A couple of weeks ago I attended Leading Design conference, returning for a second year after a seriously impressive 2016 debut. The timing was perfect, coming just a few days before I would start my first contract (rather than permanent) leadership role as interim Head of Design for a talented internal design team.
I've just finished reviewing my notes from the event. This is the only conference I ever take detailed notes. Many I attend focus around distinct techniques, trends and tools. They act as signposts for the things I need to learn more about, providing primers for memorable themes I'll follow up on. This outlook was neatly summarised in a tweet by Corey House.
"After attending many conferences, I've realized: I don't attend to learn. I attend to learn what I need to learn."
Leading Design is different. It's most valuable learnings come in the shape of personal stories, heartfelt advice, and mistakes made and learned from. These stories are memorable, but I find it it harder to neatly summarise their themes. Looking back over my notes has helped me recall what was said, but it's the feelings I had hearing the talks that return most clearly.
The mild dread when reminded of how leadership can go wrong. The reassurance felt when hearing of structured ways to deliver meaningful change. Comfort taken in stories of great satisfaction realised away from the practical side of design we'll often miss from time to time.
Emotional reactions aside, the message that resonated most was the recurring theme of humility. Ask for help. Bring a beginners mindset. Seek the same from your team.
Vulnerability creates an environment where it's okay not to know all the answers. Sage advice In a discipline as young as digital design leadership.