of work but at least we’re moving forwards – I want to finally implement Open Badges for recognition of skills.
A number of projects are coming into fruition, coinciding with my first 100 days in post, these include wifi, new tablet devices for staff and digital TVs screens for the public and I’ve had lots of positive feedback from the staff about these changes.

What’s been difficult?

I have less time for individuals as my remit has increased which has been tricky. However I’ve been delegating more than ever and I want staff to see this is a positive oppotunity not me passing off work!

The job title is a gift and a curse. It’s good because it can mean many things so I can swap hats quickly to whomever I’m dealing with but it is far less obvious than the old “deputy director”. Apparently in the wider local authority the new title is typically associated with change management and shutting down of work, not a great vein to be aligned with.

I need to find more time to think. I can’t solve a really hard problem if I only have 10 minute windows in my day. From May I’m going back to my hiding places and getting stricter on email traffic. I also plan to choose a problem and commit one hour chunks to only think about that one area e.g. Pricing and patterns are two areas that need attention.

In no small part I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my old leader Vivienne Bennett for allowing me to ask so many questions last year and poke at decisions to help me gain the experience and sharpen my focus needed for this role. Onwards to the next 1000 days.

UPDATE: Laura Pye has written about her first 100 days