Weeknote – 18th March – Work in Progress

This was one of those weeks where there was no one specific thing that got ‘finished’. Or even to the next stage of ‘finished enough’. There are quite a few big things in play, and I’m making progress on them all, but it’s been slow going and I started the week feeling pretty low.

Some of that emotional slump wasn’t work-related. Last Sunday the family had gone down to Brighton, to take my stepfather-in-law out to lunch for the first time since V’s mum’s funeral. Because of COVID and other factors, it was my first time visiting the house in nearly four years – and obviously the first time I’d been there without her in it. So yes. Hmmm. It’s therefore definitely been a week tending towards the contemplative.

On a more practical note…

I’ve met three more of the Deputy Directors, and we got to chat about both the “Heads of Profession” model at GDS and how I can help them/the product people in their area. I’m starting to spot a few more patterns on the former now; this means there’s enough to go on that we can start to shape a slightly more scaled engagement model – the individual chats are great, but don’t scale for the matrix of every single DD and HoP.

We’d previously sent out a version of our vision for senior folk to react to, which had elements of ‘a learning prototype’. The core felt pretty good, and nobody’s objected to that – but the surrounding document had a few Big Ideas in it, essentially to find out what people did/didn’t want us to be. We’ve had some good (and occasionally very clear) feedback on that, which has been really useful. It took a while to collate all this into a form I could share with colleagues – but time spent gathering well-written-up context is rarely wasted. The other HoPs have been getting stuck in to an updated draft and it’s coming together really nicely. It’s also been great seeing everyone playing to their strengths – my user research counterpart is already thinking about how best to do that ‘engagement at scale’, for example – rather than me inventing it for myself. We’re really working as a team, which is wonderful.

I also had my first session with the GDS neurodiversity network. They were talking about shaping recruitment processes to reduce the chances these sorts of candidates weren’t disadvantaged. Lots of the things they’ve talked about are ideas I’d put in at DIT anyway – being really clear in adverts about the process, sharing everything you reasonably can in advance (including some of the interview questions), making it as easy as possible for people to know the criteria they’re being judged against. But I also got to hear new things like the ‘six second rule’ – which is how long you should allow for someone to process the question. Tony Richards, who runs the network, has a really good blogpost about their work. We’ve also talked about ‘manual of me’, but that’s a topic for another day.

One of the other things I’m turning over is how we can better share information and feel more united in purpose within the directorate I belong to. I came up with a pretty good ‘hybrid wall walk’ process – but realised it could only support a maximum of 13ish teams in an hour’s session. And we’ve got 20. So there’s the challenge: I don’t want important learning not to be shared across and upwards; I don’t want risks not to be surfaced; I don’t want people not to have the chance to say they’ll collaborate. But I also don’t want to bore people by making it 90 minutes, or even longer. And too often I’ve seen “scrum of scrums” type activities get filled with people talking about how busy they are, and not getting into the things that really matter. So if you have any ideas/links to approaches that have worked, those would be very welcome! I’ll keep reading/researching/experimenting too, and hopefully be able to share some stuff back here in due course.

Three bars of Debussy's "Sarabande" with pencil markings of fingerings on them
It’s all about the middle finger. Particularly during the crescendo.


  • Picked up a stupid injury to the arch of my left foot, so running’s stopped again – pah.
  • Finally got to the bottom of the cryptic cadence of getting paid in the new gig – and sadly a glitch on the timesheet system means I missed one of the critical drumbeats where the weekly/monthly cycles come together. This means it’s going to be a few weeks still before I can do the much-anticipated hitting Rough Trade/Bandcamp in anger. Catching up on the Ladytron back catalogue will have to wait. Thank heavens for overdrafts and credit cards (and yeah, Spotify I suppose) in the meantime!
  • Another incredibly Zen piano lesson. A bit like work, I feel like I’ve got a load of pieces that are ‘nearly there’ but taking ages to come together. There’s a Schubert Impromptu that’s just a slog of learning sooooo many notes; Debussy’s “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” that I can get through, but needs a ton of polish; and Debussy’s “Sarabande” which is furthest along, but still not really where I want it. All of them feel like I’m pushing uphill, and not seeing much progress or joy. (Which has also contributed to my general gloom.) But Seb the piano teacher tried to reframe all this – that the piano is never “done”. A given piece is never “done”. You might get it to “good enough to play to other people”. So don’t be practicing too much with that target of completion – just enjoy deeply working on the four bars you’re currently trying to improve, and the bigger picture will look after itself.
  • I’ve been particularly looking at the few bars in the picture above, where I’ve realised that the problems I’ve been having are down to the weight distribution of my hand. Unlike synth playing, to get the best sound out of the piano you have all the weight of your arm carried through your fingers. But I was really struggling on these phrases. And that’s because I’d made the wrong trade-off (but been able to mask it with the sustain pedal, to Seb and myself). I’d been anchoring most of my weight into the thumb and second finger – but actually it needs to be focused on the third finger. This helps you bring the melody out at the start, and then helps your thumb to be all floppy and slide through the semiquavers in the second bar – while your fourth and fifth fingers are freed up to be carrying on with The Tune. I love these types of problem-solving you get in piano pieces. Compared to the clarinet, where there’s only one way to do it, the piano remains far more fascinating.
  • Daisy came home for mother’s day, which was a lovely surprise she and I managed to spring. Har har har.
  • I got hugely frustrated with the studio – all the electronics just felt utterly technical and uninspiring this weekend. Modular experiments that would normally have kicked off new ideas completely failed to. I fell into a bunch of clichés when trying to play synth keyboards. I couldn’t settle to anything. I ended up having a massive tidy to try and reset the space – and also the storage area where bikes and cables and camping gear and stationery and other bits of musical gear are piled up. There are now far fewer piles of “admin things in progress” everywhere and hopefully that’ll mean my brain can settle a little more without feeling oppressed by all the to-dos. And perhaps that’s sorted through some of the rest of my brain too.
  • Nearly finished the book of “Orlando” after seeing the play a few weeks ago. It’s got really quite weird at the end of the 19th Century, particularly when her child arrives, but it’s somehow got me thinking a lot about odd corners/side-effects of my early catholic upbringing. That’s going to be a blog post in its own right – or maybe some songs.
  • Oh, and it’s been twenty years since I first started having piano lessons again. They’ve been “off and on” over the years, but it’s been a hugely rewarding journey to go on.

Next week will bring Underworld, a few social things, and hopefully a lot more progress.

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