Every year around now I write up a kind of end of year review of what I've been up to professionally over the last 12 months. I do it simply as a way of taking a step back and looking at the patterns of what's been going on, an opportunity to look at the bigger picture of my work year that has been shaped by the cumulative individual projects and pieces of work. It's been eight years since I set up my own business and, as my modus operandi is typically to be working on a number of projects concurrently and, as writing is my way of thinking aloud, it's a useful way of noticing what's changing over time and what's staying the same.
In last year's review, I noted how (outside of work) 2016 had in many ways been a strange and disconcerting year, and 2017 seems to have been even stranger and more disconcerting. But through it all I'm fortunate in that it's been another consistently very busy year and one through which it feels as though my trajectory has developed in some interesting ways. So in no particular order:
- This was the year in which my book was launched into the world of-course. The journey to writing it was a long and fruitful one but actually producing it was hard work – not so much the actual writing, but finding the time to accommodate the kind of extended periods you need to think and write. This year was really more about the launch of the book, which happened back in April, and then all the things that have come from it since. Happily the book has sold really well (beyond all expectations) and the feedback has been amazing. I have to say that, despite writing online about this stuff for more than six years, there's something about having a published book that takes this to a different level. This year I've done a lot more speaking, transformation and leadership work off the back of it. But the kind of organisational change that I talk about in the book is so comprehensive and fundamental that there remains plenty to build on and explore. So I've continued to write about agile business and transformation (almost 50 posts in fact) over on the Medium publication in support of the book. It's ongoing and ever evolving work that seems to now take up the majority of my focus.
- This year we ran another eight Google Firestarters events covering some compelling themes including patterns of behaviour (and behavioural economics), digital transformation, and the future strategist / planner. Perhaps my favourite event of the year was the Firestarters that we ran on change and complexity, in which we reprised the 'magnificent seven' format where seven planning gurus give their own rapid-fire take on a theme. We've had some amazing speakers this year (who did not disappoint) including Dom Boyd, Amelia Torode, Steve Gladdis, Tim Malbon, Emily Webber, Lucia Adams, John Willshire, Richard Shotton, Mel Exon, Jim Carroll, Lucy Jameson, Nicole Yershon, Jerry Daykin and Dan Cullen-Shute. Our Performance Firestarters continued to be a good complement/counter-point to the planning events, covering themes like attribution, mobile optimisation, and performance vs brand marketing. As Firestarters moves into it's eighth year it continues to be as much fun as when it began.
- Last year my leadership work seemed to take on a whole new level as client-side senior teams, from the main board down, seemed to recognise the need for a more innate and visceral understanding of agile working and culture, and effective leadership in a digital-empowered world. This year that work continued to grow and I undertook several programmes that incorporating a whole series of senior team workshops with a global FMCG, a big global telecoms business, and one with a global Pharma company. There was also workshop-driven work with the senior teams at a big management consultancy, a small publisher, a county council, and a UK-based retailer. The work is never less than challenging but is always fascinating – this is as much about mindset and behaviour shift as it is about process and structures, and the programmes where I got to do extended work with the same business meant that I was able to really get under the skin of that company – it's culture, its opportunities, its idiosyncrasies. I was lucky this year in that this work took me back to New York and Singapore, but also to Hong Kong (where I hadn't been since I was travelling 24 years ago).
- I've done more conference speaking this year which I've really enjoyed. Favourites included the AANA's RESET conference in Sydney, the charming Learnfest Caribbean conference in Kingston, Jamaica, a talk at the APG in Germany, the Google Exec Summit, and one for Hura (the Croatian Association of Market Communications) in Zagreb. I've also kept up my involvement with the Google Squared programme, and spoken at events for the AAR, Havas, Unilever, Wartsila, EY, TUI, UCB in Belgium, and the London College of Communication. I got to work with the smart AdaptiveLab folk on a talk around the future of service design to Roche in Zurich, and I did some pro-bono work with the amazing people at CRUK and Medicin Sans Frontiers whose work is truly inspiring. I've been involved with Dots Conference, run by the lovely folk at Brilliant Noise, for a few years now but this year rather than curating it I spoke at it, which was also rather fun.
- An important strand of my work this year focused on agency models of the future. Back in February I researched and authored a report on behalf of the IPA on the Future of Agencies which we launched at Ad Week and which was thankfully well received. Over the course of the year I ended up working with the team at one data-driven agency to redefine their proposition and positioning, running leadership workshops with a WPP agency, and another Cello one, and doing various talks at others including Havas Sydney, the Observatory, and a Google agency event.
- This was the year that HR as a function seemed to also reach some kind of digital/agile inflection point and I ended up doing quite a bit of work in the area including a fascinating research/report project for Econsultancy on HR in the Digital Age, some workshops with a few HR teams, and speaking at the REBA Innovation conference in November.
- Alongside all the leadership work I kept my hand in digital marketing, doing several Fast-track training sessions and some Guardian Masterclasses, and researching and authoring a new best practice guide for Econsultancy on Digital Content Strategy. I also designed, authored and filmed an entire course of micro-learning modules on digital marketing for a global learning provider which involved me waving my arms around too much on camera. And I ran a course on agile marketing for a global retailer which was pretty fascinating.
- This is the fifth year that I've led Econsultancy's quarterly trends service Digital Shift, which meant another four reports and associated webinars. I really like doing this work, not least because it feeds into so much else that I do
- There were another 45 episodes of my weekly newsletter which turned seven this year. The subscriber base grew nicely again and I got some lovely feedback so people still seem to like it. Difficult, as I've said before, to properly assess the return on time invested but it's something I really enjoy doing and there seems to be some good community and expectation around it.
- If truth be told, it's felt hard to find the time to blog consistently this year but when I counted up how many posts I'd actually written (85 on here, and around 40 over on the agile business blog) I was surprised that it was actually more than last year. I still haven't moved off Typepad (which I promise to do every year). I have unrequited ambitions to blog far more regularly (I really like the idea of blogging every day for a time, like Austin Kleon did earlier this year, but then reality bites) yet blogging continues to be important to me and so I'll keep at it and maybe one day it will happen.
If I look at what I do now compared to the work I was doing even just a few years ago there are some common strands of-course but it seems to have evolved markedly. And that's a good thing I think. The variety continues to challenge and stretch me and that's also good. But I think I could also do better in some important aspects. If I think about what didn't work so well for me this year I think my main gripe against myself would be my continued failure to carve out enough space. I'm very happy and fortunate to be so busy but, like I said here, that does implicate on other things that are important to me and if I'm honest with myself I'm not always very good at getting the balance quite right so I need to work harder at that. But as always I'm grateful for a steady stream of interesting projects and work and as I said last year one of the benefits of this way of working is the number of fascinating people you meet and the continuous learning that's involved. And this year has been no exception. My thanks to all those with whom it's been so great to work with this year (you know who you are), to good clients and smart friends. As always, it's been challenging but fun.