Ben Holliday

Monthnote: February 2024

Following on from January, this month I’ve mostly reflected on work with Scottish Government. I’ve also shared my learning from some public speaking and media training, including work on developing new content and improving my presentation skills. And there’s more about what I’ve been reading, as well as a few days off work over February half term.

At work

In February, I spent a significant amount of time internally focused, including time working with our leadership teams. I’ve enjoyed that we’ve been prioritising time to work together in person, and I’m continuing to spend at least a day a week in London as part of a regular rhythm of travel so far this year (usually Wednesdays).

Aside from London, I spent my second day this year working from our Manchester hub (Work.Life). I’m finding this works well as somewhere to start the week as it’s only an hour commute from home. I’m currently still planning time here at least every 2 weeks.

My main highlights this month have been the return to working with Scottish Government. Since 2022, TPXimpact have been running a programme called Leading in a Digital World. This is designed for senior leaders working in all parts of the public sector across Scotland. Earlier in February, we kicked off the latest cohort with a full day together in Edinburgh, run by Tash Willcocks alongside Lee Dunn and team from the Scottish Digital Academy. As part of what’s now an established format, I supported with a keynote talk and the intro to a session on digital maturity.

Building on our work with the ‘Leading’ programme, we then ran a full conference day in Glasgow last week – the Scottish Government DDaT Leadership Summit 2024. This was a gathering of 200+ leaders from across all DDaT professions in Scottish Government. It was a fantastic day, with brilliant energy and engagement throughout.

Tash did a brilliant job of facilitating and running the programme, and I was joined as a speaker by Jen Byrne (Managing Director at TPXimpact). My sessions were focused on the theme of systems leadership, specifically, exploring the types of mindsets and behaviours needed for greater collaboration across the Scottish public sector.

The TPXimpact team at the Scottish Government DDaT leadership Summit 2024 (left to rigth: Ben Holliday, Tash Willcocks, and Jen Byrne)
The TPXimpact team at the Scottish Government DDaT Leadership Summit 2024

The rest of the conference programme was a great blend of talks and breakout sessions. Joy Bramfitt-Wanless from Scottish Government’s Digital Directorate opened the day, explaining the need for systems thinking, as well as the challenges of how digital transformation needs to be better in the future. It was good to see Joy. We worked together at DWP when Joy was leading the digital transformation of Check your State Pension, and briefly through FutureGov work at Disclosure Scotland a few years ago.

Later in the day, I really enjoyed a talk from Service Design Lead Jackie Martin, who works as part of an Intelligent Automation team. This session provided some great practical examples of technology transformation work happening within Scottish Government.

There was also a great talk from Fiona MacLellan around building communities of practice. Fiona used some great storytelling, sharing how the service design community she leads as DDaT Service Design Head of Practice has been growing. It was good to see Emily Webber’s communities of practice work referenced here.

The conference was definitely a highlight of my year so far. I made lots of new connections, and it was great to meet so many people in person.

Some other work highlights this month. After welcoming a number of new starters to TPXimpact last month, I had a great intro chat with Stephen Sampson-Jones who had just joined us. I also try to prioritise time to meet people and have external coffee chats each month. In February I had some great intro chats with new people. To pick out one, it was great to meet Terry Makewell from RNID. Terry and I were able to compare stories of living and working with hearing loss, as well as talking about opportunities and some of the current challenges for organisations focused on digital transformation.

Blogging and speaking

I didn’t share any new blog posts in February, and my speaking time was focused on Scottish Digital Academy work. I did spend a good amount of time planning and rehearsing for these sessions, including developing and writing new content. The main keynote session I run as part of the ‘Leading’ programme is an introduction to digital transformation based around my Multiplied book themes. For this latest cohort, I took the opportunity to rework the talk as its original version is now over 2 years old. This meant going back to my office whiteboard, and then rebuilding the content completely from there.

Similarly, with the conference day, I was working with a mix of new and existing materials around the systems leadership theme. This gave me the chance to update some stories I’ve used before, and also to incorporate some brand new ideas and examples. This included developing a new set of principles for systems leadership that I need to blog about (but shared here on LinkedIn for now).

Back in January, I was lucky to spend a day on some presentation and media training with others in our TPXimpact leadership teams. There was a good emphasis here on putting the practice into speaking, especially around rehearsing and being prepared. I always find it uncomfortable practicing talks i.e rehearsing out loud without an audience. But I’ve been making sure I practice and prepare properly including learning more of the materials I use (so no over-reliance on speaker notes). I think this has helped and contributed to some good sessions this month, while also helping me with building my confidence.

Time off and some walking

My main break in work during February was the school half term holiday. It was a bit of a washout this year in Cumbria and we didn’t go away anywhere as a family. I took 3 days off work around my trip to Edinburgh as we balanced covering childcare. On the Friday, we did manage to get out for a good (but muddy) walk, starting at Pooley Bridge and walking to Dalemain and Dacre.

No mountain walking or Wainwright summits to check off this month. This was due to a combination of bad weather and the realities of talk writing and preparation. So I’ve been working a bit more than usual through weekends recently, rather than getting out as much as I’d like.

I did manage one solo walk (with Amber our dog), heading out to Ennerdale Water for a walk around the lake shore. As part of the Western Lake District it’s an hour and a half journey to get there and not an area I’d been to before. It was well worth it, even with some moody skies.

Hopefully more walking in March and as we head towards Easter and springtime.

A moody looking Ennerdale Water, UK Lake District on a Sunday morning
A moody looking Ennerdale Water, UK Lake District on a Sunday morning

What I’ve been reading

Continuing the walking theme, I picked up a book called The Scafells: A Grand Tour by Guy Richardson. I found this in a bookshop in Pooley Bridge after our half term walk. The book describes a journey across the area and is a history of this part of the Lakes. It was an interesting read having hiked up Scafell Pike last year (England’s highest mountain).

I read Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink. This is a book full of great tips for writing. Lots of practical advice. It’s aimed more at people wanting to write about themselves, but I think it will be helpful for anyone wanting to improve their writing and storytelling. Something I intend to keep working on myself.

I also finished reading a rather surreal book called Wild: Tales from Medieval Britain by Amy Jeffs. It’s based upon explorations of medieval texts, myths and stories. I had this as bedside reading and often fell asleep reading bits of it over the past few months. Probably making the experience more surreal. There’s lots of immersive, lyrical writing here if that’s your thing.

I’m currently reading (just started) Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet by Hannah Richie and Where’d You Park Your Spaceship? by Rob Bell – another surreal piece of writing.

Finally, I eventually finished listening to the Audiobook of Dominion by Tom Holland. It was long but definitely interesting. In the end I went back to my copy of the printed book to re-read the last chapter and conclusion. I’m now listening to How they Broke Britain by James O’Brien. I like his style of writing and narrating, but I’ve got to admit it’s pretty sobering to be revisiting our recent UK political history.

That’s all for February.

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.