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Dawson Andrews

an independent digital product firm


Monday 01 January 1900

Exploring mindfulness in a digital product studio.

Cameron Stewart, 
Director of Strategy, Dawson Andrews, 
Sept '18 | 4 min read 

My mind wanders a lot.

With our increasing reliance on mobile; we are fundamentally different as a generation to anything that has come before us. While for a long time I’ve pointed the finger and tut-tutted at those ‘so caught up in technology’, I now notice I’m arguably as bad as anyone. In fact, I’m worse. Last year I had the blinders on, driving in the hours with very little to show for it in the end. Constant distraction forced me to over compensate and do more hours to make up for a lack of productivity. It was an endless cycle of no-focus. I knew I had to do something about it and so I dived pretty heavily into a practice of mindfulness.

The practice is as simple (and as difficult) as absolute awareness and acceptance of the moment one is in. When developed it brings you deep into personal insight on how you see and relate to the world. It has no religious affiliation and offends only those willing to do it properly. I’ve hired the help of two brilliant teachers, Vince and Emily Horn and I must give them credit. (Their courses are incredible.)

The most obvious benefit my practice has brought me has hands-down been around my marriage (that’s another post) but secondly, my work. I now see my work as good for me. I see my limits as opportunities to be vulnerable and connect with my team in a real sense. I see my shortcomings as painful reminders that I’m not a hero and baby steps are often easier. I feel less anxious. My accuracy and quality of work has noticeably increased. I see all sorts of things every day that point me towards unconscious behaviours I’m rarely in control of.

The Dawson Andrews team aren’t blind to my ponderings — I’m finding this far too exciting not to talk about. My first order of business — raising collective awareness. I somehow decided the easiest way to approach this was a rather passionate email about the truth of vulnerability and the fear that surrounds it. (including lots of my own vulnerabilities in a rather balls-out approach)

The results were better than expected. First it got a few emoji’s and a round of high-fives. Quickly thereafter one of our lead engineers who suffers from a social anxiety, preventing them from traveling and working in the office sent a note of appreciation. This opened up a bigger conversation where very vulnerable and real issues were put on the table and made acceptable to talk about. They even made a rare trip into the office to chat about it and a particular long-underlying stress of theirs was neutralised. A few weeks later one of our team phoned me out of the blue with an identity crisis later saying “I just knew you’d be able to hold it for me and help me process it.” We don’t need to be A-Grade shrinks, we just need to listen.

The aforementioned team have kindly let me write about these things. It wasn’t a tough sell. As a team we’re all starting to see ‘weakness’ differently. It’s becoming less of something to be embarrassed of and more something to recognise and band together around. We’re problem solvers by trade, this has just become another playground to explore together in so-far as our bravery takes us.

Our biggest ticket item

Whether we notice it or not, we rarely see the full picture both in life and in the work place. Most of us will unknowingly hide from the parts of the picture we’re scared of. When we are able to make friends with the realities we don’t like we are able to deal with them with the full picture in front of us. Bravely facing the uncomfortable, the not-knowing, the risk of looking dumb or getting in trouble is exactly the culture a product team needs to make smart decisions. Our biggest ticket items revolve around performance, (we have been known to bill on performance basis from time to time) an accurate picture — warts and all — is fundamental to doing this well.

A client recently asked us how we would build a help desk / resource library to answer the questions of ‘really busy executive customers’. It was a bandage solution, treating the symptom and not the cause. What they were maybe scared to ask was ‘why do my customers not know how to work my product?’. Instead of designing them a community space we’re running a UX breakdown to reduce the confusion of the product architecture. For a fraction of the price we’ll likely be able to deliver on the same KPI’s of a much bigger build.

Not knowing has been the most exciting addition to our vocabulary as a product team. We’re admitting what we don’t know faster and with more honesty than before. With that has come a clarity that has sped up our decision making and an accuracy that has made our products measurably more effective.

What if Dawson Andrews as a team were to slowly allow each other to see the parts of our work we don’t want to show anyone? What if we could show the behind-the-scenes feelings that effect our work — a lack of enthusiasm, where we messed up, a boredom towards a project, imposter-syndrome, lack of personal vision or progress, lack of direction in life, embarrassing shit…

I’ve no idea where it leads but I’ve a good feeling about it and I’m prepared to lead the charge as mindful fool number one.

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