Weeknote 13th Jan – starting blocks

The new gaff

So, it’s been a big and interesting week, with no shortage of watersheds. It’s 7pm on a Saturday evening as I start writing this. I’m sitting here in the studio drinking a plonky glass of Pinot Noir, waiting for a celebratory curry to arrive, and generally feeling that – you know what – things are pretty ok.

The New Job

I’ve started at Which? – and yup, the first week has been good.

I’m definitely feeling slightly overwhelmed by the amount of context I’ve got to pick up. It’s quite an unusual organisation, being the not-for-profit corporate arm of a charity, raising the funds through content and services to do all that consumer research and advocacy work. A vast proportion of the £80+m we raise each year is managed through our website – a mix of memberships (print, print+digital, digital-only), additional value-add subscriptions, or partnerships/referrals. Not all of the money relies on or is created by digital – and of course it’s all underpinned by a huge long-standing content operation which isn’t our patch – but we touch a lot of it. There’s also a lot of members – more than I fully realised. So yay – the upside is that any small improvements can scale out to quite big numbers. The downside is that I’m now highly aware of the pressure not to cock anything up. Which means lots more to read and understand.

I’ve ended the week with a largely-filed inbox, which is a win, but still have about 70 tabs open. There are a lot of fractal documents, containing lists of links to other documents, which also link to other documents – some of which I’ve opened, and others remain undiscovered. And obviously I don’t know which are the ones that truly matter, or the problems that are truly important. But I’m pretty sure I’ll get there!

The big thing is that everyone seems truly lovely. Genuinely fab. I’ve had a great onboarding, with loads of meetings already scheduled, IT that (largely) just worked and so much more. I’ve even been sent a spreadsheet with my full year’s budget breakdown – something of a shock after years inside government where contractors were definitely second-class citizens. But a really pleasant suprise to be feeling so empowered and trusted.

The teams are currently busy getting the OKRs ready for the next quarter – and making sure they ladder up to the organsiation’s own annual OKRs. It’s been quite weird to be asked my opinions on what teams are proposing, knowing that a) my words carry a bit of weight and b) currently I know Virtually Nothing, but I seem to be asking useful first-principle questions about their ideas. I’ve been helping a bit with storytelling craft and ideas around our data strategy too.

We had our first community session on Thursday morning, bringing together all the product, deliver and SEO people in one room. Somehow we managed to fill 75 minutes with intros, AMA, me explaining my stupid aphantasia etc. It’s strange stepping into someone else’s shoes so rapidly – and lightly weird to have a meeting like that on a day when I knew they were all going out for my predecessor’s leaving drinks later on – but nobody’s made me feel unwelcome. The complete opposite in fact.

I’ve had one-to-ones with a few of the Leads, some peers on ELT, and nice passing chats with some of the LT members too. Some really good chats with new boss Rico, and I think I might have been a useful sounding board on a few things already.

Plus: the building is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. Not quite OAB levels of epic, but not far off – and it’s as modern as anything on the inside. Long tables set up for squad working, lots of wall whiteboards etc. It’s a stone’s throw from Regents Park which is going to be fabulous when things warm up. Oh, and there’s free coffee machines, and breakfast available 8:30-9:30 with more jam varieties than I knew existed. All of which are truly wonderful – presumably because they’re our very own “best buys”. So I love the environment, and I love the start to the day.

That said – four days in the office, faking it as an extrovert. Bit knackered now.

Wilkommen to Cabaret

Having walked past it on the way home every day I was in the office at DIT, on Thursday I finally managed to make it to see ‘Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club’ down by Embankment, with Daisy and Vicky.

(It was slightly strange being back in DIT-locale though, given the “I’m nothing to do with government these days” transition I’ve just been through. While we were in the queue, I even saw a former colleague walking to the station on her way home. Life goes on etc.)

Anyway, the show is brilliant – but also not 100% comfortable, obviously. It’s immersive, and very stylish, but in a slightly grimy way. An extremely intimate space and production, but that also makes it harder to avoid what a sad piece it is. Jake Shears is both hugely charming and utterly evil as The Emcee. He’s an enormous presence on stage, and of course an amazing singer with a vast range. But that makes the story transition towards the end ever more scary. The nazi regalia are thankfully hugely understated, but that somehow actually increases their impact.

Obviously, as a bit of a Self Esteem stan, I’d originally signed up for the show to see Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s take on Sally Bowles. I thought she did amazingly, bringing out the fragile self-delusion and clinging-on-to-survive-another-day. Not a hint of the Sheffield rage I’m used to from her day-job – it’s an incredibly controlled and nuanced performance. Mind you, at the end, she looked absolutely emotionally drained by it. Sharing a stage with a showman like Jake Shears was always going to be a high bar, but she definitely managed to hold her own and really brought some heft to the ending. Bravo RLT!

Anyway, it’s very good – and you should go and see it if you can. Check Self Esteem’s instagram feed if you want to see her in particular though – there are a few dates she’s not performing. This should give you the vibe of what you’ll get…

Music Shenanigans

Haven’t done much electronic music as I’ve been too tired…or out at the theatre obvs. But today was my first piano lesson of the new term, and I’d been lightly cramming my Schumann pieces for that.

It went unexpectedly well.

My piano teacher Seb said “yep, those are fine, you’ve done the work, you’re playing much better, and they’ve done what I needed them to…what are we going to work on next?”

So I’ve spent a lot of this afternoon with music manuscript books and spotify, looking for interesting new things to try. Seb’s said that a) it has to be something pretty slow, as he still wants to work on the cantabile and arm-weight aspects of my technique/style, and b) it can’t be too hard, as we want to make a decent dent in it within a few weeks.

I’ve now got a longlist covering everything from Janacek to Skepmton to Bach to Tchaikovsky to Satie. And a spotify playlist to make so I can whittle them down. I need to like them enough to be arsed to put the work in, and to be sure they’re at the right level. (Sadly this ruled out quite a lot of the Prokoviev and Ravel respectively – ho hum).

But a victory. I don’t think we’ve ever said “those are done” before – we’ve moved on to other pieces out of frustration or boredom. Hussah!

Miscellany

Not a lot else to report really.

  • Given the new job shenanigans I abstained from this round of bafta voting, and have had a week off of cramming in films.
  • Watched a bit of Sky’s new romcom “Smothered” which looks very promising.
  • Quite a lot of parenting things going on.
  • Not managed much in the way of exercise, but have done a fair bit of walking at lunchtimes – getting down to Oxford St even.
  • I’ve succeeded in finishing at a more sensible time than in the last few jobs – hurrah. Sadly, I’m doing a less-great job of having a clear start to the day. I tend to go and set up the laptop, with the aim of then doing meditation/getting breakfast, and then accidentally starting work without thinking and realise an hour later I’ve still not eaten. A boundary to keep working on.

So overall, I’m looking forward to next week…

For most of the week it’s more populated than this, I promise.
Going to try not to arrive at 9:29 next week, as well!

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