10 lessons in self-development

After almost 2 years designing at Colonel Duck, I’ve had time to grow into my job, and make it my own. There are nine of us here in the office, and each one of us plays an integral role to the success of the business. I often find it difficult to explain my usual work routine, as the outcomes change with the projects we work on. However, the processes we go through and the values we share are the one constant, defining the very way in which we operate. Feeling inspired by all the potential of a new year, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on my time here so that I can break down and share these skills.

1. Responsibility

At the start of my time here, I would often look to more experienced colleagues to make decisions for me. Whether it was deciding on an approach, or choosing which print quote to go with, I would not feel comfortable making an important commitment. Over time, I realised that other people were not always better informed on these choices. Now, I don’t bother anyone else with the list of options; I make an informed decision on what I think the most appropriate next step is, and take this to my colleagues for approval. Rather than asking “which one is the best”, I say “this one is the best” and then hear their thoughts. This saves time for everyone else, and means we are all confident that it is the best approach.

2. Ownership & Accountability

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learnt is to own up when something goes wrong. By trying to hide a problem, you often end up making it worse, and making yourself miserable. I’ve had moments of terrible realisation, where I just wanted to be swallowed up into the ground. It’s not easy to feel like I’ve let my colleagues down. But if I just explained to them what happened, they were never angry. We would work out our next steps together, and have never found a problem we couldn’t fix or adapt to. It also brings the team together, so you don’t have to face it alone.

3. Pragmatism & Problem-Solving

Something I figured out very quickly was that no one was going to make all my problems disappear. I’d tell people about them, I’d ask their opinion, I’d consider all the options, but in the end, the only way to solve my problems was to solve them myself. Nike really did get it bang on; just do it. It might go terribly, or it might be the best change you ever made, but you won’t know if you don’t try. And making mistakes is better than making nothing. You can learn from a mistake; doing nothing won’t teach you anything.

4. Respect

Another lesson I learnt early on is; you can’t please ’em all. As a new employee, I wanted to prove myself. Whenever someone asked me to do something I’d always say yes. As a result, my work fell behind because I took on other people’s work. I soon understood that my time is valuable, and I should be focusing on my own tasks before offering out my help. I also realised that everyone else is working to their own schedules, and I should always agree a time for chats and meetings, to respect their time too.

5. Teamwork & Communication

Knowing how to work within a team is absolutely integral to success. We schedule together weekly and monthly, as well as having ten-minute briefings at the start of every day. This means we’re all aware of the progress on projects, and if something didn’t get done, we can adjust things if needed. However it wasn’t always like this — we have adapted and iterated these processes throughout my time here. There are heaps of articles online about how to manage your team effectively, but the truth is; there’s no one-size-fits-all method. Our team communications have changed along with our needs, and we only got this far by trying out different processes.

6. Honesty & Transparency

In my job, I often explain to our partners how we will make their ideas a reality. It’s really important to avoid promising more than you can deliver; this will only lead to disappointment in the end result, and a feeling of mistrust that’s hard to shake off. So, don’t be afraid to say no. If there’s a feature they really want, it can be an uncomfortable situation. I’ve explained before that “this wasn’t part of our original plan for this project, but we can definitely look at it for the next release”. This type of honesty will be appreciated by both your team (who now don’t have to rush to fulfil your hasty promises), and the partner, who will be happy to see their expectations delivered.

7. Task Prioritisation & Time Management

I work within our Media team, which is made up of myself, an animator and a video producer. Throughout the year, different projects will lean more heavily into one of our specialities. To avoid one of us getting burnt out, it’s crucial that we are strategic in planning and sharing our time.To ensure we are working cohesively, we agree our team targets together before splitting them into individual tasks. This means we can share out the tasks accordingly and add equal value to the company. Therefore, working together towards team goals allows us to work smarter, not harder.

8. Independence

At the start of my time here, I found it very difficult to be confident in my abilities. I didn’t even want to send an email without someone first checking it! This was because in my previous jobs I had always been positioned below a senior designer. Over time, my confidence grew, and working independently became normal. If there’s a project which does need reviewing, then the other creatives on my team will happily come and give me their opinions. While this was a long learning process, trusting in my own abilities is now second-nature, and one of the most valuable skills I’ve learnt.

9. Confidence

Within my first month at Colonel Duck, I can vividly remember a colleague calling me a “pro”. I scoffed at this, “Ha! Me? I’m not a pro.” He calmly replied, “Are you paid to do this? That makes you a professional.” It sounds so simple now, but back then it really struck a chord. As a recent graduate, I didn’t feel like I’d earned “pro” status. This really sums up how little faith I had in my potential back then, but the lesson here is to stop basing your worth on your past achievements. If you can dream it, you can do it.

9. Perspective

The most important thing I learnt here is how to get myself out of a creative rut. When I’m under pressure and deadlines are looming, it can be really difficult to think clearly and logically. The best piece of advice, and a mantra which is always echoed amongst my team is, “keep it simple.” Taking a step back and seeing the situation with a different perspective can really help me get out of most situations. It reminds me to try something else — try something easy. I get an easy win, feel good about it, and then ride that positivity wave as long as I can.

• • •

When I look back at how far I’ve come in the past two years, it’s astounding. I hope that these lessons help others to consider their own growth, both professionally and personally. Our self-development is a challenging and never-ending process, but also a hugely rewarding one. So here’s to the new year; let it be our time to truly thrive.

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