2009: A personal review

Well, I’m back from Austria, and I can tell you, the skiing there was awesome. And I know those of you with families will probably be horrified to know this, but I have to say that taking oneself off during Christmas and not having to do more than calling a few people back home was just an amazing relief. You know how stressful all that Christmas stuff can be. We even skipped Christmas lunch, opting instead for a nice Goulash in a ski-in cafe on the slopes.

Anyway, now that I’m back, I’ve been thinking about 2009, and some of the highs and lows. Mostly, its been a great year.

At the start of the year, I was pretty sure interesting things would be happening. At Lloyds Banking Group, we were just gearing up for the big integration exercise, and no-one was certain what would be happening from one month to next.

The innovation team and I were still trying to work out how to adapt the innovation strategy given the number one priority for everyone was going to be incrementalism for the foreseeable future. Luckily, that was the strategy we’d already been pursuing, even during the boom times. For some institutions, and Lloyds is one of them, you simply can’t have a play-to-win innovation strategy and get away with it. So, as it turned out, there weren’t that many changes there for us. We just kept going on with Innovation Market and all the other things we’d started. I think we managed to achieve some valuable things for the bank.

Nonetheless, I knew that I’d be leaving the bank in 2009, but didn’t know where I’d be going yet. Sometimes, you just know that the time is right. Anyway, I’m firmly of the belief that when you’re an innovation guy, you really want to make sure that you turn your people over every couple of years or so. You want that fresh perspective, that new way of looking at things. Why should it be any different for the person in charge of the innovation programme?

By the end of January I was in a bit of a panic, because I was months late with the manuscript of Futureproofing and just didn’t see how I was going to get it done. So I started getting up at 3AM every morning to write, and now that’s a habit I just can’t shake. Lucky, actually, because my next book is now also months overdue, so the 3AM writing is back on again.

One of the highlights of the first part of the year for me was a trip to Australia, to attend Annalie’s AMPlify festival. I’ve written about it here before, and its a case study in my book. Now, the content of the event was interesting, of course, but it taught me a major lesson: you can’t overlook design in anything you do. Fit and finish is everything, and once you have that right, everything else flows naturally.

My current team are pretty sick of hearing me rant on about this, actually, and they also keep reminding me that just because Annalie had butterflies hatching out of chrysalides at the exact moment people were coming into her event on the last day, does not translate into appropriate expenditure in a non-corporate environment. Actually, I already knew that, but adjusting to the sometimes arcane rules of the public sector has been eye-opening.

When I joined the Department for Work and Pensions in August, it was a bit of a relief, actually. The bank had become increasingly difficult. Although most of us were confirmed in roles by that stage, there were constant announcements of reorganisations, teams being shut down, people being transferred, and of course, the “death by a thousand cuts” as we kept announcing round after round of layoffs due to integration. Everyone was on edge. 

Leaving was neither a simple decision, nor was it done in haste. After all, what would I know about working in the public sector?

Many of my colleagues in banking were somewhat surprised that I joined the civil service (“What on earth would you do that for?”), but it has worked out to be a rather pleasant surprise.

The fact of the matter is that there are few bigger IT environments anywhere. Neither is the innovation upside larger than here. To that, add the challenge of designing innovation systems and processes where profit is not the driving motive, and I think you can get an idea of why this move was so attractive to me.

I’ve been in post now for about 4 months, and I’m really looking forward to talking about some of the things we’ve been up to in that time. There’s really a lot that’s very exciting going on.

The other big thing for me in 2009 was the release of my first book, Innovation and the Future Proof Bank. I have really been overwhelmed by the response to this. I recall at the time I was sending it out for the last time to the publisher, I did it with complete trepidation, knowing that there would be nothing i could do it bombed.

Apparently, that is the normal fear of writers before they send things out.

Anyway, sales of the title are good, and my publisher is pleased. And word is spreading, so month on month sales seem to be growing at a reasonable rate in every country that the book’s avaialble in. Since the book is so ultra-niche, it is much more than I expected.

Anyway, that leads me to the end of the year, and my current projects. One of them, The Little Innovation Book, is an online set of essays based on my writings here in the last four years. Publishers – particularly mine – don’t like to sell things that are already in the public domain, so they aren’t very interested in books based on blogs.

But Future Proof Bank is pretty text-booky, to be honest, and I wanted to have something much more approachable. The Little Innovation Book will hopefully fill that need. I’m hoping to have it done and online in a month or so.

The other, much bigger, project I have on, though, is my second real book. Its tentatively called One Big Thing, and its about single innovations. In particular, based on a set of observations from history and more recently, I’m making the argument that radical innovation isn’t where the money is.

Neither is it in incrementalism, by the way, to those of you who know I am fan of small, sharp innovations done at scale.

Anyway, I won’t say much more about that right now, but will certainly keep you apprised of progress throughout the year.

So, for me, 2009 has been an exciting, and very impactful year. I am very confident that 2010 will be equally exciting. There is just so much going on, and I love it when its busy.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my top 10 predictions for 2010. I am quite often wrong, mind you, but I can’t resist joining in with everyone who always makes their forecasts at this time.

Actually, my boss at the Department has this down to an art. At every Christmas-do he has, he asks everyone their predictions, notes them down, and reads them out the next year.

I forgot to make predictions on the blog last year, but the year before I was pretty much wrong, wrong, wrong. Its much more fun to read back and realise how wrong you were than be right anyway.

The best of the season to you.

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