S09E16: The worst curse is to get what you want

This has been a generally good week. I’ve done some strategic work and started to lay out principles for implementation. I heard back about something I’ve been waiting ages for, and I made even more breaking changes to my side-project. I spoke a little bit of Russian and drove for the first time in a long time. I met some of my fellow school governors and saw a real school in action.

However, I’m still no closer to a couple of big decisions I want to take. In fact, I may actually be further away.

Schools, or at least schools today in the current system, are very interesting places. They are not at all like the ones I went to when I was a smaller boy. The school at which I am a governor has a board of directors and a CEO. At the same time, the CEO is a former headteacher and an expert practitioner. As I look across some of the other organisations in which I’ve worked, I can’t count many where that’s been true. It’s a real pleasure to work there, because there’s such a strong sense that everyone is there to do their job, and do it well.

Last week I drove down to take part in an audit, because the school is a long way from good public transport links. Sorry, by which I mean I drove, because it is a long way from good public transport links. I’m doing an audit because that’s a thing the trust does: it invites the headteachers and deputy heads from other schools in the trust to grill the teachers. It’s a really great thing, and one that reinforced for me the culture of continuous improvement and continuous self-examination.

Driving was a deeply strange experience: the skill and memory muscle came back to me very quickly, but so did a little bit of fear. I have been in a couple of car crashes, and I know from bitter experience that you can do everything right in a car and still end up upside down in a ditch.

So: this week I did something that scared me, and it wasn’t completely comfortable, but that means I got it at just the right level.


This week’s work has been quite lumpy. I’ve been doing my best to work across boundaries, so I’ve:

  • volunteered to test a new VPN we’re rolling out, and immediately identified an issue that stopped me doing any work
  • spoke to the programme team, chased, chased again – not because I needed to, but because I know priorities have a tendency to default to the last thing you saw and I like to use that to my advantage
  • engaged with a supplier on a business case and tried to explain cynefin, which I tend to do a lot. The supplier was talking about “best practice”, which for me are well-understood rules that can be applied to similar situations. I know everyone says this, but the use case I have right now is sufficiently complex that best practice just won’t cut it.
  • drafted and discussed principles for the next five years of the software engineering profession, encouraging my fellow leads to lift their heads up out of delivery and think about the future and the bigger picture
  • thought about the bigger picture
  • got a bit concerned about how big the picture was getting
  • made the picture smaller again
  • ah
  • much better
  • spent a day in the office with a new team and though about the problems in their space

All in all, there’s not been a lot of focus time for me to get on and do things. So far nothing has drastically fallen over, but it’s a complex space. Odds are something has already started to fall.

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