Thinking of your career creatively (as a journey or as a canvas) can give you insights and motivation.


Chances are you won’t have the same kind of job that your parents had. Nor the same career path. The nature of jobs and work have changed. In particular, jobs today are shorter-term, and one’s career path is open and likely to change over your lifetime. You will likely find yourself performing different kinds of activities and utilising different skill-sets and different points in your life.

This can present challenges and difficulties, but it also present opportunities. You now have the opportunity to “design your career”. What does this mean?

Well, you can take a look at the jobs you’ve done and the companies you’ve worked at, non-commercial activity you’ve been involved with (such as non-profit work, hobbies, etc), your education, and other factors, and see them as a kind of “portfolio”.

You can start to envisage your career-to-date in various creative ways. You could look at it as a journey, with each different job or project as a step in that journey, which in turn, opens the door to future steps. Or you could look at it as a canvas, where, rather than being sequentially ordered in time, it’s more like a spacious “surface”, in which the jobs or projects are like brush strokes, which each contribute to form an overall picture.

What’s the point of all this “creative thinking”? Well, when you look at the journey or colours of your career, you can get ideas of where to go next.

One principle I have brough to bear here is balance. That is, when I’ve developed my career all the way in one particular direction (let’s just call it “north”), then I try to think of ways to develop it in a different direction (let’s say “south-east”). In my personal case, I had a long history in software development in the private sector. I decided to apply some balance to my profile by seeking more work in government and by studying Interaction Design.

You can find balance in other ways. Perhaps all your work thusfar was in one particular city. You could try to work in a different city for a change. Or perhaps your work was usually long-term, multi-year projects. You could balance it out by doing a few shorter stints.

There’s no right or wrong way here, and you probably want to be selective about where you apply balance.

But by being strategic about your choices of where, how and what work you do, within the constraints of what you have control over (e.g. your employability), you can create a stronger overall portfolio and shape your career to more closely fit your real interests, passions and abilities.

For example, if you’re a film producer with 6 years of experience, you might be appealing to companies who are looking to produce promotional videos. But what if you were a film producer who had also done some work in real estate and taken a short course in marketing? Then you might be extermely appealing to a real estate company who are looking to produce videos to market their properties.

As an alternative to balance, you can also look at complementarity. Different industries can complement eachother (e.g. fashion and design) and different locations can complement eachother (e.g. Australia and China, both being in the Asia-Pacific region).

So go grab a time-machine or a paintbrush, and get designery with your career! Your work history belongs to you. It’s your property in a way. See if you can find ways to craft it to your liking.


How can developing trust between team members help to foster critique and critical thinking?


Many “creative” professions involve critical thinking. And critical thinking can mean peer-reviews / critiques. That is, individuals on a team look at eachothers work and point out potential problems, flaws, etc., either with the piece of work, or the process, or something else. Software developers might have “code reviews”, designers might have “design crit(ique)s”, entire teams might have “retrospectives”, etc.

We may not immediately think of “trust” in the same context as critique, but, in my experience, the two are strongly linked.

Imagine that you’re receiving some critique on your work. And perhaps a colleague has pointed out something that they consider wrong, or in need of change. How does this make you feel? There are different ways that you might take the critique. You might feel a bit put on the spot or even attacked, and this might, in turn, cause you to feel defensive. I’m sure most of us have experienced this. It’s good to acknowledge how we feel after this happens. And then, to ask ourselves, how might we engage with critique in a way that doesn’t bring up so much unpleasant emotion?

Now imagine the reverse. You’ve observed something in your colleague’s work, that you consider wrong or that needs to change. You may hesitate to offer the critique, because you are concerned that they won’t take it well, or that it’s not a valid criticism. You may anticipate that your colleague will feel put on the spot, shown up, attacked, and perhaps defensive. Perhaps they are in a position of power in the organisation, and thus, you don’t feel comfortable taking the risk of sharing your critique with them. So you might hold back in giving your criticism.

Can we create a space in our teams, in which:

  1. a person can receive another’s honest opinions and critique, without feeling threatened or unhappy?
  2. a person can give their honest opinions and critique, without feeling that they’re threatening the other, making them feel unhappy, or putting anyone at risk?

By now you may be able to see where trust comes in.

When you receive critique from a colleague, but you trust that their intentions are common to yours (e.g. to do good work, to achieve good results for the client, customer, user, to make the world a better place) then you will likely be happier about hearing the critique. Rather than seeing it as something aimed at yourself, you’ll see both yourself and the critic aiming at a common, shared goal.

And likewise, if you give critique to a colleague, and you trust that they also share that common goal with you, then you will likely feel more comfortable sharing that critique with them, knowing that it’s less likely to be taken as a personal attack or threat, and more likely to be taken as an effort towards achieving the common goal.

So, being able to trust your colleagues’ intentions and motivations, within a framework of shared goals, can create an emotional environment in which critique feels safe on both sides.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that power structures have to be removed or drastically altered. This can be difficult or impossible to do, in some organisations. But it does mean that, wherever people sit within the structure, they feel enough trust to be able to express honest opinions and critique about the team’s work. And that they can separate honest opinions and critique about the work from from themselves and their personal feelings. Or, perhaps even better, they can emotionally engage with opinions and critique with feelings of positivity, from the shared goal of doing great work, building a great product and improving people’s lives.


Often, “don’t repeat yourself” is good advice. But might “copy-and-paste” sometimes be a better way of solving the problem?


Repetition – one thing happening again and again. It’s everywhere. Look at the trees outside and you see patterns of branches and leaves, repeated over and over.

Yet, when it comes to product design, business, software and other creative works, we strive to avoid repeating ourselves. We strive to make it “one of a kind”, a “unique” business proposition. “Don’t repeat yourself” is a common maxim in the software industry.

However, as in nature, repetition is frequent and common in software and elsewhere. And granted, it has often caused much pain and frustration. However, it may not always and necessarily be a bad thing. We might ask: “where does repetition make sense?”

In one of my former projects, working with a very experienced and trusted team leader, I was assigned to develop a new feature of the product, in this case, an online form, containing many fields and controls and some fairly complex interactions. After I had completed this, he tasked me to develop a new screen. And when described the new screen to me, it sounded so similar to the first screen that my immediate first thought was: “this should all really be done as one re-usable component, called by both screens”.

Screen Shot 2017-07-07 at 3.26.15 pm

However, when I expressed this idea to him, he recommended against it. “Don’t do that – copy and paste!”. Suprised, I asked him if he was serious. “Yes!”, he said, “trust me”.

So I followed his advice, copied the existing code to a new file, and started working on the new requirements. And even though, at the start, they had seemed like very similar screens, as development progressed, the code started to diverge quite radically.

For example, a user would enter a figure on one form, and they would get one kind of error and a link leading them to a particular screen; whereas on the other screen, they might enter a figure into an equivalent field, get a message that wasn’t an error, or a link leading them to a different screen.

What I realised was that these are two very different screens. They started out the same, and I was correct to point out the similarities. But, over time, they were destined to diverge and become very different screens. Thus, it made more sense to start with a copy-and-paste.

What would have happened if I had gone with my initial instinct and created one “master” component, to serve both screens? Well, every time there was a difference between the behaviour of one screen and the other, we would have to add some kind of exception (e.g. an if-statement) to the “master” component. And over time, as these differences accumulated, the “master” component would develop into a mess of exception-handling, and the code would become difficult to read and maintain.

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Instead, I ended up with two separate screens, each with its own behaviour, which could easily be modified if needed.

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More broadly, the “mathematical” instinct may be to reduce, but the problem may not be one of reduction, but rather, of generative, divergent growth. In simple words: we may want lots of copies, so that we can easily modify each copy in a different way.

So sometimes “don’t repeat yourself” is helpful advice, but sometimes it’s not. If you know ahead of time that two or more pieces are going to diverge from each-other, and you want to be able to easily control and customise each of those pieces, copy/paste may well be a better strategy.