Weeknote 21st Jan – goodbyes and new friends

A new friend

So, week two of the new job is out of the way. And a ton of other things have happened in real life too.

Which? continues to make slightly more sense. Everybody remains lovely, and really helpful, but lordy there’s a lot to take in. I ended last week with about 80 tabs open, but used “meeting-free Wednesday morning” (yeah, I know, right?) to finally read and deduplicate a load of these. The key ones are now safely in my bookmarks bar, or captured (and explained) in my rolling notes document in an SEO-friendly way so I can find them again. At least I think they’re the key ones…somehow, having got down to about 30 tabs, I seemed to get back to high-60s by Friday. Argh. But I’m getting the very beginnings of a mental framework together for understanding which things matter…and also some of the context for why some obvious-to-an-outsider things are harder than they look.

Monday began with a big session (kindly chaired by one of our Product Leads) to talk through each team’s OKRs for the forthcoming quarter. Loads of really good work going on, but I think I managed to ask some useful questions. Often these were about focus, or dependencies, or just storytelling – making the line to value and any tradeoffs much clearer. There are some data gaps which make it hard to evaluate some things in real time – but focusing on Only The Bits I Can Control risks sounding a bit blind to the wider worries of the organisation. Similarly, there were important technical projects that hadn’t really explained the reason they were more important than ‘more feature work’ in terms the business could understand. All eminently fixable, and loads of folks booked in chats later in the week to talk things through. Balancing OKRs fixed a lot of things: “yes, {this thing the team can control} needs to go up, but {this other financial thing you have less say in but the organisation worries about} needs to not also go down as a result”.

We had the monthly commercial review meeting, which was more of a look back at the quarter and look forward to each team’s OKRs across the wider organisation. 3-4 members of LT were in the room, plus loads of my peers ELT, and I was remote – so I was really having to concentrate. Thankfully my design equivalent Stephen was in the room and did a brilliant job telling our story. There were a few surprise dependencies from other teams, where their results depended on work I don’t think we’ve got planned – but I’m going to dig into that next week to find out where conversation with my predecessor had got up to. Again, all eminently fixable.

There was a great first meeting of the ‘product leadership trio’. I’m determined that I work as one with my equivalents from engineering and design, and making us our own multidisciplinary team when creating strategy – rather than doing things in silos. We’ve all got different perspectives and experiences, and it was really great to talk about some of the opportunities going forward. I think we’re going to do some extremely good stuff.

Thursday was almost non-stop fake-extroverting, but it was worth it. The day started with a big workshop involving all of the Product and Technology “Heads”. Getting aligned with Cybersecurity, IT, etc etc. I got to talk about things like my aphantasia and terrifying wine-collecting habit, but learned tons about others in the room…and hope to be cooked a meal by at least one of them quite soon. It was lightly odd that we were all men, but I think we’re all very conscious of that potential for blind spots. We then had a big whole-team “show and tell” followed by drinks. I got to see some really great work from four very different teams, and might have talked about cybersecurity a little too much, but it was lovely to get a warm glow from their achievements…that I had nothing to do with.

I’m starting to think a little bit about data strategy, and how teams can help each other on collective outcomes, but it’s very early days…

Next week looks even more interesting, so bring it on.

Let’s talk about other things.

RIP David Graham

David and I, when we were a fair bit younger.

OK, so this news broke on Sunday morning and the last issue had gone out. David was Vicky’s stepdad, and had been ill with cancer for a long time – plus tons of other things that come from having lived a very, er, Thorough Life. He’d spent a good few years as the main carer for Vicky’s mum, as Altzheimer’s slowly took her away from us, so it’s a huge shame he didn’t get longer to enjoy a bit more respite from that.

He was always hugely enthusiastic about everything we did – loudly championing our music, our kids, our interests, when others were being more polite. You’d sheepishly mention a track you’d made, and be talked into playing it…then made to play it again while he talked about how fabulous it was. At my 40th birthday, a few friends even thought he was my actual dad.

He had a fascinating life, with his early years on a tobacco plantation in Rhodesia, then being sent away to boarding school in Capetown at the age of 7 – a train ride that lasted days – then studying law in the UK, returning to Rhodesian and getting into trouble with Ian Smith’s regime for providing help to some of the people hoping for change. He ended up having to flee the country at short notice and settled in Brighton. (He later got to be profoundly disappointed by how some of those he’d personally helped behaved once they were in power).

He worked for Brighton Council, even finding a way for a private company to invest in the piers, before finally becoming a solicitor. He also had a stint as a chef, and we always looked forward to his culinary experiments when we visited.

Fare well, old chap.

Culture Corner

Because we were all processing that news, I stepped in for Vicky to go and see Gecko Theatre’s amazing new show ‘Kin’ at the National Theatre, so her ticket didn’t go to waste. The NT’s trailer is pretty minimal, but here’s one from earlier in the year that gives more of a flavour of this amazing piece of physical theatre:

I’ve always loved their work, having first seen Amit being absolutely captivating in a production of “Brighton Beach Scumbags” well over twenty years ago upstairs at the Brockley Jack, and “Tailor’s Dummies” was a particular favourite. There’s even a bit of one of their sets that’s got my name on the back of it, after the first one went up in flames (at that awful BAC fire?) and they needed to crowdfund a replacement.

This piece is about immigrants: what keeps them together, how that can be used to pit one group against another, and the tension between loyalties to your family and the desire to fit in to wider society. Really powerful…and also only 1h20m. Bargain. Afterwards Amit came by our group for a bit of a chat to talk about it too!

So do go and see that if you can. What else?

I’ve been delving into options for the next round of simpler piano pieces, and slowly sorting a playlist into rough priority order. We’ll see how we get on.

It was “payday” chez Dolan on Monday, as we’ve always aligned my contracting around BBC pay cycles so we can keep track of ebbs and flows a bit more reliably. This meant I went on a MASSIVE BANDCAMP SPLURGE of loads of things that also featured on my Christmas List- but were now fair game.

  • Three Pengin Cafe albums – including the one with the lovely cover of Simian Mobile Disco’s “Wheels Within Wheels”. Very good for working to.
  • The entire back catalogue of ‘Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan’ – who make these lovely 80s-inspired electronica albums with names like “Interim Report, March 1979”. Their latest album “The Nation’s Most Central Location” came top in Electronic Sound’s 100 albums of the year, and deservedly so. It’s the soundtrack to a municipal corporate video that never existed, and is a total delight.
  • Creep Show’s albums – at last. I didn’t realise I’d never bought these, given how often I’ve listened to the amazing track “Yawning Abyss” with John Grant’s delightful witty vocals. Clearly just Spotify downloads I rinsed like mad a few months ago – but I’ve made amends finally.
  • Milk Drunk by (brace yourselves) Dangerwank. This is their second album – the first having been created “in a range of London co-working spaces”. It’s similarly a soundtrack for a modern working world that’s not quite as it seems…but somehow manages to be rather beautiful at the same time
  • Preordered Jane Weaver’s “Love in Constant Spectacle” – of course. The lead single is perhaps a bit of a return to the spacerock roots, after a bit more of a Cocteau Twins vibe on “Flock”, but like a musical hug.
  • Finally, I bought Caroline Polachek’s “Pang”. I find it so frustrating that such a brave and experimental artist is largely ignored by the posh music press (*cough* Electronic Sound) because it’s “pop”. This is as ‘out there’ as Charli XCX at times, but she’s a much MUCH better singer. In fact the album’s utterly led by her amazing voice – and the crazy production is just there in support. I would love to have some insight into her working processes, as it must all just start with the vocals…so presumably she hears all this in her head, pre-formed. Probably my biggest recommendation of the list. But Jane has the cute lofi video of her being a giantess, so that wins for links.

New Toy!

So given payday, post-christmas price drops, and the tax return being better than I thought, I decided it was time to treat myself to a new gadget. I’d really enjoyed tinkering with the Pocket Operator drum machines, and liked their tangibility and immediacy…but they’re a little bit arcane, rather unpredictable, and you only get 16 patterns to play with. Meanwhile Ableton’s drums are still a bit close to Cubase-style sequencing. It’s hard to get truly immersed without diving into menus, even with a Push 2 controller. So – partly because of this little series of videos – I’ve cracked and got a Roland TR-8S.

The tipping point may also have been the realisation that I can make it to Juno in Camden during the lunch hour – this is potentially going to get expensive!

But it’s BLOODY LOVELY. Such fun. And really well designed for just playing around. There are loads of things that are buried in menus, but nearly everything has a “by the way if you hold this button and turn this knob, you can just do it live”. It’s quite rare to make something that impresses the daughter – but she was really getting down to my first little experiments. I felt rather proud.

That’ll do for now. Not least because next week looks pretty busy work-wise, and I’ve got “The Motive and the Cue” to fit in plus a few other bits in the evenings.


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