2012 Recap: Lessons Learned

Well, it’s been a rather hectic & intense year with travel, summits, workshops, etc. Many achievements “unlocked”, so to speak. However, it’s also good to sit back and itemize some critical lessons learned in the course of all the madness of the past year. Here are my top lessons which I will try to carry forward into the new year…

  • Always clarify project roles (DACI, etc.) up front, and ensure the exact, appropriate people are on the project from the very beginning (i.e., the kickoff). Avoid pipelining new folks (incl researchers, prototypers, visual designers) midstream during a project, which often creates confusion, and you have to exert time/effort “catching up” the new folks. 
  • Always work out any politics of a contentious situation with senior business leaders who have internal expertise, before inviting a bunch of people to the meeting, which inevitably gets declined and canceled. Yes, it takes more time and you’ll have to address negative concerns “behind closed doors”, but it’s a better track towards a successful meeting where everyone is already bought in. 
  • Collaboration often needs a dictator to encourage decision-making and goal-driven progress…just be firm yet polite. Also, collaboration is not always synonymous with buddy-style camaraderie. It’s more about mutual respect and productive optimism. Picking up the tab at a pub night out doesn’t hurt, either ;-) 
  • When you think you’ve hit the wall and maxed out your effort…just keep trying to move forward, but at a much slower rate. You’ll amaze even yourself, beyond your expectations. 
  • If you need a break, please take one, even for a few weeks. Everyone on your team will notice the refresh, even if they didn’t notice you were out for a while ;-) 
  • Don’t force a method or approach that isn’t being valued by majority on the team. Suss out the vibe and gather feedback for what is or isn’t working and keep evolving. Your team is your customer too.
  • Remember that everyone has a different perception of you as a senior design leader, loaded with expectations. From your boss, to peer managers, to junior staff, and even interns. Sucks but gotta live up to it. Adapt effectively, while retaining your inner values. 
  • Success (and innovation) has many parents, all clamoring to grab the title of either “first parent” or “best parent”. Just let them publicly have their share of the cake, while you eat yours in private. With extra special frosting (and nice whiskey) just for you ;-)  You know what you did, no need to prove it.
  • Being a designer is often a thankless job, especially if you’re drafting initial concepts or strategies that others will bear the fruit later. Don’t expect sympathy from others for all the revisions, late nights, and weekends. Again, it’s your own private special celebration and acknowledgement that fuels the internal motivation. Be proud of your efforts, regardless of feeling that you’re being “taken for granted”. The right people will eventually notice and realize your contribution. Persevere and keep cranking…new opportunities will arise!

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