Three things of 2021

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Every week I spend some time reflecting on what I learned or found interesting and this is a summary of my year. After doing this for nearly 3 years one of the biggest ways it’s helped me with is seeing the thread through my work which reminds me of this quote:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Where is that thread leading me? On a strategy that could help with improving team collaboration and heading towards a more generative culture.

Remote workshops

Remote workshops are constrained in ways that I hadn’t appreciated before the lock down. Such as by tools, participants work environments and people just getting tried in ways that just doesn’t happen in real life. I’m going to be following up with a blog post on 13 things I’ve learned from running remote workshops so keep an eye out if you want to know more.


Your ability to identify and work through uncertainty, I believe, will be a big predictor in how successful you will be in the long run but also how satisfied you will be with life. The more I’ve learned about uncertainty and how it affects our behaviour the more I’ve changed the way I look at uncertain situations and approach them. What I’ve found is my attitude towards uncertainty has changed in a way that has made me much more comfortable to be uncomfortable with it.

How? By identifying what about the situation makes me uncomfortable. For example a situation has multiple directions each one with unknown outcomes. Then looking at how it makes me feel uncomfortable. For example a feeling in my stomach, a tremor in my hands, a tightness in my chest, a dry throat etc

This is known as interoception or the ability to sense your internal bodily state and this Guardian article does a good job of explaining it. Only then proceeding to work through the situation and deciding which direction to go in. To be honest this is much easier said than done but with practice can become habit and almost become a default way to approach unknown situations.

My experiences of this has been that by paying attention to how the situation makes me feel internally (interception) I’m able to make much more rational decisions and feel more in-control of myself even if I don’t have control of the situation.

This I believe is what helped me get over my fear of public speaking. It’s not that I got over the fear of getting up on stage but I was able to show my brain that there was nothing to fear in the first place. Over time (and this is important) my brain learns that fear isn’t the right response and tones down my bodies automatic reaction to the situation. Which in turn make me feel much more able to handle the uncertainty of it.

This I think is what can help people move out of their comfort zones and get them more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Psychological safety

The idea of psychological safety has been on my radar for a few years. Starting with reading the The Phoenix Project in 2016 , The DevOps Handbook book in 2017. Which led me to State of DevOps Report 2018 and hearing about Google’s Project Aristotle the same year which both mentioned psychological safety for me for the first time. But I didn’t look into it until I read Amy Edmundson’s Fearless Organisation in 2019 via reading Kim Scott’s Radical Candor: How to get what you want by saying what you mean which referenced Amy’s work.

Then all through 2020 and 2021 all I could see was how so many people are holding themselves back in their teams by not saying what’s on their minds due to the uncertainty of what would happen. But I still didn’t act on psychological safety as I believed it was confirmation bias leading me to think that it was the key to getting people to speak up.

It wasn’t until late 2021 and I did an internal talk on Psychological safety: What the heck is it and why should you care? that I began to realise that this wasn’t confirmation bias. That we have a problem with speaking up in teams but we never tried to tackle what’s preventing them from speaking in the first place.

It was only after this talk that I felt much more certain that what Google had discovered back in 2012 that psychological safety is foundational to highly effective teams. Why? As this is what enables people to speak up and share what they do and don’t know. Speaking up is key for effective inter-team collaboration and enabling them to work through problems and head towards continuous improvement.

Which teams will need if we ever want them to be able to autonomously use the 4 key metrics to improve their throughput and stability of their products.

Connecting the dots 

It is now that I feel I can now look back through all the different things I’ve done and learned over the years. And see how it is all connecting together into a strategy that could be helpful in increasing psychological safety at the team level.

I’ve worked at a product level in teams to see how listening and asking questions is key for being able to work through problems. I’ve immersed myself at the process level trying to understand and apply agile and DevOps principles to improve those products. I’ve collaborated with as many different disciplines to try and understand what their problems are at applying those principles to deliver those products.

But as Steve Job said you can’t see how things will connect in the future. I could never have predicted how all the little things I’ve done over the years would line up in the future.

You have to just trust that they will. This is why living with and working directly through uncertainty is going to be the biggest predictor of your success and happiness.

If you can get comfortable being uncomfortable, work through uncertainty and trust that things will workout you might just get what you want… or at least closer to where you want to be.

Interested to see my other past dots then check out my 3 things of 2020 and 2019.

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