Planning is a total waste of time but it absolutely has to be done.
Thus spoke my first ever boss. And he waited for me to ask why, which I, of course, obligingly did. You don’t get to be an A-star student without asking the questions and pleasing your teachers, I can tell you that for free.
It has to be done, he said. Because it forces you to think, prepare, assess. But it’s a waste of time because, let’s face it, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
The thing about planning
Figuring out what you need to do, how and when at the beginning of a journey or piece of work is essentially a call to make the most decisions at the time when you have the least information. Right at the beginning. When you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know what will go wrong. You don’t know how things will behave, pan out, which assumptions are right and which are wrong.
It’s next to impossible to get it right.
Remember the weird floating feeling you got as a teenager when people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Some of us knew the answer with some conviction, some of us are still working it out. None of us knew exactly how to get there.
And just to book-end it all nicely, the same haziness applies to experience.
Looking back is great for anecdotes and war stories but, really, it is one path, one story, one set of serendipitous, momentous and mundane events that could have gone many other ways, but didn’t.
I have written about the messy middle of projects before, you know how strongly I feel about it.
But what about life?
I don’t know if that’s a thing more widely or whether it’s just something the Communists thought up (I went to King’s College, Cambridge in the 90s. Everyone called us the Reds and we wore the badge with pride). My college had many quirks but, with hindsight, the best tradition was halfway hall. A formal dinner paid for by the college – best food we had had in months and free wine flowing – exactly halfway through your time in college.
And all of us had a moment of wonder, without fail.
Oh God, it’s gone by so fast.
How can we be halfway already? And before we knew it that translated to: man… finals are closer than we realised. And back into the books our heads went.
My Half Way Hall was 21 years ago (plus some months in change).
21 years from now, assuming good health and continuous employment, I will still be a good a decade and a bit from retirement so this is not some grave mid-life crisis thing. It’s just a “you don’t need a momentous date to take stock” thing.
Eat cake even if it’s not your birthday.
Raise a glass even if it’s not a celebration.
And when you have enough miles on the clock but even more road ahead, have your Half Way Hall, especially if (like me) you get the challenge and luxury of having to think ok… so far so good but what next? With no crazy momentum or fire fighting. A conscious moment of choice, a personal halfway hall.
So look back before you look ahead, before you decide.
What do you see?
When I started my career we had superusers, remember those? People in the business who would learn the new systems so they can help their colleagues with adoption in the months after roll-out.
Yes, youngsters. I said months.
And that’s after the years we spent building the bloody things using the voodoo known as business requirements documents (BRDs, may you never need to know them). Now we work with user behaviours as well as business deliverables. Now we have designers in the room. Now we don’t plan everything on day one.
We have come a long way.
When I started work smartphones did not exist. My first-ever job (an internship to be fair) was on dial-up.
Now the world is mobile-first, cloud-native and built for personalisation at scale.
Have we got a long way to go? Sure.
Have we left some of the hardest questions unanswered still, as an industry? Yes.
Have we also come a long way, all things being equal? Also yes. And it is not nothing.
We have learned a lot. Built a lot. Changed a lot.
We hear bank CEOs speaking knowledgeably about their tech estate and showing an appreciation of the impact it has on their value drivers.
We see executives facing up to the hard decisions. Sure, sometimes they lose heart. Sometimes they are half-hearted. Sometimes they get it plain wrong.
But if my own circumstances presented me with an opportunity for reflection then in many ways COVID can serve as our industry’s halfway hall, albeit in a less celebratory manner.
Now is the time to get rid of some bad habits… you know like your mate Lee who would spend the night in the JCR playing pool alone after the bar was shut and everyone was in bed because he somehow felt getting into Cambridge was the prize and getting out would just happen on its own.
And neither will it happen for the banks, let Lee be a warning to us all.
It’s not a perfect analogy but enough with the horizon scanning and the incubators and the showcases. Enough with experiments you don’t mean to use and capabilities you don’t need. This is our halfway hall people, brought forward because COVID taught us the hard way that time is not as plentiful as we had hoped and the work we have done to-date is ok but we are not ready for the finals. Far from it.
So it’s time to focus.
If nothing else, think how fast the last few years have flown by.
2007, a year seminal for bringing us both the iphone and the financial crisis, is 13 years ago. And that’s a long time, boys and girls. Looking ahead to the next 13, don’t tell me what you expect to see. Tell me what you will do.
Tell me which of your learnings you will apply. Tell me which mistakes you will not repeat. Tell me what lessons you will cherish. Tell me what you will learn next. Tell me what fires of rebellion you will start in this post-COVID world, now that you know more of what you need than you knew when we started this journey, now that you know much more than your younger self but still have a lot of mileage left in you.
Shall I go first?
- Learning is not about what. It is about how.
The last twenty years have turned me from a bona fide technophobe to a card-carrying nerd. Not because of what I learned but because I learned how to learn about tech in order to find the magic. Because I got to love the learning journey and thankfully there is always more of where that came from.
- Culture is not soft.
I don’t care to hear what your values are. I don’t want to meet your culture champion and I most definitely do not need a copy of your manifesto, values mascot or “calibrated performance matrix” mapped against your values. Although I will take a piece of complimentary fruit, thank you very much, but while doing so I will also tell you that everybody’s got those. The fruit. And the values. And they are largely all the same.
And if you have a culture champion I feel sorry for them and the unwinnable battle you put them in that no amount of board games and office massages will turn.
Your culture is in your contracts.
Your culture is in the praise you don’t share, the collaboration you didn’t encourage and the secrets you keep.
Your culture also is in the promises you didn’t keep. The bad news you belittled or covered but didn’t trust your team enough to share. The bad behaviours you tolerated.
Your culture is every time you didn’t put your hand up to admit an error or oversight. Every time the narrative was more valuable to you than the realities of what working here feels like. Every time how “the thing looks” was more important to you than how the thing affects the people in your care. Every time you treated your team as expendable. Every time you hid behind the corporate and pleaded powerlessness.
- Impactful work is binary.
It took me a long time to admit to myself that hard work delivering results is not the same as work that has an impact, unless the impact you are after is on your own career and there is nothing – and I genuinely mean nothing – wrong with that. But if this is our Halfway hall, then it won’t hurt to reflect what impact means, to you. And whether the organisation you are working in sees the world the same way.
There is no right or wrong. But there is right and wrong for you and this is the time to reflect on what you want to spend time doing and whether you are in the right place to do it.
And yes there are many right places and many wrong ones. And places that start right and stop being right and places that don’t feel right at first but change – with you, because of you, around you. Whatever it is, it is not static. But when you know you know and all you need to do is remember how fast the last decade flew past. So reflect. And make choices, even when you are not actively presented with them.
- Only a few things matter.
And they are not the same for all of us.
For me it’s integrity, purpose and people. What are yours?
Whatever they are, don’t compromise on them. Make the next decade about them. Make everything you have learned so far an accelerant and an amplifier around the things that matter. Because, really, the clue is in the name: focus on what matters because it matters.
Those of you who have seen me present live, know I always wrap with the same single question. Today is no exception.
Today we took pause to marvel at how fast time has passed. How much we have learned and how much we’ve done but also how much we still have to do and how fast the time ahead will pass.
Today we took pause because we know so much more than when we started and still have time to do things differently.
So. What will you do next?
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!