By Martin Vogel
It was only in the last week of November that I conceived the idea of writing a blog post every day in the lead-up to Christmas. I was inspired by my email provider, Fastmail, whose Advent calendar blogs I have enjoyed over recent years.
For various reasons, I’ve written very few blog posts over the past couple of years. In part, this has been because I’ve felt the world to be moving too fast for me to fashion my thoughts into timely and relevant written pieces. I wondered if giving myself a commitment to publish every day might break the logjam. I made the commitment semi-public by telling folk about it and announcing my intention just once on Twitter. This created enough expectations of me to be motivating; but not so many that the stakes would be inhibiting.
In taking up the challenge, I’ve discovered that another thing that’s been keeping me from blogging is the opportunity cost. To make time for it this month, I’ve either processed more quickly routine activities that can fill my day or else deferred some completely. I took a particularly cavalier attitude towards email, which is a potential sink for attention.
On the whole, I kept a day or two ahead of deadline. Once or twice, I approached the end of a day having failed to produce a piece fit for publication. This was when the pressure of the deadline helped: forcing me to cut to the chase of what I had to say, and overcome perfectionism in the interest of completion. This activated instincts honed in journalism when the discipline of an hourly radio deadline cut through blockages to committing words to screen.
The great joy of blogging compared with my years in broadcasting, though, is finding my voice. Despite what people outside the media perceive, the avoidance of bias is a preoccupation for journalists who work in the BBC. (If the BBC produces coverage that is flawed, this is more a failure of journalists’ understanding than intent.) Years of filtering out my biases are still ingrained in me. At some level, I must regard giving opinion as a liability. This gets in the way of expressing myself congruently even on my own blog. The commitment to publish every day turned out to be a commitment to recognising the legitimacy of my own voice and letting it speak. This isn’t an exercise in narcissism. We live in a time when to express an opinion is to invite opprobrium. One of the themes I have explored this month is moderation, the practice of which entails the expression in the public realm of diverse views and reconciling them with civility.
Another thing that strikes me is the range of topics that have made it into the blog. Mastery of a single subject is clearly not my forte. It has ever been thus. I was a generalist news journalist, not a specialist. My coaching is premised on multidisciplinary influences. At the start of December, I had a bit of plan and expected the pieces to address themes related to leading and organisations. As the month has progressed, the plan gave way to something more emergent as the task of publishing every day exerted its own logic. I’ve become more content to explore topics for their own sake and trust that they’ll speak to our ostensible theme of leadership. Some of the pieces I’ve most enjoyed writing are those addressing art and music. This is where my expertise is admittedly thin. But my engagement is high and I find that writing about art allows me to approach themes that are relevant to the business of leading that aren’t easily accessed through more conventional topics.
I’ve been writing all my life and a good portion of my downtime this past year has been spent pursuing activities that don’t come so easily, such as running and drawing. I’ve got a real kick out of rekindling the writing. There’s something cathartic about dragging out of my head ideas that have been knocking around my mind for months. There’s also been admittedly narcissistic encouragement in seeing people find value in the posts. Many thanks to those of you who have shared my pieces with your own networks on Twitter and LinkedIn. Especially, Julia. And something called Hull-News which seems automatically to repurpose anything Wakefield-related, however tenuous.
I’m going to take a blogging break now and am looking forward to putting my feet up over Christmas. I’m hoping this Advent calendar project will have created a momentum which carries over into the new year, though I’m not intending to continue a strike rate of one post a day. If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a good one. However you spend the holiday season, may you find it enjoyable and restorative.
Advent calendar blog posts
- The cultural influences that shape how we lead (and follow)
- Networked populism: the defining leadership style of our era
- Don’t let the urgent crowd out what’s important
- On being the best you can be given the circumstances
- The modest antidote to fanaticism
- Deep work is the key to doing anything useful in the knowledge economy
- Brexit complexity
- Leading is about creating a shared sense of home
- Jasper Johns shows us what mastery means
- England: the nation with a special place in Europe
- Effort more than talent is the key to achievement
- The politics of being apolitical
- Remembering Cindy Cooper
- Who will lead democratic renewal from the left?
- Taking back control
- Nick Cave: the transcendent power of music
- 18th Century insight on 21st Century complexity
- Conversation matters more than structure in organisations
- Dancing with nonviolent communication to change the conversation in organisations
- Going deep in conversation with insight dialogue
- In praise of philosophers and other experts
- Political renewal needs more than bland centrism
- Abstract nouns are rarely the solution in organisations. But they could be.
- Here ends the Vogel Wakefield Advent Calendar