Stardate S02E02

Sean K. Gabriel
Jan 17 · 6 min read

Mood: 🧐. Re-establishing rhythms, with some abrupt starts and stops. Time still feels a bit funny at the moment.

Felt like poaching this morning. Need to keep at it!

🌹 What am I grateful for this week?

In reality, I got a great deal of product exposure in my current role last year — helping train others in our company’s product strategy process, supporting the NHS project team in story mapping and backlog management, and line managing members of our extended product team. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to stretch into a new direction while they do the role they have, and if it wasn’t for our conversation I might have missed the bigger picture on this.

🍀 What surprised me this week?

A more pleasant surprise was getting the shout-out from Donut that apparently I hit #1 for Donuts across the company last year (18!). I should probably thank the FutureNHS team for our early adoption of said Slack bot, which surely helped catapult me to glory. 🏆

🌵 What do I wish could have gone differently?

The golden rule isn’t as obvious as it would seem, in certain contexts. Usually it’s something I think about in a 1:1, reciprocal dynamic, but when you’re assessing a complex 1:N situation, you almost need to solve for all cases before you take your first move.

🔮 What do I still need to take care of?

Speaking of workshops, I’ve got a couple new ones on the radar to facilitate next week with Mission Beyond. Our social value task force is rebooting in the background as well, and I’m keen to support. Last Monday’s SLT retro was useful but seems a world apart already — is this the side effect of last week being my first full week back? At least I seem to be over my jetlag.

💡 What do I need to remember?

My example: I remember how much I was striving to get to Senior PM back in my 20s, probably hilariously soon after I’d first started at Microsoft. Throughout school, I’d always found myself successful when judged by “the system” and I don’t think my experience was uncommon in seeking the same sort of success appraisal from the workplace. So I found it pretty unsettling to have my manager at the time try to stack rank me in the bottom 10% on my first year’s performance review.* Following that experience, I really wanted to prove him wrong. But I also hadn’t developed good internal measures of success at that point. So I looked to the system for a guiding answer.

I’m glad I can feel content with where I am now. But I’m really honest with myself, like I was with Julia, there’s still a part of me that’s susceptible. I suspect that constant vigilance is needed to ensure those external validators don’t overwhelm the internal ones you have.

Goodhart’s Law can also take hold of your resumé. Don’t fall for the prestige trap.

📚 What did I discover?

Ted’s got some really spicy takes on middle management — all quite interesting to study. The system he lays out in this article feels like a bit of a pipe dream, but I do like the idea about separating the skills of managing “up” versus “down” and considering what it would mean to split the org chart along those lines as well.

I’m always a sucker for a good “this not that” article — here’s one with plenty of tangible examples for giving better feedback at work.

Given that I often need to remind myself to say no more often, this is right up my alley. Basically a product-specific example of a more general approach where you reframe your counterparty’s view of the world until they are able to accept your ‘no’ as the logical conclusion.

Another good reminder of the power of questions to change behavior, this time from Airbnb staff and in the context of design research.


Mainly, self-isolation comes with more time to think. I’m still bullish on weeknotes as the right middle-ground medium for me to think aloud in at the moment, but I also see the allure of writing every day. Many of the authors I’ve discovered recently on the web and admire seem to have this in common. I’ve not yet built the muscle to turn thoughts directly into readable prose, but I’m getting better at collecting scraps throughout the week so I’m not starting from a blank page on Sundays. Maybe it’ll get easier with continued practice.

Writing weekly is still a positive habit I’m happy to have (re)built in 2020. And habit building in general fascinates me, especially when you think about how it can shape and inform our beliefs. In that vein, I decided to give Tiny Habits a try next week to see if it helps me introduce some positive microbehaviors into my lockdown routine.

*In time, I realized I didn’t do myself any favors that first year — I wasn’t at my desk enough, though I did get pretty good at ping-pong with my colleagues 😆. Still got the work done, yes, but I didn’t appreciate the outsized impact that signals like that would have when a manager is facing a tough choice on how to stack rank their employees in a certain band.

Captain’s Log: Supplemental

Reflecting through #weeknotes