What the People I Learned From in 2017 Learned in 2017
I learned a lot this year, even if you don’t count all the things I learned for a second or even third time (sigh). I’d been vaguely thinking that I should write something about these lessons, when I had a flash of inspiration. Instead of sharing what I learned this year I realized that it would be much, much more interesting to ask the people I learned from this year what they learned in 2017.
I didn’t expect all of them to answer my request. When they all did, I didn’t expect them all to take time to share a thoughtful contribution. When they all did, I got a teeny bit emotional. I’m very grateful for the generosity of the people on this list and many others who I learned from this year. I invite you to immerse yourself in their thoughts, shared below in no particular order. Best wishes to all for a learning-filled 2018.
The Question: “What did you learn in 2017?”
“2017 reaffirmed my belief in a host of things.
i) Everyone that I know and spend time with is smart. Until we disagree and then, at that point, I don’t consider them a friend anymore, just a stupid person I used to know.
ii) Our political systems prove that there is no hint of meritocracy at play. This year has killed us being able to even pretend that. To paraphrase one of my favourite historical comments on how some people rise to the top ‘poo floats’
iii) Some people in HR seem to enjoy rebranding approaches to work and the function far more, at times, than the more challenging work of making a difference. Interestingly one of the benefits of my work is coming into contact with people doing great work quietly – which restores my faith in everything (except those things mentioned in ii) above)
iv) Each year goes faster. Each year feels the same but different. Each year I see a little more clearly that I hadn’t appreciated the complexity of things the year before. Making me smarter and stupider all at once.
v) There can’t be a time, in all of human history, when the title of expert was so freely given. There might be, I guess, as I’m no expert. Have a great 2018.”
“I’m better (at everything) the less I try to do. Doing fewer things better rather than just doing *more* is the constant fight I’m pretty sure I will always be fighting. The more I win that fight (which means doing *less*) the better my work, relationships, and impact on the world.”
“If you compare what I set out to learn in 2017 with what I actually learned, the lists are dramatically different. Cancer can do that to you, I suppose.
The first half of the year went according to plan. I started a new job, and had all of the excitement and learning that comes from working with a new team in a new role. If Jane had asked me in June to share what I had been learning, it would have been a long list of organizational change theories, first-hand experience with values-focused cultures, and working effectively in remote environments. I loved every minute of it.
Out of the blue, I had to deal with a cancer recurrence in July. Suddenly, I needed to make my health a priority and figure out how to get through this unexpected challenge. All of my personal resilience skills were put to the test, and it became apparent that my inconsistent health and fitness routines, combined with choices at times to work instead of workout, weren’t sufficient for what I was facing.
I learned the hard way this year that resilience isn’t something that can wait until you have time for it. Life will challenge you in ways you can’t imagine, and those issues will bring into sharp focus every issue or gap you’ve tried to tell yourself you either don’t have time to deal with or aren’t important. Resilience comes from the habits and routines you need to develop when things are going well.
I’m heading into 2018 with an opportunity to do things differently this year. Better boundaries and a focus on health will be the basis for habits I hope can carry me through whatever life throws my way again, even when I’m back to doing the work I love.”
“People won’t always get what you’re doing or understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Especially in the early days. This is true for founding a business, making art, so many things. Family, friends, loved ones often think it’s their job to keep you safe. They don’t want to see you get hurt. But doing big things means there’s the possibility they will go wrong in a big way. You have to assess your own comfort with that risk, nobody else can do it for you.
My lesson for 2017 is this: don’t let fear of your worst-case scenario keep you from your best case scenario.”
“What I learned in 2017:
- Running a business on pure optimism works… until your monthly salary costs exceed your personal ability to hustle and find last minute cash. Then you need to be smarter. You need to ask the tougher questions. And (if you’re like me) you need to park the optimistic part of your brain during budgeting and forecasting sessions. Better still, surround yourself with (and listen to) the people who naturally bring a more conservative viewpoint. As a founder, optimism is my oxygen. Finding the ability to compartmentalize optimism (for me) and balance it with appropriately timed pragmatism (for the forecast) allows for a healthy tension that has become my new equilibrium.
- There’s no such thing as “too simple”. If you can boil your offering down to a singular, simple point – one that someone outside your industry can grasp in a matter of seconds – you’re getting closer to the core of your offering. I like to “think forward” – to focus on the wonderful outcome when B layers on C, D layers on C and so on. But business doesn’t move at the speed of the founder. Taking the time to get A right – to agonize over language and being willing to carve out everything that’s not essential to the core offering – provides the foundation that can be built upon. Once we got ‘A’ right, everything else started moving much, much faster.
- There’s (almost) always a tomorrow. This year, I came to appreciate that I have a ridiculously heightened sense of urgency. Everything should happen now. Right now. And yet when things became too busy this year for me to physically accomplish everything I wanted to, when I wanted to, I came to realize that the ramifications for delaying the delivery of something by a week, a month or even longer are typically not nearly as bad as I had envisioned. I’ve learned to slow down, and to do so in such a way that allows me to feel accomplished without being single-minded about “getting stuff done.””
“It’s not easy to capture 2017. It feels like a year when everything changed, even though mostly it’s just a year when everything that always was laid bare.
One thing that’s become sharper and clearer for me this year is that there’s no such thing as a neutral stance. Doing nothing is a choice, and perpetuates one kind of future. Doing something is a different choice, and makes different futures possible. If you’re too ignorant about an issue to have an opinion, staying ignorant is a choice, too. The one thing you can’t do is opt out. This is not about polarizing; there can be richness and nuance and compromise in where you choose to stand. But in 2017, wherever you stand, I hope it’s on purpose.
I only ever went curling once. It was a team building activity years ago, but I thought about it a lot in 2017. When we were learning how to throw the rocks, I asked our instructor why I never saw someone throw one straight. There was always a twist (a “curl”) on it. Surely there were times when a straight line was the right call? She said, “The curling ice isn’t perfect. If you don’t apply a curl, those imperfections will grab the stone and put a curl on it anyhow. It just won’t be one that you control.””
“2017 has been a huge learning year for me. Unfortunately, as with most significant growth, it meant going through difficulty. When I lost my dog Piper, in February, I experienced deep-seated grief for the first time in my life. My usual strategy of throwing myself into work wasn’t working. While I had experimented with mindfulness in the past, meditation had been frustrating and I usually found something more important to do. When I was struggling with the weight of my grief, I found that a regular practice of meditation became the most positive part of my day. I took a mindfulness class, stopped judging myself and opened myself up to fully experiencing the emotions I was going through. I now find practicing meditation daily improves my work focus, my ability to be present with others, and my overall well-being.”
“A big necessity and hobby of mine is learning. So what have I learnt in 2017?
Well firstly, writing a book is a wonderful thing to do. A chance to let out passion, frustration and dreams. A chance to see how you size up to your own expectations and as a good friend of mine said, “When you write, you realise what you know and WHAT ELSE you know.”
Secondly, the oft-bandied trendism “collaborative working” really does exist. I’ve spent months researching and working with clients on finding a true essence of collaborative working beyond the rhetoric. In Agile, Scrum, Squads, pair-working and Hackathons lies some truly marvelous ways to collaborate with a true sense of collective venture, creativity and endeavour.
I’ve more to come on this and continued researching of sociocracy, democracy and anarchy is giving me and endless pool of insight and experimental ways to work.
I’m about to start a wonderful series of collaborative endeavours and one in particular excites me like no other. Roll on May 2018.
Thirdly, the many of my fellow professionals in HR really do have an appetite for new, different and progressive ways of working and achieving results for the people and ultimately organisations they work with. I’ve seen a more determined and animated spirit than in the past 5+ years.
And finally that learning really is the killer app. What do we do when faced with some of the 21st centuries most challenging elements? Digital, ecological, economic, societal, political, psychological.
Well we learn our way into the new. We take the best of our experiences. We take the best of our ideas. And we take the best of our energy and combine them. And learn how to make new things and do New things.
So that’s my 4 learning moments.
– Distillation and provocation.
– Collaboration and participation.
– Determination and innovation.
– Education and creation”.
What a year 2018 could be…
“So, what I learned this year …. I found this really tough!
I think there are a couple of things – one HR related and one personal
HR: I keep learning more and more about what marketing can teach us. From adapting the consumer persona concept to our employees, through to how to create a truly differentiated employee experience – there is so much HR can adopt from our marketing colleagues to improve what we do
Personal: Having travelled so much this year – there is NOTHING I like more than being at home with my family and my cats – Ava Gardner pictured below“
“On social media, Twitter and LinkedIn to be more exact, I keep reading about lots of new things happening in the world of leadership, people management and HR. Yet when I look around in the real world, I just don’t see a lot of this stuff happening.
I don’t see very many engaged people, I have yet to encounter a data miner, politics makes most organizations into a cess pool, HR is process freak cum policeman, men are in power and diversity is a mere tax that folks pay in the currency of lip service.
The huge gap between what social media espouses that happens as what really happens is what I learned in 2017.
Btw, were you to ask me what else I learnt, I bought several books to understand the Trump phenomenon…White Trash, Strangers in their own land, and Hillbilly Elegy. I think I am beginning to understand.”
“I tend to fail slow rather than fast. And it was in the spirit of failing slow that I quietly meandered away from my freelancing business last year after eking out an existence for far too long.
When change like this happens we tend to wander back onto familiar paths. To return to old industries, roles and networks. I know I did. But the familiar paths weren’t so attractive anymore and suddenly I was no longer one of those busy people we revere so much. Welcome to the post-freelance crisis.
I was terrified.
I started resenting how easy it seemed for others. I was upset about people not responding to my proposals or my job applications and disillusioned when people I had spent hours listening to and counselling about their careers had simply disappeared into their own success. But beneath the green-eyed surface was what upset me the most, I had lost a sense of belonging … a community.
Then I started to notice that that same stillness had created space. Space to think outside my industry bubble, space to explore new ideas and new disciplines and, most importantly, space for long, casual conversations with ‘strangers’ who introduced me to communities world-wide.
This year, in all its emptiness, has seen me both disconnect and connect simultaneously. It has taught me that closed doors are closed for a reason, that what makes us all a little odd is what makes us valuable and that sometimes you just need to stare-down busy. You’re welcome.”
“For me, this year was dominated by #hashtag movements. It was overwhelming and enlightening in every sense. I felt obligated to check social media constantly. The number of times I came out of a two-hour meeting, only to see that my feeds exploded and all I could do was “what the absolute f@ck” is too many to count. But vital hashtags like #metoo and #resist helped people understand issues, support each other, and how to make a change. These hashtags actually became a unifier of people and drivers of change.
In a surprising way, the dominance of these hashtags finally opened my eyes to the reality that the buzzwords HR often exists in are becoming a problem and something I don’t want to be a part of anymore. Social movements are essential in today’s world, but when you are hoping to make a change inside an organization, buzzwords are mostly white noise or groupthink. Should we care about employee engagement? Of course, but to parade it around as a solution to an organization’s problems is reckless and naive. Should we collaborate? Without question. Good ideas, teamwork, and customer support depend on purposeful collaboration, but pretending that adding a few tools and groups can move the needle has been proven to be an exaggeration.
I know this sounds negative – and no one wants to reflect on the year with regrets – but it’s actually been an incredibly positive change in how I work with customers. What am I actually trying to do? I’m trying to make work life better for people, be it through improved balance, managing healthy conflict, or simply helping them become a more supportive team member. What am I trying to help organizations do? I’m trying to help them understand how work can be done more effectively and help employees find meaning in their work.
Talking in buzzwords that don’t mean anything to people outside of my Twitter stream / LinkedIn feed was actually the biggest challenge to adoption and support of change. Wittgenstein once said that the “limits of language means the limit of my world” and by focusing on actual business outcomes and speaking in shared language was the only way to move forward. Instead of asking how employees can collaborate using shiny new tools, shouldn’t we really be asking how we can help remove as many roadblocks as possible? Instead of asking if people are engaged, shouldn’t we just be diving deep into their concerns and suggestions?
2017: A year that was dominated by tweet storms and social movements, but also the year I finally realized what makes for good Twitter usually makes for terrible change & implementation strategy”
“When Jane asked me to contribute, my first thought was she wanted some big profound learning I could share. Of course, this generated uncomfortable pressure for me. For a couple days I flailed around wondering what to write, and then realized it did not need to be a big deep “Ah Ha”. So, here goes – in 2017 I learned I can write.
Okay, I learned how to write in elementary school. But I have had a decidedly mixed relationship with writing blogs over the years. In 2017 I committed to writing one post per week. I lasted for three months. I wrote some pieces that my friends liked and got great feedback. But writing is not easy for me. The words do not flow like eggnog at the holidays. And, my own doubts and insecurities can play havoc on getting a piece out. So, I scaled back, but kept my commitment to write.
Slowly I learned that I could write again, and regardless if a piece is read by 200 or 2,000 people in some ways it does not matter. A few things helped including that fact I frequently partner with Koen Smets every month to write. He provides feedback, nudges for good, and alternative viewpoints. I currently write one to two blogs per month (on average), and that cadence works for me. Some are solo adventures and some are partnerships. My partnership pieces tend to produce better blogs. One piece had half a dozen eyeballs on it before I went public and the extra help definitely made the final result much better. I still have grammatical issues, logic flaws, and pieces that just do not flow etc. But I hit the “publish” button anyway. I like to think my writing has gotten better over the course of the past 12 months.
Like many skills, writing takes practice. And feedback. And reflection. And feedback. And reflection. And practice, and so on.”
“I can’t say that I learned this, but I did have a specific realization as it applies to what I do and care about and it’s not a revelation, others have shared this insight before in different ways, but what I realized is that going to the gym and getting in shape can be a metaphor for everything I do and for everything that everyone does.
In the same way that you can’t just announce “I care about Diversity and Inclusion” you can’t just say “I have stunning abs and can bench 330lbs without breaking a sweat.” I tried this morning. I didn’t work.
While I didn’t learn that specifically with Diversity and Inclusion, it was somewhat inherent, I learned how to express that notion with a clever metaphor and by doing so, helped me educate others.
Anything that you’d like to claim needs to be backed up with effort and just stating something doesn’t feel quite as good as being recognized for your conscious efforts towards any given thing.
Again, not overly revolutionary, but an interesting way of looking at it to help remind folks that daily effort is required. What workouts should we be doing? Am I going to the right gym? Does what I’m telling people align with what I am actually doing?”
“In a challenging and rewarding year, both personally and professionally, I finally learned patience. Moreover, I learned from patience. That virtue extoled by parents and grandparents over generations is certainly nothing new – or that has not even been recently popularized. In the bigger themes I hold dear – the power of reflection, working towards just cultures, humanizing workplaces, and internal honesty – patience is an under-rated and under-appreciated thread spinning through all of these. It is also an important grounding point in a world where we are faced with increasing toxicity, which is fighting against a rising movement of humanity.
Patience, like reflection, is a powerful tool. Like many this year, I have put an intentional effort towards my own wellness and working balance. Part of that has led me to be deliberate with the patience I put forward in completing one task before another, or determining where best to dedicate my efforts. In difficult employee relations matters, patience has allowed the space for collaboration within the workplace to occur, achieving better (and more viable) outcomes. Being cognizant of patience, as opposed to defaulting to action, has allowed me to learn from my kids before simply reacting to them.
This has been the best gift 2017 has given me. Unless it is on fire or bleeding, what in your world could not benefit from a little patience?”
“Thanks for allowing me to share some of the things I’ve learned over the past year. I had the privilege of being part of the AltMBA program, an intensive, four-week online workshop designed by Seth Godin, geared to individuals who want to level up their skills and become better leaders. The AltMBA changed my view of what can be accomplished if you push through the barriers that your lizard brain places before you – things like procrastination, excuses, and self-doubt.
I’ve learned to better manage the lizard brain and that voice of resistance that keeps telling me that I’m not ready, to be careful, to go slow.
“Perfection is the enemy of good” and often times, it’s also the enemy of getting things done. Those that follow Seth have heard him use the phrase “ship it” – it’s a concept that has helped me fight through the resistance and to ship my work even if it’s not “perfect”, to learn to embrace failure and to grow from it.”
“In 2017 it’s become clear to me how critical, and how rare, self-awareness is. It’s so easy to point fingers, find fault in others, and assume that what has worked for us will work for everyone else. It’s much more difficult to acknowledge our own contributions to problems, accept blame for issues, and recognize the myriad factors at play which influence people’s lived experiences. Even as I write this I know that I have my own blind spots, and a lifelong journey toward increased self-awareness ahead of me. Without doing the work of self-reflection and examination, it is easy to slip into hypocrisy—touting an idea but acting to the contrary—to the detriment of effective and collaborative relationships. In 2018, I’d like to focus on developing greater empathy, reflecting on how my words and deeds contribute to my communities and reflect my personal values, and being open to the diversity of perspective and experience that makes life so interesting. I’m also going to focus on (gently) helping those I’m close to identify their own blindspots, and recognizing the gaps in self-awareness that I see in the media in order to be more understanding.”
When I reflect on what stands out for me, I can say it is the following three things:
- Technology won’t solve performance management problems. A number of orgs have focused on the technology used for PM to move to ongoing conversations/ feedback. I think we fail to recognize that people managers who are comfortable having performance conversations will continue to do so no matter what the tool is. Truthfully, those conversations are happening, they just aren’t being documented. Do they need to be? Why do we feel we need everything in writing? Perhaps for legally defensible reasons however, most orgs pay more than stat even when they have documentation. For people managers who don’t like to have the conversations, the technology won’t help them do so. We first need to start with getting people comfortable with having the conversation and understand why we need the documentation.
- Diversity isn’t as big a problem as inclusion. We tend to have buzz words every couple of years and D&I seems to the pick for now. People keep them coupled and when they look at their workforce, they check the box based on what they see or data where staff have self-identified. Given we live in the GTA, I would expect nothing less than a very diverse workforce unless you intentionally keep certain groups out. The challenge we have is with inclusivity. Look at your org and you will likely see diversity at the lower and mid-level positions. What is happening with upper management? Why aren’t those diverse individuals making it into those roles? How do we find the root cause?
- Check yourself. We can get caught thinking we know everything we need to know about a situation or see our perceptions as facts/reality. I have learned that I need to do a better job stepping back from a situation and looking at what is factual and what is an assumption/perception/bias.
“After 6 year of working for a start up, I took 2 months off this year. That was incredibly insightful. Not only did it allow me to spend quality time with friends and family but the reset and complete switch off from work also gave me a new perspective. After coming back, I saw opportunities much clear, many things made a lot more sense and I felt “out of the weed”. It was very much needed and strangely productive in hindsight! So my learning would be the importance of taking time off and disconnecting to advance. We’re way too often stuck in the deep end without resurfacing for calibration.”
What did you learn in 2017?