Belated Weeknote – 25th Feb-ish – Overcoming Light Harumph

The top of an amaryllis bulb, with a new flower bud just starting to peek out from the old brown leaves.
Amaryllis two is on the way.

This has been in draft for the last few days, and I’ve just not had time to wrap it up until now. Low on work stuff, heavy on many flavours of ‘everything else’. LinkedIn folks seeking Hot Product Takes: you may want to skip this one. Be reassured that things picked up a bit from Monday, but that’s for a different weeknote!

It’s been a bit of an odd week. I was still not remotely myself after the visit to the now-empty house in Saltdean last weekend, and ended up taking Monday off at the last minute. I just wasn’t in the zone for doing sensible work, or anything else really. Spent the day pottering, staring, and eventually having a bit of a vocal jam with myself in Ableton…that the world really doesn’t need to hear.

I ended up slightly on a back foot for the rest of the week as a result. It wasn’t helped that on Tuesday I had 11 30-minute meetings – argh. I briefly broke the 100-browser-tabs milestone on Thursday, but managed to get down to a single window open by Friday. With a lot of tabs still, but at least you could count them. Hopefully I didn’t close anything too crucial en route. After a certain point, Miro boards start to look pretty similar, and you lose track of whether this is the last or second-last of the duplicate tabs for the same document. (I must admit this is one of the VERY few things I miss about office – there were different contexts for different types of documents, rather than just an unstructured soup of stuff in the browser – but it’s not enough to convince me to go back.)

I’ve started to get involved in some of next year’s business planning processes. Not as a recipient, but as a process-creator, which is rather exciting. Which? works on a very iterative planning approach with a few year-long organisational OKRs, which help shape some aspects of the teams work – it’s how they set their quarterly product OKRs. There’s loads of good stuff already in place, but I’m looking for a) how we can bring in the bottom-up alongside the top-down, b) how we can do more/better choosing-between, c) how we can make space for continous improvement without it being an unaccountable blank cheque.

I got a chance to share this wonderful video from the “Systemic Agility” webinar series, where the former CFO of Statoil talks about his ideas around “Beyond Budgeting”. I really really ought to get his book, and even read it, but…too many books already. Anyway, the folks I shared it with found it interesting – perhaps you will too?

Why future financial forecasting shouldn’t be run the same way as retrospective financial reporting.

All my wanging-on about amazing OKR-setting duly got put to the test, because I found out I was due to present on mid-quarter progress on Tuesday 27th (yes, you’ll have to find out how it went in the next one)…which involved having to track down loads of updates from teams/squads, many of whom were off on leave for half term.

I realised in the process that I don’t yet have a real grammar for “this is not lovely coaching advisory Tom sharing interesting stuff/perspective, this is Tom telling people He Needs a Thing to Happen” in our various comms channels. We’re mainly Slack-based, but Slack is mainly chatty for folks to catch up on in their own time. It’s easy to miss something. But if nobody really looks at email day-to-day either…

Anyway, we collectively pulled it off, but I’ve got to work out how I’m going to be clearer on that in the future. All tips welcome in comments.

You may remember my photo of the meeting-room screen with the peak-Which? booking for ‘cordless drill testing’ from a few weeks ago. This week I finally got to meet a few of the team who organise our product testing, and manage the vast reams of data created as a result, on the back of an idle corridor question while thinking about ROI: “how much does each review cost?” I probably never should have started that ball rolling.

The answer, of course, is “it depends”. But I had a lovely chat with the very delightful people who manage it, and are creating the new data architecture supporting everything. I even got to spend some time talking to the person who’s in charge of mattress testing, who has nearly 100 in her remit! (She also told me something super cool about forthcoming duvet testing, but I’m not going to spoil any social media surprises they may have lined up). It’s interesting too that one of the challenges we have is – because we will nearly-always only buy and test real stuff bought in the shops, rather than preview models – it takes us comparative ages to provide reviews. They’re thorough, but not quick. A sensible and considered, but very anti-dopamine, approach – which I find almost alien, of course.

Anyway, stresses around comms and reporting aside, it’s all been going pretty well with the day job.

Elsewhere in professional shenanigans…

Scott posted on LinkedIn that he was setting up a WhatsApp group for Product Leaders in the public sector. There were a bunch of ‘supplier’ people putting their hands up alongside the civil servants – including Scott himself – and I was briefly “yes, I can provide tea and sympathy here”. And then I had second thoughts. Yes, I’m definitely in a mode where I’m taking some time away from government, but perhaps government also needs a bit of time away from me? Perhaps me chucking in more reckons from the sidelines isn’t actually that helpful, however well-meaning? Still pondering that one.

I also ended up back in GDS-land on Thursday, saying a fond farewell to amazing Technical Architect Mateusz who’s also taking a break from Government. I’ve known Mat for about a decade now, I realise – across MOJ, DIT and GDS. He’s fab, if occasionally very fast-speaking, and if you need clever TA-ing done you should totally hire him.

Which brings me to…

Leisure/Culture Corner

Steve and I had to hotfoot our way from Mat’s leaving drinks over to Hackney Wick to go and see Craven Faults playing live. He is super-secretive about who he is (although apparently he was in a clut post-punk band in the very late 70s, and some big band in the 80s) so there were strict instructions about no photography. Which I’m interpreting as “don’t share any photos you took that actually featured him, on the internet”. Anyway, the star of the show was the instrument he performed on for over an hour…

Enormous moog modular synthesiser, covered in patch cables. A mixing desk. A reel-to-reel tape recorder.

I dread to think how much this vast Moog modular system must have cost – and it was only one of the exotic analogue instruments being used. The fairly-portable ones that create radiophonic-style effects were whisked offstage almost immediately.

But it was an incredible performance – sedate, but still visceral and fascinating. You can hear a clip of one of the pieces he played here:

I’m still no wiser as to who he is, after an hour watching him. For a brief period I was convinced he was Graham Massey of 808 state, but I don’t think that can be true. He’s also an artist, and it turns out the “posters” you could buy at the merch stand were individually screen-printed by him for this particular event. I have number 18 out of 50!

Craven Faults concert poster - pinned out on a wooden floor
Yes, ignore how I’m holding it down, thanks.

Spent a good chunk of Friday and Saturday night watching comforting Ealing Comedies with the firstborn, to ready her for a return to university after reading week. When I last tried about four years ago, we’d not got more than 15 minutes into “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, but she totally loved it this time. Joan Greenwood is just so wonderfully wicked, and the many Alec Guinness characters are just so beautifully constructed. (Bless her, it wasn’t until afterwards she said “that actor looks really familiar” and we said “yes, Star Wars” to much facepalming).

We also watched “Man in the White Suit” as we were in a bit of a Greenwood/Guiness zone by then – and it’s actually stood up really well. Reminds me a lot of the current AI debates, and what businesses will do to avoid being disrupted. But with good jokes. Heartily recommend.

Cooking-twitter is dead, much like the rest of twitter, so sadly you only get the before and after of 2.5h of making braised cabbage.

A saucepan with red cabbage, onions, butter, cinnamon, sugar and more, just before cooking.
A saucepan with a small amount of homogenous slow-cooked red cabbage in it.

It tasted delicious, but I’m not 100% convinced it was worth 2.5h of simmering and the house smelling like a brasserie for the next two days.

I was considering posting about how cleverly the labels are attached in the new Diesel boxer shorts, so they don’t endlessly scratch you, but you’ll have to take my word for it. And not peek.

Finally, the first Amaryllis is now going great guns. Not quite sure why it’s got the mottling on the stalk that makes it look like asparagus, but hey. However, whenever I see vegetation growing this incredibly quickly I’m always reminded of Richard Feynman’s observation that we think of plants as growing out of the ground, when really they grow out of the air.

A slightly rude-looking amaryllis flower stem, with a large bud on top. Sitting on a windowsill with a garden behind.
Look how much it’s grown since last week. And still so suggestively too!

But in general, despite my glum start to the week, Spring is definitely coming, and nature is getting more visible again. Just look at this guy that I saw on the way to the studio the other night:

A tiny frog, on a paving slab next to grass, bathed in torchlight at 11pm.
Hello tiny frog!

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