Bought two new pairs of work shoes on Friday. Encouraged by the salesman to go smaller than the size I usually go for. Two days in and I’m in agony, hobbling about. Will be revisiting the shop tomorrow with a pleading ‘have mercy’ look in my eyes.

Weeknote #26 — Half-year, results

Where my mind has been this week:

  • Half a year of weeknotes, gone by in a flash.
  • The boys had their school reports this week and we’re so proud of them, we couldn’t have asked for more. Even better is that they are proud of themselves and wanted to read their reports to us. They both also had to do some reflective work at school where they looked back over the year and considered their achievements and areas to work on.
  • So impressed with our choice of secondary school when we went to ’transition evening’ this week. Feeling envious of my son who hopefully has many wonderful experiences ahead of him over the next half-decade or so. Our eldest has just one more week to go before he’s done with primary school (already!) and our youngest will be walking to school by himself from next term.
  • Our eldest added to his sporting glory by picking up ‘Young Sports Achiever of the Year for Upper KS2’ at the Dacorum School Sports Network awards on Friday. What a fantastic year he has had.
  • Sometimes when you need to get something over the line, you just have to keep working until it’s done, particularly when it’s all in your head and is simply a case of cranking it out. I didn’t get out of the office until 10pm on Monday but it paid dividends to have good materials in all of the meetings for the rest of the week.
  • I feel like the most important thing for me to work on is my ‘presence’. I have confidence in what I want to say or present but sometimes it falls short in the delivery. I noticed this once again in a couple of big meetings that I ran this week. I’m investigating options for how to get some coaching with this; the Intelligence Squared course with Graham Davies might be a good way forward.
  • Too many things are still single-threaded through me on our programme but it’s not clear how to approach it any other way. The backlog will get cleared eventually.
  • Getting hold of someone who really understands an issue to the right level of detail is difficult, and always has been.
  • We had our last school Governing Board meeting of the year. Very sad to say goodbye to four of our governors, a couple of whom have been with the team for 7–8 years. Need to work on getting parents involved from lower down the school so that we have the next generation ready to take the reins when the time comes. The recruitment quest is never-ending. Still got a few things to get done this week and it’s a race against the clock with Friday being the last day of school.
  • Learned about Destination Reader, a really interesting way to approach reading at Key Stage 2 in schools. It reminds me of the kind of work we did in English lessons at secondary school where we tried to understand an author’s motives for writing things a certain way, and it’s amazing to see this ability to question being given to much younger children. I’ve seen it play out with my nine-year-old as we watched Harry Kane in an advert during the World Cup; he turned to me and said “I bet he got paid a lot to say that.”
  • Finished The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday, the WB40 book club book for the past fortnight. I’d suggested the book as I came across Holiday on an interview he did on an early Tim Ferriss podcast and found him very interesting. Sadly, the book fell short of my expectations — it presents a thoughtful view on being resilient and making the most of whatever life throws at you, but the majority of it is filled with cherry-picked examples of achievements of historical figures without much. For example:


 Yes, her achievements are incredible and I absolutely do not want to diminish or belittle them. But, what the book fails to mention is that she disappeared in 1937, presumed crashed, in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe — not exactly “defying the odds.” What lesson are we meant to take away?
  • Waiting for the next WB40 book club book, I’ve gone back to Cultural Amnesia again, and it’s been a welcome relief from business books. On reflection, it probably is the kind of book to dip in and out of. Nearly halfway.
  • Been listening to Nick Clegg’s podcast for a couple of months now. His interview this week with Joe Biden is unexpectedly moving. He has had so much loss in his life which he has handled with so much positivity. I’m not very familiar with his politics but was moved by the human story and his self-awareness of what great support he has relative to others who may have been through similar situations.

Next week:

  • Crunch time. Feels like a ‘make or break’ week. All-day workshops Tuesday to Thursday with another couple of smaller ones to bookend the week. All whilst starting our roll-out in Asia (at last), working on budgets for next year and trying to keep up with the email flood. Could not have come at a worse time with so much going on at school and home for the final week of term, but we’ll navigate it.

Behind The Mask

I’ve recently been listening to Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist on my commute. It’s good to have on in the background when I need to get some work done; if a song draws me in I can quickly capture it and explore it later. This week it threw up a weird one with what I thought was a bizarre recent electro cover of Eric Clapton’s mid-1980s track Behind The Mask, by the Yellow Magic Orchestra. I wasn’t overly-enamoured with it and skipped ahead.

Just hearing half of the song was enough for the earworm to bury itself in my brain. So, I went back to explore and ended up going down a rabbit hole. To my shock I found that this was actually the original from 1979 and that Eric Clapton’s version is a cover version. For a piece of electro-pop that is nearly 40 years old, it still sounds very fresh.

Hearing it again only puzzled me more. Yellow Magic Orchestra’s original version only has lyrics for the ‘minor chorus’ of the song1. Where did Eric Clapton’s lyrics come from?

Wikipedia of course has all the answers. Apparently a chap called Greg Phillinganes covered the song on his 1985 album Pulse:

Listening to it now, it sounds like the bizarre love-child between the Yellow Magic Orchestra and Clapton versions. All the lyrics from the Clapton version are there, including the backing vocals as the song winds down. He has also kept the prominent synths from the original — probably delivered by the keytar that he is clutching close to his chest on his album cover.

_Serious_ keytar

_Serious_ keytar

In the 1980s, Phillinganes was keyboardist for Michael Jackson and it turns out that the King of Pop himself  is responsible for all of the additional lyrics. The end of the song (from around 3:54 onwards) sounds like a mini-tribute to Jackson and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the tune, but it does give a clue to its pedigree.

Jackson had recorded the song himself in 1982 for the Thriller album but due to disputes over royalties it didn’t surface until Michael was released posthumously in 2010. It doesn’t sound like a track from 1982; I’m sure it has been extensively reworked and the results are pretty great.

Phillinganes had taken the song to Clapton who recorded it for his August album in 1986. Phillinganes contributes both keyboards2 and backing vocals, giving us a direct line between all three covers. Going back to this recording, which I’ve known so well since I used to hear it in my dad’s car as a boy in the 1980s, is strange after following this weird journey. But I still love it. Thanks Dad.

  1. I’m 99.9% sure ‘minor chorus’ is not the correct technical musical term. But if you know the song I am sure you understand what I mean. The Clapton version strange in that it has two repeating passages, the major one being ‘Who do you love/Is it me babe/Is it him now/I wanna know…’ etc. (which doesn’t feature in the original) and the minor one being ‘There is nothing in your eyes…’, both of which repeat. This probably contributes to the song’s earworm-esque qualities. 
  2. I’d be disappointed if this is ‘just’ keyboards and not a keytar. 

Weeknote #25 — Barbecues

There’s so much going on. I’m hanging in there until July is behind me. Lack of time means that these weeknotes are going to be in bullet point form for now.

  • With all the years behind me, I found that I really do have the confidence to make it up as I go along, and I generally hit the mark.
  • Fixed price contracts don’t mean that you wait until the end to get the thing delivered that you paid for. There’s lots of work for you too along the way.
  • Language barriers are still a thing, and there are times when email is far superior to audio or video conferencing, particularly when accents are difficult to understand and line quality is poor.
  • Taking half a day off to work on the School Development Plan with other governors and the school’s Senior Leadership Team is always rewarding. Gets to the heart of why I wanted to become a school governor in the first place. We have a remarkable team and need to use them effectively.
  • I think we have a solid core of a plan for the key governor roles from September. Am excited about putting the changes in place.
  • Not been enjoying The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday as much as I thought I would. Some good lessons in terms of worrying about what is in your control, owning your reactions to stuff that happens etc., but the book could be a lot shorter and less pompous.
  • Things are starting to get real for my not-so-little-one who is off to secondary school in September. Have my fingers crossed for him that he gets off to a great start.
  • Summer cycling is fantastic and I wish I could prioritise doing more of it.
  • Loving the heatwave — it’ll make a great memory — but sometimes it has been getting to be a bit too much. A kids’ football tournament in Aston Clinton felt like it was being played in a volcano, and we still haven’t managed to pick up a decent fan for a comfortable night’s sleep.
  • Barbecued food tastes so much better than oven-cooked. New patio furniture meant we spent both Saturday and Sunday evening having dinner outside and it almost felt like we were on holiday.
  • The last time I watched this much sport I was either between exams (Euro ‘96) or off school ill for a long period (Mita World Masters). And it’s all been brilliant.
  • I never knew that https could be so easy! More great work by Troy Hunt.

Next week:

  • Prep for our next programme workshop in mid-July. A lot to get done against a tight deadline.
  • Our final Full Governing Board meeting of the year. Saying goodbye to four brilliant governors, two of whom have been with us for many years and pre-date me. They’ve contributed so much to the school and I am very sorry to see them go.
  • Another termly meeting with our School Improvement Partner, for an independent insight into where the school is right now.
  • Getting the governor newsletter over the line and out the door.
  • A football match on Wednesday!

Caught up with the F1 last night. The ‘fake scenery’ graphics are getting to be a bit too much. Feels like they are messing with a sense of authenticity, which can’t be a good thing for a sporting event.

Weeknote #24 — High track temperatures

Hard to believe I was freezing here after work just a few weeks ago.

Hard to believe I was freezing here after work just a few weeks ago.

Scorching. All week my weather app has been showing the kind of unwavering forecast that you normally only see when you are looking ahead to a holiday somewhere near the equator.

Berkhamsted over the next week...

Berkhamsted over the next week…

Mrs D was away for most of the week on a Year 6 residential trip, which meant I had to work from home. I was very grateful to be able to spend my days in shorts and flip-flops, away from the stupefying heat of the London Underground and melting suburban railways.

Couldn’t help but feel grateful when these messages started coming through on Monday evening

Couldn’t help but feel grateful when these messages started coming through on Monday evening

It felt good to work at home. I spent most of it on audio or video conferences with people in the office and it didn’t make much of a difference from being there in person. I even ran our programme steering committee via video with the majority of the rest of the participants in one room. For some reason, being on video emboldened me to keep the meeting on task even more than I usually do; I felt very comfortable telling the room full of important people to take things offline as I was determined that we got through all of the decisions we needed to make. I’ll try and translate that to the next one when I’ll inevitably be in the same room.

The programme is started to get pushed from a number of sides. Finance are asking for details on exactly when we will be making changes to the ongoing cost profile of the organisation. Other senior teams in IT in Johannesburg are pushing us for technical details and challenging us on the approach we are taking. Particularly on the latter, we’ve had to dig in as a team and make sure that we are on solid ground with what’s e are doing. It feels painful at first, but all of this is good for us and will help to focus the team on the work ahead.

It was lovely to spend a bit more time with the boys and be involved with them more than I usually am. They were really great and generally helped me out a bit too. We spent a couple of evenings watching World Cup matches which meant slightly late nights, but with it being so hot I don’t think they would have got much more sleep if I sent them up to bed earlier. We spent Wednesday night at Watford track where my eldest boy ran the 1,500m; he did great, and was less than a second away from breaking the five minute barrier.

On Thursday Mrs D came back and we both went to school to watch his final primary school performance with the rest of Year 6. They were fantastic and all the parents had a brilliant time. It’s hard to believe that in just a few weeks he’ll be off to secondary school.

There’s so much going on over the next few weeks, both at work on the programme as well as for the end of term at school. Having back-to-back F1 Grand Prix each weekend and World Cup matches in the evenings isn’t helping! Am going to need to be very harsh with time to get it all done.

It’s been interesting to read Measure What Matters by John Doerr as the WB40 Book Club book for the past couple of weeks. It could be titled How To Set Great Objectives and Use Them To Excellent Effect Across Your Organisation as it is basically a masterclass in this process. Most people have objectives at work but typically they fall into an annual cycle and are generally despised. Doerr’s ‘Objectives and Key Results’ (OKRs) are very specific in how they are articulated, are visible at all times across the organisation and are typically reviewed every three months. He presents a compelling case. Trying to sell this as a way of working would need to push through the ‘but we do objectives already’ barrier, but I think it would be worthwhile as I can see that the benefits would be immense. The book talks about tools that people use to log OKRs and make them transparent but is light on the specifics; it would be great to know what applications there are and how successful teams have been at introducing this specific method aside from the many case studies in the book.

Next week: Reviewing vendor reports (quickly — I hate the ball being with me), more planning and weaving together a programme structure for the rest of the year, getting ready for another technical programme workshop in mid-July, catching up with a vast amount of governor work, a half-day on Wednesday to go to school and work on the School Development Plan for next year, and rounding the week off with yet another Album Club.

Weeknote #23 — Thought You Knew

So busy. Travelling home on Friday night my overwhelming feeling was that the waves are coming into the boat faster than I can bail them out. In the middle of conversations I keep suddenly remembering things that I have taken on and need to get done. The GTD ‘trusted system’ has left the building.

On Monday we have the next programme steering committee, the first for a couple of months. Despite blocking out as much free time in my diary as I could at the start of the week, I still got to Friday without the materials being done so I had to finish them off at the weekend. There are so many distractions and little chats at work, ranging from the important to the trivial. On Thursday I had a block of free time and resorted to donning my headphones but it didn’t help much. I’ll be working at home for most of the coming week and I’m looking forward to it.

I feel like the programme is still in ‘setup mode’ for the real work to come. I have hours and hours of stuff to get through with the team in order to get ourselves organised for the rest of the year. I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that it’s going to be great but I am continually worried about loose ends not being picked up by the team, and not doing enough myself to keep us on track. Twice this week I woke up in a heart-beating panic at 5am filled wit terror that I had missed my alarm; I’m pretty sure it wasn’t jetlag from last week’s trip to Johannesburg that caused it.

In the middle of the week an appointment was slapped right in the middle of one of my ‘keep frees’ to spend time with two young people on work experience. Despite initially being annoyed at another obstacle being put in the way of me getting done what I needed to last week, it was great to meet them, try to see the world through there eyes and describe the bizarrely abstract nature of what we do at work. A few months ago we had an apprentice join the company aged only 16; she already seems many years older than the two work experience children that I met and now brims with confidence. The conversation took me back to my own work experience at their age — I spent a week in the office at Mill Ride Golf Club doing not much of anything. My overriding memories are (a) the turkey and cranberry sandwiches for lunch in the club house, (b) learning what a debenture is and (c) being let home early. It was hard to judge how much of an impact I had — they might have been thinking anything from “please, tell me more, this is gold” to “this is the most insanely boring thing I have ever heard in my life”; it was difficult to get feedback. Maybe in 25 years they’ll be writing some weeknotes about their memories of it.

The team we are working with who own the desktop build for our final two offices have been working hard and we’ve now got some tentative dates for our software rollout there. There are still some tests to be done and issues to work through but it is good to start planning around something concrete again.

I had a couple of meetings this week which reminded me how magical it feels to have a blank whiteboard, to use it as a conversational tool and then step back at the end to find we have created something very useful out of thin air. It gives me the same buzz as writing a blog post; you start with nothing, do some stuff and at the end you have created a thing. So satisfying.

We had a Surface Hub installed in the office for the past 2-3 weeks as a bit of an experiment. It was interesting to see how many people were brave enough to approach it, particularly that the default screen displayed a message to encourage people to interact with it. My experience was mixed — up-close the light from the screen was blinding and made it difficult to work with for long periods; it reminded me of the times as a child that my mum told me that I was sitting too close to the television. Being able to ‘lasso select’, move and resize a whiteboard-sized drawing was brilliant, although unfortunately at one point it crashed with a pop up box that I couldn’t get rid of so I had to resort to taking a photo of the screen. I’ve never had a whiteboard crash on me.

Surface Hub dialogue box that would just not go away. Screen contents pixellated deliberately by me.

Surface Hub dialogue box that would just not go away

On Thursday I had a great night out with some very old friends at a swanky bar in London. I used to work with one of them nearly 20 years ago and we’ve been friends ever since. I was so lucky to start my career working with such a great bunch of people that I still keep (sporadically) in contact with. It’s been a couple of years as they now live in Singapore after having had a stint in New York. I didn’t know anyone else there and it was fun to meet such an eclectic cast of characters that all had a friendship in common.

I continue to be just about keeping afloat with my school governor responsibilities. We had a long meeting this week which went really well, with some key strategic decisions being made for the school. We now only have one Pay Committee and one Full Governing Board meeting left this year and I want to try and make it a strong finish. My lack of time means that I am massively underperforming in the role of Chair and it needs someone else to pick it up and kick it back into gear. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to hand over the reins during the summer and stay on next year in a smaller role, but I need to make sure that we have someone who is happy to step up first.

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve noted anything cultural here in the weeknotes. I have somehow picked up listening to a gorgeous album called Thought You Knew by Snowpoet. It’s a thing of delicate beauty that rewards repeated listens; it’s been a long time since I heard an album that made me press play again as soon as it finished. Here’s a live version of Pixel from the album. Just lovely.

Next (this!) week: Working at home for most of it while my wife is away on a school Year 6 residential trip — a great chance to ‘eat my own dogfood’ and experience mobile working for an extended period with our current tools. The Programme Steering Committee with a governor meeting (by teleconference — go us!) in the evening. More diary battling and orchestrating the many-headed hydra of a programme that we are developing. Plus all of the usual things Mrs D does (which I am already so grateful for) in sorting out the kids, cats and the rest of the household. Already looking forward to a strong finish to the week with an inaugural monthly ‘Lunch Club’ where we will start to test out the many wonderful places to eat in the vicinity of my client’s office.