Introspection as an initiative

#digests  #clearleft  #retrospectives  #process  #leadership  #management 

I find it second nature to question myself. Often I’ll reflect and analyse in an endless loop, eventually introducing doubt into my own decisions. If you’ve ever watched The Good Place, I often joke to my wife when I’m ‘pulling a Chidi’, the character who tangles himself into logic and philosophy knots, leaving him unable to make decisions in many circumstances.


Though an introspective nature can be paralysing at times, it can also be incredibly powerful given the right opportunity. For example giving and receiving feedback at a design agency is expected. I’ve found design reviews incredibly rewarding as they helped push me into understanding where I could improve as a designer. Unfortunately, at many companies design reviews or similar sessions where feedback is encouraged tend to be siloed within certain disciplines or project teams and miss an opportunity of including a wider culture.

At Clearleft we’ve recently introduced an experiment to try and maintain ‘continuous improvement’ across the company, practitioners and admin staff alike. The goal: to establish a more open and feedback-driven culture, driving introspection and creating a triple win situation by surfacing what we can improve in order to progress ourselves, our careers and our company.

Up to now the only method for feedback outside our project teams or disciplines came about once every 6 months, to include all staff. Unfortunately 6 months is a long time to wait, and experiences during a project or otherwise will have faded from memory. Any feedback received half a year later can be diluted, inadequate or without evidence.

Black box

This act of gaining continuous improvement echoes the takeaways from Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking, a book and premise I'm a huge fan of and on which I based my talk on Learning from Failure and most recently shared at Mobile UX London. The premise: that feedback can act like a plane’s black box for our professional and personal growth. The notion of continuous improvement at Clearleft is for now an experiment, but a worthwhile one to see if we can foster a culture of more open, candid and constructive feedback that results in stronger design, a supportive culture and a desire to know what can be improved.

Having already received peer feedback as per the experiment, I can attest that the experience hit the right balance between painful and productive.

Though welcome, feedback that’s platitudinal and positive isn’t actionable. It may help you maintain a course but it doesn’t tell you that you’re off-course, or provide insights into how to fix it. Painful feedback might be uncomfortable and at times harrowing, but it’s providing home truths. Within those truths is real growth.

My 2020 in review

2020 for almost everyone has been torrid, but for me it’s also been near to overflowing with learning. I’ve learned so much about myself in 2020 as I oscillated between existential dread, cautious optimism and utter dismay. I took on a new role with a huge responsibility, during Covid, and it’s all been a bit of a roller coaster. So much so that I feel I need to sit down and take stock of everything.

To aid in that annual reflection I’ll be using YearCompass, brought to my attention by ex-Clearleftie @bensauer. It’s a free printable booklet that helps to track the year that has been in order to focus on the year coming.

YearCompass is a global movement that mobilises people to sort out their last year and plan their next one in order to have a greater awareness of their lives. New Year’s resolutions don’t work; planning your year does. The main tool of the movement is the free-to-download YearCompass booklet, available in many languages.

For what’s been such a crap year that started out so badly, a bit of personal introspection and reflection seems apt. Here’s to a better 2021.

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