January 2021

The backstory

In 2017 I wrote weeknotes on and off for a period, reflecting on my week. I found it a too much to keep up regularly and stopped after five months. I did a much shorter version on twitter for a while, but whilst they were much quicker to write, they didn’t hold the same value for me .

2020 was (*understatement alert*) an unusual year and at the end of it, I decided to do a personal retrospective on the year, something I’d never done before, to try and get a sense of perspective. I found it really helpful and one of the inputs I used, which I’d completely forgotten about, was a series of end-of-week tweets of things I was grateful for, which I wrote during the first lockdown.

So, having tried reviews once a week and once a year, I thought I’d try something in between, still drawing on the questions that help me when I reflect on things.

1. What did you learn?

January was a good month for me in terms of learning things, which is perhaps what you’d expect when you start a new role.

I’ve been learning about product leadership. I joined a talk by Marty Cagan, I read the book that he wrote on the topic with his SVPG partner Chris Jones Empowered, and I wrote up my top take-aways. That blogpost followed me writing a summary of what I learnt about inclusive leadership in some training I did in November/December. I’ve really enjoyed how writing has helped me to shape and clarify my thoughts and learnings.

I also started an 8-week training course in Customer Experience (CX).

And I did a bit of training (with the Cambridge Council for Voluntary Service, CCVS) on being a trustee of a charity — last year I became chair of a small local arts and well-being charity, Cambridge Curiosity & Imagination (CCI).

2. What did you experiment with?

This year I’m experimenting with the #100people challenge, which involves putting together a list of 100 people you want to meet during the year— not just friends or colleagues who you see naturally as part of your regular life but “people I have to do a little bit extra to see”, as Mary Mckenna describes it in her blogpost explaining the concept. (Obviously at the moment a ‘meeting’ can be virtual and doesn’t need to be in person.)

Being home-based for work and over the past year not being allowed to travel to meet people, I’ve found that it is easy to lose touch with people. At the same time, t’internet makes it easy to make contact with people via 101 different channels but it’s almost so easy and you know that you can do it at any time that I often never get round to contacting some people, even though I often think about doing so. Lots of people also have zoom fatigue and don’t want another call at the moment…

The idea certainly has certainly helped me to think more intentionally about getting in touch with people and has already meant that I caught up with two friends in January who I didn’t speak to at all in 2020, which is a win. I don’t imagine I’ll get close to 100 people, but that’s not the point for me, I’m not chasing a number.

3. Who did you work with/talk to/visit outside your organisation/sector?

Partly as a result of thinking about #100people, and also thinking about missing some of the random serendipitous conversations you have when you work in an office, I joined a random coffee group through the ‘agile in the ether’ community. Emily Webber, who organises agile in the ether meet ups wrote last year about ‘assisted serendipity, random coffee and the power of the unstructured meeting’ (I normally catch on to things way after Emily has). Every two weeks you get paired up with someone new for a casual chat. I had two chats in January — interesting to make random connections with people you know you’ll have something in common with.

4. Who did you work with in a different profession/team within your organisation?

I enjoyed working with colleagues in our HR function on a training plan and on an engagement plan.

I enjoyed working with colleagues in our strategy function on implementing our strategy through OKRs and on innovation.

4. What made you stop and think?

A friend said to me a few weeks ago:

“What if 2021 is as hard as 2020?”

It was an arresting thought, and we went on to discuss how at least this time if things did go that way, we’ve got a chance to plan, to prepare, and we’ve some experience from 2020, we know a bit about what worked/didn’t work for us last time.

It spurred me on to re-visit and re-share around work the covid working from home principles that we’ve adopted, which people told me they appreciated.

5. What would you have liked to do more of?

Another thing a friend said to me that made me stop and think was:

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

I was talking about my return to work after 3–4 months off and working reduced hours (I started January doing 15 hours per week over 3 days, I ended the month doing 20 hours over 4 days). I’ve found it hard to achieve much in that limited amount of time. And there’s so much more I’d like to be doing, so it’s tempting to do more. But he helped me to stop and get a better sense of perspective.

6. When did you make a personal impact that improved something?

Our department’s engagement action plan for the year.

This was the first, head-down solo work I’ve done since being back. It involved data analysis from different sources, writing a presentation and working with my team to agree a plan (priorities, ownership of different areas, metrics, targets, activities). We’re not done yet, but it’s the first time I’ve led a piece of work for this team, and it felt good.

7. What was fun?

Sea shanty tiktok, at least at first.

8. Who or what inspired you?

Giles Brandreth (I never thought I’d say that) and Iain McGilchrist (not a surprise to me, his book The Master and His Emissary is one of the best books I’ve ever read).

For some reason, I tend to think I don’t really ‘do’ poetry. I rarely read poetry, and generally speaking it’s not an art form I feel particularly drawn to. We got Giles Brandreth’s book Dancing by the Light of the Moon for Christmas, and I was amazed by how many bits of poetry I’ve got knocking around somewhere in my memory. I was tempted to read a poem a day and/or to learn more poems by heart.

I’ve done very little about that. However, I then found that Iain MacGilchrist is sharing a daily poetry reading on YouTube “to offer some comfort, inspiration and reflection during the uncertain times we find ourselves”. (Judging by the number of poems there, I think he must have started these readings around about the time of the first lockdown last year). I listened to ‘The Tintern Abbey Ode’ (we saw the abbey when we were on holiday in the Wye Valley last September), and I was so moved I was in streams of tears listening to it. (The words to the poem are here.)

9. What did you enjoy?

  • Walking meetings
  • Walking through fields of snow
  • Taking the time to stop and find some stillness whilst having coffee
  • Giggling uncontrollably

10. What went well?

I’ve been in a nice rhythm of daily exercise/meditation/going outside.

My first review with my stroke doctor since leaving hospital 17 weeks before went really well, better than i dared hope. He said he expects not to need to see me again. Massive relief.

11. What are you looking forward to in February?

Here comes the sun…




Senior Director @ElsevierConnect doing product strategy implementation & performance. Mainly writing about getting from A to B, & digital stuff. Personal acc’t.

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Richard McLean

Richard McLean

Senior Director @ElsevierConnect doing product strategy implementation & performance. Mainly writing about getting from A to B, & digital stuff. Personal acc’t.

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