S07E14: a reminder of why we do this

I had a great week, and it’s reminded me of why I do what I do. Thinking about the big picture stuff, and helping other people take a step back and think about it, is such an exciting way to spend my days. Plus, I had some genuinely interesting meetings and progress is happening in certain quarters. Basically, it’s been a great week, and it’s reminded me of why I do what I do.

Not that I can tell you what I do, of course, but let me reassure you that’s it fun.

I had a meeting with my favourite kind of person this week: intensely knowledgeable, deeply cynical, and with retirement in touching distance. No interest in promotion, because who wants to be a senior decision maker when you can do interesting stuff where you are. Zero fear of reprisal, because who’s going to get rid of the person who knows everything about everything. And the absolute knowledge that you, a mere stripling of thirty years, are an incompetent, greasy-pole climbing boob who has arrived solely to ruin his last remaining days.

And he’s not wrong! From certain angles I am indeed a greasy-pole climbing boob. More on that later.

But in this particular sphere I am reasonably competent and broadly on their side, and that completely disarms them. I got more out of this meeting than I’ve got from three months of reading and now I’m better prepared to fix some vital work.

Again and again I’m finding that starting with the agile prime directive and assuming people are approaching their projects with good intentions produces the best advice, outcomes, and fuzzy feelings.

Speaking of climbing greasy poles, I had an interview this week for my organisation’s accelerated development scheme. I am pretty sure I bombed, and I’m also confident I did the best I could. This is fine, actually. All you can do is your best.

I’m getting stuck into drafting and circulating a strategy for my team. It’s exciting, and is demanding some deep thinking time – right at the same point as everything else starts to pick up. Nonetheless, I’m still hesitant to start throwing my ideas around as if I know best. I know I know best. I know that most of my job is just sitting around, seeing what other people are thinking, reading everything, and then coming up with ideas. I don’t know best because I’m innately talented or any such nonsense, it’s just because I get paid to do this.

And I’m still super hesitant! I’m still writing away with the loudest voice in my head telling me that I have absolutely zero idea what I’m talking about. It’s absolutely maddening, and the moment somebody challenges it I start to completely stress out. To that end I’m glad that the recently published GDS strategy is clear about what it’s not doing. It gives me license to start including that in my own writing, being clear about the other options I’ve considered and rejected.

At the end of the day, I’m finding that the work I’m doing on strategy is fundamentally an attempt to try to narrow down the potential choices into a shortlist of decently evidenced bets. In three years, for example, how will society look? How will work be different?

And the dangerous thing with imagining the future is that we get to make it. The interventions I propose, based on my imperfect reasoning about the future, are one of the things that will make the future. I’m nervous about that, and I think that’s probably healthy. I’m also confident in that phrase: one of the things. There’s really no knowing what will happen next, and among the mighty forces that shape the world my work is a minnow. Nonetheless, a bazooka in a world of nuclear weapons is still a bloody dangerous thing, and I intend to continue to work with that in mind.

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