Spring is here! Here is what I’m 🎉 celebrating, 🎓 learning, or 🚧 finding challenging in March.
Reading ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama
🎓 I have enjoyed listening to Michelle Obama’s autobiography “Becoming” as an audiobook. She reads it herself, and her writing feels like a good conversation with an old friend. Easy, yet full of wisdom. I love the way she talks about the important role female friendship played in her life and career. This quote really resonated with me: “Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses… swapped back and forth and over again.” And she talks eloquently about visibility — a topic I cannot seem to escape the last 12 months. Including the shame we feel “when our truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal.” There’s lots to learn from Michelle Obama about owning your story. My biggest takeaway was reading about how she unites ambition with a life in service of others. It’s a true inspiration, and shows one does not have to exclude the other. Or as Michelle says: “Time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to other people.”
I keep track of my non-fiction reading here if you’re curious! https://uteschauberger.notion.site/What-I-m-reading-2c33a00f71eb402aadddcd50fdd959ce
🎉 Strange, I know. As most 90ies kids, I grew up relating to the internet as a new, exciting, wild, and generally positive force in society. And like most 90ies kids, this view moved closer to confusion, disappointment, cynicism, and occasional despair over the years. Of course there’s good and bad here! We’ve definitely all left that honeymoon period though. Yet one evening this month, I suddenly realised I am standing in my kitchen doing the dishes while the former first lady reads out her biography to me. At the click of a button. From anywhere in the world. For the price of less than a coffee. And with less cables and large devices than I would have dreamed off. I was reminded of how incredible and amazing the possibilities the online world can give us truly are. It didn’t erase some of the big questions of what humanity is choosing to do with this power and where all that is going. But it was an important moment of delight for me nonetheless.
🎉 I’m starting to worry about celebrating Opencast in almost every monthnote. They’re not paying me I promise! Well, they are paying me, it depends how you look at it… Point is, I still love working here. This month I had a great time at our Spring conference at Wylam Brewery. I’m absolutely delighted we opened a Glasgow office. I welcomed new service designers to our team too. And I can’t appreciate the belonging, energy, and ambition I feel enough!
It is live!
🎉 I spent the last 7 months working with HMRC on an important and challenging service. This has been an intense and busy journey, full of highs and lows. The adventure continues. And eventually I’d like to write a longer update on this when I have time to reflect and summarise. But right now, I still want to briefly stop and celebrate all my client team and I have achieved.
- This service makes a massive difference to users — over half a million people every year. It simplified a difficult process and removes barriers for lots of users. And it gets people the money they are entitled to much faster and with less anxiety and stress.
- This service makes a massive difference to HMRC. HMRC have been working to digitise this service for a decade. We finally did it! The service will hopefully be more efficient, reduce backlogs, and save money for taxpayers. And we’re leaving lots to learn from our approach and ways of working, as well as the outcome.
I’m proud of myself and my team. We iterated a pdf form into a full digital service. 🚧 And navigated huge organisational, technical, people, and design challenges in the process. It’s definitely not always been easy or smooth, but the result feels very rewarding.
🎉 Writing these two words out loud means more to me than I can express in a short paragraph. The vegetable beds are ready. The seedlings are going strong on all available window sills. The bench and deck chairs are waiting for their first BBQ. I’m collecting water, and I’ve adopted 1000 worms to help me compost and feed soil. And my soul is singing! I hope I’m making my Transylvanian ancestors proud. But hey, this is a work update. 🎓 And I’m mentioning this because I’m noticing that I practice lots of design mindsets in my little garden. I often talk about the designers I admire as swimmers, cliff jumpers, dreamers. Because that doesn’t come naturally to me. For better or worse, I’m a gardener even when I design. I don’t know if this will resonate or sound insane to most of you. But for me this feels clearer and clearer each week. Here are some overlapping examples of things I do when I garden — and when I design:
- Learn from observation and interaction. Getting to know my garden. Paying attention to the movement of the sun, and watching which plants thrive in shadier or sunnier spots. Noticing potential such building a way to catch rainwater from the roof of the shed. Watching who comes to visit and should be encouraged, from bees to birds to worms.
- Accept feedback. Being open and accepting I’m going to make mistakes. It just means I have to make adjustments. Gardening — and designing — is a constant learning process. It’s about taking a step back regularly and looking at the whole picture and what it’s telling me. Too much or too little water? Too much or too little shade? Enough shelter and flower to invite polinators?
- Respond to change. I can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time. This means being flexible and adaptable. Not seeing things as a potential threat, but as an opportunity. Such as planting marigold between veg to scare off bugs. Or encouraging birds to drop by the garden to eat snails. Being creative and knowing there is no definite rule book.
- Zoom in and out, and work from pattern to detail. Starting with a broad view of the garden, and working down to all of the details that make it work. From overall bed layout to filling in bit by bit where specific plants go. And thinking constantly about how it will all work together as a complete system. Noticing my routes through the garden and planting lettuce along the paths to harvest daily. Planting things I find beautiful just outside my window.
As Geoff Lawton said:
“You can solve all the world’s problems in a garden.”