Stardate S01E12

Mood: 🌬. Plenty productive, but managing focus is still a struggle. Seeing gardening metaphors everywhere.

Learned that our usual balcony interloper is training an apprentice

🌹 What am I grateful for this week?

I had that feeling of wind in my sails with the variety of what I got through this past week. Workshopping with our people & culture team and Mission Beyond strategy; a project forecasting and timeline review; several longform 1:1s; a bit of new business support. All topped off with a victory and a socially distanced park get-together on Friday to livestream our monthly company meeting.

Our Masterclass club is also back, this time to hear what Bob Iger has learned at the helm of Disney.* I missed the conclusion of our last class on account of holidays, so getting back together with the group on Tuesday should be fun. A few notes to self to remember to bring up:

  • The way he treated his internal interview for CEO like a political campaign for an election (perhaps we can also try the Axelrod/Rove class? (or perhaps not))
  • “A strategy is only as good as your ability to articulate it”
  • Opening against Steve Jobs with a mini-accusation audit: “I’ve got a crazy idea for you…” (did he ultimately agree to the acquisition because Bob kept playing reluctant throughout?)

🌵 Where did I get stuck this week?

I found myself having trouble focusing on Tuesday in particular**, happy to power through my Slack unreads and respond to inbound requests from others, but not progressing my own self-imposed tasks. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve noticed, and in previous weeks I self-diagnosed that I was reading too much of others’ content.

Funnily, Lisa and I are watching old seasons of Ozark right now and we saw Buddy give Wendy a little pep talk about not always living your life reacting to others, but instead to act. Probably the advice I need, too — thanks, Buddy.

💡 What stuck with me this week?

I came across a useful thread in the Gov Slack about service design interviewing. Beyond the list of useful questions*** that came from the group, it struck me that having this exchange is also a useful proxy for the OP to better understand the role of a service designer in the first place. Could be one to try again in future instead of “asking for a friend.”

When trying to understand role boundaries, try playing hiring manager. What would you ask someone else to know they can do the job?

My mind wandered a bit during Bob’s lessons, back to Creativity Inc. and some of its leadership lessons. Like making your best guess with incomplete information; making it safe to take risks rather than preventing them from happening; avoiding secrecy, as it signals a lack of trust; holding lightly to goals and firmly to intentions. So many of these adages are less the immediate result and more about the long term impact to culture — and not in the explicitly-designed way, but like tending to a garden.****

Culture is precious and fragile in that garden-like way, and it can be easy to take it for granted at somewhere like Red Badger if you’re constantly weeding. In buying Pixar, Disney was clearly trying to incorporate a fresh and healthy garden (while preventing a talent exodus!) for the long haul. I’d like to think the way we do consulting at Red Badger is rather like that — a time-limited acquisition of a great culture of delivery. Shaped by outcomes and a statement of work, of course, but what if we thought of the gelled team brought in to do the job the way we think of acqui-hiring?

Consulting engagements are often thought of like weeding — bring your expertise, solve the problem at hand. Tending the garden could be a compelling way to engage differently.

📚 What did I discover this week?

This nugget also came from the Gov Slack —a nice catalog of show and tell fundamentals whenever you need to re-establish what good looks like.

This is an interesting riff on the culture design canvas that I spotted while exploring psychological safety a few weeks back. Very similar to how the business model canvas spawned the lean canvas — although in this case, which came first?

Blogchain. A nice new word I’ve stumbled across that effectively describes what this blog is — linking shortform blocks of text around a common topic forward in time. All the more interesting that Venkatesh Rao settled on the same name for his!

🌱 What am I looking forward to next week?

I think I’m already across some of the advice Bob was dispensing — remove distractions to increase your clarity of thought (i.e. why I don’t start my day with e-mail), how valuable focus is (i.e. limit your WIP by limiting your priorities). But I’ll need to bring it back to the foreground next week if I’m going to make the most of my fairly open calendar and putting it towards more longform writing.


Langos reigned supreme in the flat this week — what I wish I’d realized sooner is that you can basically get the same result by pan-frying pizza dough. And with the pizza I botched during the week, I’ve definitely got to get some more yeast before my current batch loses its potency completely.

I’ll admit with the latest GPT-3 hype that some part of me would’ve enjoyed seeing it finish the rest of this blog given the usual prompts. I’m not sure what it would have made of this trip down memory lane with Star Fox 64. More shockingly, I only just realized that those bonus levels I loved so much were really Fox tripping out (thanks for shattering the innocence of my childhood, TerminalMontage).

*First impressions are a bit middling; Bob clearly draws from the ‘old school hustle’ mentality (waking up at 4:15am for… solitude, and working from home a couple hours every night) and doesn’t seem to take issue with imposing weekly working lunches on his directs. I was also struggling to find wisdom in his telling of the Pixar acquisition story, but did notice how he defended the worries of potentially ruining Pixar’s culture because he could relate his firsthand experience of having been acquired twice before. Kind of like how entrepreneurs go VC, and you sit on the other side of the table?

**On that same day, Cam also shared a good article about working from home fatigue. It could also be the case that I should need to be more generous with myself and see if I can do better this upcoming week.

***Such as: What in the public sector can be designed? What does digital by default mean to you? How can you address users who might be at risk of being excluded from the research/design of a service? Anti-questions: Can you design a poor service? What would make you not consider this role?

****The English kind, rather than the French.



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Sean K. Gabriel

Aloha (🤙。◕‿‿◕。)🤙 big on building teams & lean products. Author @ Thinking aloud with #weeknotes. Works best when caffeinated ☕️