My headphones are broken! While that wouldn’t have been a problem a year ago, it is now. (Working from home, sonic spaces, etc.) I’ve ordered new ones, but they’re lost in Black Friday postal disasters, somewhere. Or stolen. My current headphones only work if I sit very still and wrap them around my phone, tightly, to keep the cables connected, and don’t make any sudden movements. It means that I’m ending up listening to some slightly unexpected things. …


So here’s the thing: I listened to an interview with Taffy Brodesser-Akner, and she said that when she was stuck with writing, she starts typing “So here’s the thing” and then the rest follows. (If you don’t know who she is: she writes really good celebrity profiles for GQ.) Maybe it’s from this one.

For what it’s worth, her novel Fleischmann is in Trouble is fun and smart, especially if you’ve met a lot of men like the main character. Which I have. The reviewer that compared it to Teju Cole’s Open City is drunk, though.

In other excellent advice, she says one of the questions profile writers need to answer is why the reader wouldn’t just go to the celebrity’ Wikipedia page. Goes for pretty much all or any writing about anything that’s even remotely public knowledge. And that there’s so much information about any celebrity out there that you need to have a really clear point of view to write something interesting. …


Didn’t know about Parkinson’s Law, that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, but I know it in my bones. Thanks to Russell for introducing me to the author of the bikeshedding theory, C. Northcote Parkinson which led to this vital discovery. Solid Wikipedia page, too

Looking for old editions of the Straits Times to see other things by Parkinson reminded me of discovering, a couple of years ago, that my great-grandfather had been the editor of the “Bangkok Sport and Gossip” magazine in the 1930s, which sounds like a great gig. Only controversial because his family, wife and two children thought he’d died about 30 years earlier. As you would, I guess, if someone left you in small-town Japan and was never heard of again. (Seriously, it’s a long story.) …


I’ve talked so much about politics this week that I’m avoiding it here. Proud of my family in the US who have been fighting the good fight, curing ballots, phone banking and being loud, angry and practical. Meanwhile, in Sweden, most of my extended family have Covid (one of my cousins is a carer, and the family member of the person she looks after went to a small wedding which ended up being a spreader event). They seem to have mild cases, but still. I haven’t seen any of them since February.

This week has been a lot about glitches. My laptop (a Mac) hates Microsoft Teams, which fries the battery even when it’s plugged in. I had a dig around and I’m far from alone. I thought these tips about how to manage them were amusing, largely because they end up with “Seriously, I can’t help you: shout at Microsoft (or, implicitly, Slack before they sort-of replatformed)”. And people have. Enjoyed how wonderfully mis-titled this article about Electron was, and how well-written this blog post was. I’ve been writing a bit this week about the differences between product marketing and due diligence. I might use that last post and this one, side by side, to make the point. …


I voted in the US elections last week, through dropping off my weirdly assembled printed out ballot envelope at a post office in Stratford. I’m not religious, but by all things holy, I hope we wake up next week with a new president and a peaceful transition of power. Am trying to limit my media consumption at the moment, but Masha Gessen is characteristically brilliant in this piece. Imagine being that clear.

Anyway, the raging shitshow of the US election in general and the genuine challenges of actually getting my vote to the electors has me thinking about the Utopia of Rules again. This is a pretty good summary, if you haven’t read it. I can’t be bothered with the Cass Sunstein section of this review (surely it’s time for him and the Nudge people to fade away? …


Brought to you by Tier 2, fired by the righteous rage of Andy Burnham. Also, while I don’t believe in heroes…Marcus Rashford.

Didn’t think a Twitter thread could make me cry, but the one he posted on Friday, crowdsourcing responses from local restaurants about where kids could get food during half-term, really did that. Let’s hope he changes the government’s mind. But even if he doesn’t, that’s a campaign that’ll launch a thousand social media strategy decks and thinkpieces. Faint praise, I guess, and I’ll spare you my analysis.

Still. Just incredible work.

Fun fact: I was looking up the history of collective punishment in the UK. I’m working for an organisation that focuses on poverty. You can see how it would spring to mind. …


So I’ve started a new job, remotely. I’m taking over as head of service design and transformation for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation while Sarah Mace is on maternity leave. Last year, I couldn’t write much because a lot of my work was under NDA. Figured I’d do some thinking out loud in this gig instead. I think I’ll eventually add it to my nice, new website (design, unsurprisingly, by Mark), but for now, I’ll use Medium.

Have mainly been freelancing this summer, after breaking my ankle severely as I left my job at Projects by IF. Have loved working with the good folks at UP Accelerator, and am glad that’s going to continue. (Sorry, Steve, I owe you an email.) The other week I wrapped up a short piece of work for Kate Simmons’s lovely Citizen Advice Lab team — good to see how they’re working on democratising and distributing innovation through their local offices. Sad that I didn’t get to catch up with the great Citizens Advice people, as well as Comuzi, in person. There’s something about ending projects remotely that makes them feel tentatively paused, rather than finished. …


What if the Civil Service code looked like this:

We implement and develop government policies and deliver public services.

We report to ministers, who report to Parliament, who ultimately answer to the public.

We should work for public gain, not personal gain. Advice should be based on facts, not political persuasion, and be as accurate as possible. We are also politically neutral in public.

We behave professionally and politely.

Why bother rewriting the Civil Service code?

A friend who is about to start working in government asked me something about the Civil Service code the other day, which reminded me that I wrote a new version when I was at GDS.

When I came to the UK to study in 1999, I didn’t know what a “civil servant” was, or why anyone would want to be one. Ella-of-the-past is unlikely to be the only person who doesn’t know what civil servants do, or where they fit within the UK government. …


Corporate blogs are a way of sharing the organisation’s strategy in a way that’s more interesting and up to date than a quarterly report (not a high bar, in fairness), a scalable way of showing what teams are working on and a good recruitment tool.

They’re part of “working in the open”, sure. Showing what you’re doing, and that you haven’t (yet?) replaced everyone by robots. But corporate blogs that are consistently a good read, and not done by a tiny start up, are not “open”. …


I wrote this for the good people of Craft. They put on great events. You should go!

Jack asked me to write about “community”, and I’m finding it difficult. It shouldn’t be: I write for a living, and have done for years. It’s the subject I find tricky. The person I’m in love with wouldn’t find it hard at all. We live within a mile of where all four of his grandparents were born. He’s wholeheartedly, if critically, involved in the tech and design communities in the UK, too.

I see the value in his rootedness, but it’s not mine.

See, I’m not FROM anywhere. For many years, I deliberately chose to not really have a place to live (sofas, short-term lets). I don’t have an obvious first language. Most of my friends are similar. We’re not the 1%. Most of us are from middle class or lower middle class backgrounds (one of those painfully British distinctions I’m slowly learning to spot). We’re just the remnants of a politics that has gone out of fashion: anti-business internationalist lefties. Some of us, like me, are from generations of people who have lived like this. …

About

Ella Fitzsimmons

one foot online

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