Leadership notebook 1

Part of my course work for Seth Godin’s Leadership Workshop, done through +Acumen and Udemy.

This course is challenging me to reflect on leadership; to write and speak about what matters, what I see and what I’m capable of.

We’ve been asked to engage our fellow students and share our thoughts with each other – to help us build self-awareness.

I’ve decided to share my thoughts with a wider audience. Please feel free to share your thoughts too. I’d love to hear them.


What is leadership?

I was asked to put 10 minutes on the clock and write about leadership using the prompts in bold below. I got a little bit carried away, this took much longer than 10 minutes.

Instead of pointing to a leader, outline a moment when somebody you respect engaged in leadership.

Prior to meeting Megan Miller, co-founding Practical Service Design and starting an online community, Erik Flowers – a User Experience Designer at the time – went out on a limb to attended a conference that altered the course of both their lives.

As Erik sat in the audience of the 2014 Service Experience Conference, he was inspired by the work being presented. He saw its value and decided to do it too. By chance, he got talking with the woman who sat beside him. She’d also seen the value – and his passion – and later hired him to help her transform the company that she worked for.

Erik returned to the Service Experience Conference the following year. This time, as a speaker. He spoke of his journey thus far and his improved way to blueprint services. Megan – then, a Web Designer – sat in the audience like he had the year before and the story he told deeply resonated with her.

Megan reached out to Erik over Twitter and their conversation lead them to start Practical Service Design. Together, they published the practical service blueprint template, a workshop facilitators guide and started an online community of service designers seeking to be more practical. It has since grown to 2,000+ members.

Next, describe a moment when you chase to lead. How was it different from the rest of the time when you are merely managing?

For me, discovering their template, workshop guide and online community was like discovering the holy grail. Their stories deeply resonated with me too. They inspired me to do the same. If they had both done it, what was stopping me? Absolutely nothing.

I joined their online community and began looking for ways to apply it all. I decided to practice while helping my step-brother get his startup off the ground. I put together a service blueprint for his mobile app idea and built a prototype to attract investors. He is currently in conversation with them to secure funding.

Soon after, I joined a team responsible for redesigning a digital service used by the UK Department for Community and Local Government. It is used to capture, store and analyse the data gathered from Local Authorities when making changes to public policy.

The research had already been conducted by a service design consultancy who produced a strategy from which our requirements were generated. I joined the team after a few requirements workshops had already taken place and took over responsibility from a colleague who’d lead the interaction design and prototyping thus far. He had to shift his focus to a different project.

The research had lost weight and context as the project changed teams, and the service blueprint and user journeys were very high-level. This left much of the detail open to interpretation. As a result, there was a growing disconnect between what the research had uncovered and what our key stakeholders were telling us.

Originally assigned to the team as a User Experience Designer to prototype and test the user interface designs, I decided to step outside of my role and own the end-to-end service design after realising we needed better alignment to release MVP on time.

I began facilitating service blueprinting workshops to map out the entire end-to-end future-state service. Immediately, communication between the team, key stakeholders and users flowed more freely. The practical service blueprint allowed us to visualise the intangible workflows, identify legacy pain-points and gather feedback from stakeholders.

The service blueprint visualised all the interdepartmental workflows and tied each step to the app page or digital touchpoint that would facilitate each step. It allowed everybody to see where user interface designs could be reused, which greatly reduced duplication of work.

Once everybody was on the same level – with no judgement and jargon – the team began to lead themselves. I could then shift my focus from trying to solve the problem to creating an environment for the team to solve the problem.

Do you agree that leadership is a choice?

Yes, I really do. If I hadn’t decided to step up and make a change, the project may not have been as successful. Taking the first step was the hardest part, but once I’d taken ownership of the process, the team turned to me for direction and suddenly it all became possible.

Leadership is about making change. A change that might not work. If you do the work alone, you’re an artist. If you get other people to do it with you, you’re a leader. Going forward, then, what is the change you are trying to make?

I’ve recently been going through a period of self reflection, so this is a thought that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Ever since I was a child I’ve had a feeling that I was put on this earth to change the world. It’s not a feeling that’s ever gone away. It’s also something I’ve shed many tears over in the past.

There’s a huge weight that comes with having this feeling – especially during the times I feel stuck, stagnant and lost. The times when I am unable to see how what I do now will get me there. I’ve been through a lot of these times lately. It’s what drove me to take this course.

Upon graduating I was so clear on my purpose. I knew that it was my mission to make the packaging industry more sustainable. Armed with my qualifications and awards, I set out to create the change I wanted to see. Back in 2011 there just weren’t any design agencies doing this sort of work in South Africa.

I knew I’d have been buried under busy-work if I joined an agency, so I decided to walk that path alone – as a freelancer. I was young and naive, inexperienced in business and how to get buy-in. In the end, I just couldn’t get enough clients to earn a living and stay the path.

A few months later, before the Lance Armstrong debacle, my best friend and I started what we envisioned to become the worlds first internationally certified, banned-substance-free sports nutrition manufacturer. It was my dream that it would become the worlds most sustainably packaged sports supplement company. That we’d set the tone for what the public, government and industry should expect with regards to sustainability.

After 18 months, we had produced 4 revolutionary products. We’d designed a 100% biodegradable and plant-based flexible packaging system that placed very little impact upon our environment to produce. We’d honed our pitch deck and we were two weeks away from pitching for investment. Then suddenly, everything changed.

Nine of ten startups fail. It’s a well known fact. After a disagreement about how equity should be split, we became part of that statistic. As a result, I ended up withdrawing from the project, and I took my intellectual property with me. Once my partner realised this was part of our competitive advantage, he found a way to sue me for sole use of the IP due to a minor breach of NDA when I published some of the design work I’d done to try and secure a new job. The dispute took 7 months to resolve – I eventually settled out of court, and gave up everything, so that I could move on with my life.

Lets fast-forward to today. I’m back on my feet and work as a User Experience Designer for a global corporate. I’m working on everything from designing new web services, to gathering buy-in and building capacity for service design, but I get emotional when I question how this will have a greater impact. How will change the world? Save our planet?

About two weeks ago I had an honest conversation with myself, which lead to my decision to give myself a purpose again. That’s when I came across the United Nation’s 17 Global Goals. They envision a world without extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. It resonates with me deeply – it makes my soul happy. I’ve found purpose, and I’ve decided that I'm going to make it my mission to apply circular economy and service design thinking wherever I can to help the world achieve our global goals by 2030.


Hit the ❤️ button below, leave me a comment or share this with somebody else. If you’ve been inspired by my writing, I’d love to hear why.

I hope you continue to follow my journey, please stop by again soon. 👋🏻