Doctor's Note – Issue 28 – Navigating the Leadership Dip - The Book
In this issue: Navigating the Leadership Dip - the book/ The Demise of Wise / Guff of the Week / Power of Ten / Book Corner / The Linkhole
Navigating the Leadership Dip - The Book
I've started on a new book exploring the psychological experience of transitioning into (creative) leadership and you can be part of it.
I have spoken and written in the past how much of my coaching is helping design leaders through what I call the leadership dip. The shift from IC or even lower level leadership to proper managing and leading others triggers a mid-career crisis of confidence for many that goes unspoken. This comes at a moment when people feel they should know what they’re doing, because they got the promotion into that role. It can be pretty lonely and trigger somewhat of an existential crisis that often coincides with a mid-life crisis of purpose.
I put creative in brackets in the opening sentence, because I'm hearing plenty of similar stories from non-designers, as you might expect. So, at this stage, I'm unsure whether to cast it more broadly or focus on what I know form my own experience and coaching.
Here's where readers come in.
As an experiment, I’m going to try to write this in public “with the garage door up”, as Andy Matuschak describes it, to ensure diversity of feedback and stories. I’m not even entirely sure a book is the right format (perhaps I’ll leave it as a microsite).
I’m interested in anyone’s thoughts on the approach of writing this way, as well as anyone who is willing to share their own stories, especially those from different backgrounds to my own. I've set up a kind of private beta comunity in Slack. If you’d like to be involved, please fill in this survey here and also get in touch to let me know. The Slack community is a useful place for stories, references and discussion and is also where I post the links to latest drafts. It's as participatory as you want to make it—you can lurk if you prefer. For me, it's a way for me to course correct early and often, plus feeling beholden to a community gives me an incentive to write.
The Demise of Wise
I recently had a terrible experience with Wise (formerly Transferwise) arbitrarily suspending my account that turned me from an evangelist to a detractor in the course of a few painful weeks. It's been unfrozen now, but it's a useful case study in how mismatched touch points aggregate to be a miserable customer experience.
The tl;dr version is that a service is only as good as how it handles failure. When services platforms structure themselves as products and focus on growth through bolting on new features as fast as possible, it racks up organisational and structural debt that eventually ruins the service.
A key difference between service thinking and product thinking is that functions such as customer support, communications, verification are the service, not ancillary support functions of a product.
Another aspect of the story is the asymmetry of services. Ben Reason and I used to talk about this quite a bit. Humans anthropomorphise everything, including our relationships to companies, but so often those relationships are one-sided. Customers must do everything the company requests within a tight deadline, yet in the other direction the company lazily points to it's terms and conditions and shrugs that response times are going to be slow (but your call is important to us). This is why, for all the problems it has brought, Amazon constantly beats its competition. They simply flipped that equation.
The complete saga of my experience with Wise's multiple fails is in my blog post, The Demise of Wise.
Other people's podcasts
This month I've been on the other side of the interviewing table a few times, which has been enjoyable:
My friend (and player in my D&D game) Nicole van der Hoeven had me on her YouTube channel to talk about Burnout & Boundaries: When Productivity Gets Toxic. In it I talk about pushing back on the idea that we should all be as productive as possible all the time. Hustle culture is pretty toxic.
Tom Scott interviewed me for his new newsletter, Verified Insights in which he asked me about The first 100 days as a design leader. I talk about that, but also the strange moment design finds itself in as a profession.
Marcus Kirsch had me on The Wicked Podcast and we talked about design leadership, film and more. That should be coming out soon.
Morgan Duta and Arne van Oosterom had me on their Creative Leadership Unplugged podcast to talk about my story, The Leadership Dip and aligning with one's true self..
Power of Ten
The most recent episodes of Power of Ten have felt to me like they've had similar themes of levels of zoom and thinking in systems.
Series 3, Episode 3 is with Alex Schmidt, author of Deliberate Intervention: Using Policy and Design to Blunt the Harms of New Technology talks about her book and how designers need to understand policy and move beyond the design-as-saviour complex.
Series 3, Episode 4 is with Sheryl Cababa, author of Closing the Loop: Systems Thinking for Designers. Sheryl talks about systems thinking and equity-centered design, and she’s worked with a diverse base of clients, including the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, Ikea, and Khan Academy.
Shortly after this newsletter goes out, the latest episode with Kate Tarling will go live, talking about her book The Service Organization, a super practical guide to achieving the organisational change that has to happen if services are to be redesign and implemented.
If you have a suggestion for someone you'd like to hear on the podcast (including yourself), hit reply here or get in touch. They don't have to be book authors, just interesting people. It's always good to hear about folks outside of my own bubble.
The transfer of my online courses from Thinkific to Podia is complete and you can find them all at https://courses.polaine.com/. The most recent one on workshop facilitation has around two hours of material and is the biggest one yet. I hope you enjoy them. If not, tell me what I can improve.
Guff of the Week
For years I've been collecting vacuous statements from people in business and consulting when they really don't know what they're talking about but want to sound like they do. It's called The Big Book of Guff. If you come across any, [send them my way](https://www.polaine.com/contact!
This edition's guff is from an operations lead at a technology consultancy:
“We specialise in intelligent operations, AI and outcomes but we need to get on steroids and turbo charge our business for growth”
As opposed dumb operations? 🤷
Still working through Ian McGilchrist's The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World. Interesting, but vast.
A bit unfair since you can't read it yet, but I enjoyed being an early draft reader of Jorge Arango's upcoming book, Duly Noted all about personal knowledge gardens. It's in the editing stage still, so you'll just have to go to his blog, newsletter and podcast in the meantime!
At the very enjoyable Product at Heart conference, Christina Wodtke reminded me of two excellent books about change and habit forming by female authors, since BJ Fogg and James Clear get cited far too often. One I already had, Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood. The the other is How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Katy Milkman.
Donna Lichaw's The Leader’s Journey: Transforming Your Leadership to Achieve the Extraordinary obviously hits the spot for me. She will be a future guest on Power of Ten to talk about it.
I went to film school to become a film director, but got distracted by computers. Prior to that I wanted to get into visual effects, so the Disney Plus documentary on Industrial Light and Magic had me reminiscing and led to me reading George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones, which I'm thoroughly enjoying. A good recommendation from my father-in-law.
The Art and Making of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves allowed me to nerd out on both my interests in TTRPGs and film-making and effects.
I zipped through Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas because my daughter was reading it, too. It's pretty on the nose, even by young-adult fiction standards. Namina Forna's Gilded Ones series is far better or Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy (though I found that pretty on the nose too).
The aforementioned Industrial Light and Magice documentary is well worth watching if you have access to Disney Plus.
Cameron Tonkinwise wrote a great piece on Hacking Service Blueprints and shares the same view as me, that they're a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.
Ben Kuhn wrote an excellent piece from an engineer's perspective called Some Mistakes I Made As A New Manager.
Ted Chiang's piece in the New Yorker titled Will A.I. Become the New McKinsey is both sobering and insightful, particularly on the conflation of technology with capitalism.
Airbnb's Brian Chesky tweet about how they mapped out their entire service in a blueprint caused a stir.
The Hidden water footprint of generative AI might make you less frivolous about what you ask it.
Great piece from Kate Leto on why Emotional Self Control Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think… But it’s an essential skill for Leaders.
Dave Gray just launched the Visual Frameworks website
When thinking of my fiasco with Wise, Rob Armstrong's Why customer support is a vital part of brand promise piece sums it up perfectly.
I frequently critique the rise in low-grade Product Managers, mostly because I coach design leaders facing the other side of this. As a counterpoint, here’s Adrian Howard’s argument that this is a case of Sturgeon’s Law.
Cameron Tonkinwise also pointed me to this critique by Rob Horning of McKinsey et al's "valuations" of AI and other tech: Probable events poison reality]
The Space Elevator is a reminder that understanding information and old-school single idea web pages still make the Internet an interesting place. It's not all toxic.
That’s it for this issue. Thanks for reading, sharing and listening.
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