Ben Holliday

Hold it lightly

This is something I shared at a recent design team day we hosted in London. You can read more about the day itself on our TPXimpact design blog (an excellent write up by Dafydd Singleton).

“Hold it lightly” is an extension of an old mantra I’ve used with teams over the past decade of work in government. That mantra is “keep going”. It’s about recognising how change is the result of collective, small, actions.

In my book Multiplied, I explained:

“[keeping going]… simply means turning up each day with the determination to consistently apply the same set of behaviours and attitudes – no matter how radical this thinking, and type of questioning, might seem at the time.”

Building on this, I’ve thought a lot about the type of pressure teams and individuals feel when working in situations where change is hard. Design in government and digital transformation is often a long cycle, requiring hard work and commitment before we might see policy impact through service outcomes. This includes the types of shifts in attitudes and ways of working needed to get there.

I’ve already written about the need we all have to detach ourselves in the relationships we hold with our work. But, increasingly, I’ve seen the need for healthier relationships in how people are able to hold their contribution and roles in challenging work situations.

I also wanted to be honest with the teams I’m responsible for today. I now regularly try to reinforce the message that the type of work we do requires hard work. It needs commitment, and it needs people who care enough to make change possible. But equally, we all need to recognise the scale and complexity of our work, being mindful of how we hold this.

So it’s a simple message, “keep going”, but also “hold it lightly”. Know how to let go, and how to accept the progress you’re making (or not).

Another thing I say (which I’ve adapted over the past 2 years), is this quote about finding the balance between pragmatism and optimism:

“Being pragmatic (you can’t achieve everything today), while still being optimistic (the bigger picture is still worth caring deeply about).”

I think it’s important that we reframe what success looks like on a day to day basis. So the greatest measure of success is always any progress towards our larger goals. Simply put, recognising that we’re here, when we could still be there. There will always be many small steps needed, as well as bigger intuitive leaps, if we care enough about changing something.

To summarise. I hope you care deeply about making change possible. I hope you find the motivation needed to work hard and keep going to get there. But please learn how to hold that responsibility lightly.

And finally, of course we now have new stickers (thanks to Tash Willcocks for the design work here – I love these).

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also find me on Bluesky, less frequently now on X (formally Twitter), and on LinkedIn.