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2018 – End of year review

I usually publish an end of year review (2015, 2016, 2017). This year I’ve been trying to write more regular monthly updates (all of which are here) so I’ll try to keep this shorter.

It’s been a year of change. From work (see November update), to family (see May update).

Some more personal reflections this year:

Work

I think I’ve learned as much this year about leading design teams, and especially about managing people, as I have in the previous 4 or 5 years.

Learning is hard because it requires self-reflection. You have to be honest about what could have gone better (many things this year) and what you would do differently. But, this is how you build experience, grow and get better.

There were times this year where I felt that I didn’t fully have the trust of my team, and that was hard to manage. There are good reasons for this. Teams are multi-layered with their own histories and politics, and people are complex, bringing different sets of circumstances and motivations with them to work.

Both teams and individuals require a lot of time and energy to understand, invest in and, ultimately, to build and maintain trust with. Mostly time, which sometimes I simply didn’t have.

I’m grateful for the colleagues I’ve worked with this year, and for their hard work. I’m enjoying my new role as Chief Design Officer at FutureGov as the company has grown to over 80 people. All of the work I’ve been involved with directly with our clients has been an incredibly positive and rewarding experience despite government still being one of the most challenging places to deliver better, modern services and digital transformation.

I’m also continually grateful for the extended network of designers, change makers and disruptors that I’m part of, and for the conversations I get to have with people from around the world. I’ve had many great breakfast meet ups and coffee chats with people this year (some for the first time and some with people that are now old friends). I’ve also benefited from many Twitter conversations and the discussions linked to threads from various blog posts I’ve written or contributed to.

Writing

I’ve continued to write as per usual this year (I haven’t counted up how many blog posts I’ve published this time round).

Blogging is still how I do my thinking and sharing/working in the open. It’s the conversation that helps me to sharpen and develop ideas with the wider design community, which I still believe is important.

I’ve reached the point where many people read my posts, and therefore many people also disagree with me. This feels like a healthy conversation and debate most of the time. I still get the odd direct comment or email telling me that I’m completely wrong (I’ve even been told that I’m being ‘untruthful’ on a couple of occasions this year).

I might sometimes be wrong, but I’m only interested if you’re willing to build your own compelling narrative, model or share ideas as an alternative. I don’t mind disagreement and I recognise that I’m in a privileged position in terms of how much my voice is heard (and listened to) within public sector design.

Speaking

I’ve done less speaking this year. I’m not sure why – less invites probably, but I’ve started to develop some new ideas and have a few talks confirmed for next year already – see the speaking page on this site for details.

Reading

I’ve continued to publish reading lists (I still need to finish off and publish winter 2018) – all my reading lists are here. I’m still always looking for good book recommendations.

Travel

Home life is still challenging with travel for work. I’ve done over 100 nights away from home again this year (I’ve lost count) spread across different corners of the UK with a significant amount of my time spent in London. With a new baby this has been especially challenging but my wife Becky is a complete superstar and makes it work for all 6 of us.

Health

Health wise it’s been a challenging year. I’m losing my hearing due to long term problems that first started in childhood. My hearing has been slowly deteriorating over the past few years to the point where I now have what is classified as ‘moderate’ hearing loss. To add to that I’ve developed tinnitus (noise/ringing) in my left ear.

I’m going to write about this more, but some people I work with now know that I’ve had to start wearing hearing aids. I ended up going to private healthcare for these after a bad experience with the NHS and this has been worth the investment.

My hearing loss had reached the point where I was noticeably starting to struggle in some situations. It’s especially challenging when you have no control over the environments you’re working in. I was having to strain to hear people speak and it was exhausting. Open plan offices and modern office decor–glass walls/reflective surfaces etc.–are a particular challenge. When your job is mostly listening, speaking and communicating this is extremely disorienting.

The hearing aids have made things much better but it’s still an ongoing adjustment. I’ve had to start explaining to people so they know why or if I’m looking at them strangely (it’s usually because I’m struggling to hear what they’re saying). Occasionally I still come unstuck. I’ve learned that noisy conference halls, and especially places like large bars and restaurants just don’t work for me anymore. I simply lose my voice within an hour of trying to hear myself speak over loud music and background noise (apologies to anyone I tried to speak to at the FutureGov Christmas party last week which was a case in point. I just couldn’t cope with the noise levels).

Next year I turn 40, so I’ve got plenty of time for reflection. But life is always best when you’re focussed on who you’re becoming, not who you were. Our abilities and constraints, such as my hearing loss, are all part of that journey and stop us from standing still.

Looking forward to 2019

Despite the challenge with my hearing I’m very positive about next year.

I’d love to travel more again. Australia was my highlight in 2017, and this year has failed to match that level of adventure. As a family, we need to make a big house move at some stage and our eldest daughter starts secondary school which feels like a whole new phase of life for all of us.

Again, thank you to everyone who has taken even the smaller interest in my life, and especially my work this year. Wishing everyone a restful Christmas and the very best for 2019.

Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.