Some things learned in five years of freelancing

A habit formed over the last year of describing my freelance career as being four years old. In conversation last week, a correction was needed, it is now five years old. I am five years older. Blimey. This anniversary is a traditional moment of self-indulgence and reflection. In the spirit of that tradition I offer this post. 

What have I learned over that five years? What do I know, or believe, that I did not know before? In no particular order, here are some observations:

  • What you start out working on is not always what is really needed or most valuable
    • The journey is valuable however
    • That is how you and your client find out what is most helpful to focus on
  • My work is almost all about asking useful questions. (Or trying to, at least)
    • And then listening closely to the answers
    • And then asking more questions and having useful conversations
    • Some of these conversations happen over long periods of time
  • We all like to talk about ourselves, so find fulfilment in listening to people do that 
  • Curiosity is the most important attribute of a successful person – being openly curious even more so
  • Work is messy, because people are messy – beware of those trying to tidy it all up
  • Helping people describe the mess and make sense of it is very valuable preparation for digital projects (and products) 
  • Some of the best things I have ever worked on are unfinished. That is OK and being comfortable with it is really helpful
  • Networking is most successful and gratifying when you contribute to those you meet
  • Networking is something to be done at all times, even when you don’t want to
  • Always say yes to the conversation – you never know what you might learn
  • Be ready to stop the conversation you have said yes to in case what you learn is that it is not worthwhile
  • Confusion endures about what digital means in the learning game – is it tech, is it an app, surely it’s content, a webinar, an experience?
  • Technology is not the hard(est) part of digital endeavours
  • Technology is not the most valuable part of digital endeavours 
  • Learning as an industry (that is, the commercial reality of the collective endeavour of learning as a business) is not really about learning (or not yet) it is about delivery of courses and content
  • I should make more time for playing the guitar
  • There should be more product managers and product management thinking in learning
  • Learning products solve problems for people trying to accomplish things, sometimes those things are learning 
  • Helping teams and organisations figure out this product value is very gratifying – it has enduring value 
  • No matter what stakeholders and customers say, the user is the most important person in any digital equation
    • This is the cause of uncomfortable conversations – lots of listening required at times
  • Treat yourself like a business, Myles
    • That means lots of hard work and unglamorous tasks
      • So, get on with it then
  • PowerPoint is the work, surrender to this idea – without slides, there is nothing

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