Welcome to my occasionally annual roundup of my writing for the year (I’ve previously published a similar column in 2018 and then last year, in 2020).
For so very many of us, 2021 was dominated by the pandemic. We experienced several bouts of lockdown, and even in periods of relative freedom I have not strayed terribly far from home. I’m both pleased and surprised to report that this has resulted in one of my more productive writing years thus far.
This column is number 45 of this year. Assuming I write a post again next week (and I certainly plan to) that will end the year with what for me is the relatively astonishing number of 46 articles. That’s a high watermark for me here, as the following table demonstrates. It’s also the third year in a row that I have sustained more than forty missives, which is a consistency that I’ve been striving towards for a while and am particularly proud to have at least for now attained.
What I have written about this year has varied quite a bit. I have tried to leave the pandemic well enough alone this year, having written several articles about it in 2020, along with a series of scenarios that I was particularly proud of at the time (and unfortunately continue to be disturbingly relevant today). Some of what I have explored relates to strategic issues relevant to any number of organizations. Other columns have veered into the work I do as a consultant, and the techniques and strategies I employ when engaging with clients.
A significant number of posts were more reflective of my personal journey. That’s not surprising, given that my Strategy Making workshop was the conscious focus of a significant part of my year, and in particular the first few months. I have also spent the last couple of months diving into an extensive review of my systems, my organizational strategies and in particular my process of note taking.
A regular level of output has also been rewarded with an increase in visitors to the site. This year, more than 8,600 of you have paid a visit, and checked out over 13,000 posts. For some blogs, that might be a drop in the ocean. Here, that’s a high watermark, following more than five years of progressive growth:
What continues to be intriguing is exploring what people have found engaging on the site, and which posts are most popular with visitors. What follows is this year’s top-10 list of most frequently read posts from 2021, along with the year they were published and how many people have read each one:
|Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys||2018||1497|
|Exercising Agency: What is Agency?||2015||906|
|Tools in the Toolbox: A Diatribe||2017||829|
|Exercising Agency: How Do I Develop Agency?||2014||247|
|The Role & Place for a Devil’s Advocate||2018||239|
|Taking on Tuckman||2021||229|
|We Wanted Reset. We Got Pause.||2021||185|
|What I Think of You. What You Think of Me.||2021||173|
|A Definitive Takedown of Best Practices||2021||139|
|I’ve Changed. You’ve Changed As Well.||2021||136|
There is a fascinating split here. Every one of the first five articles was published before 2021. Every one of the last five articles was published this year. Given that posts appear through the years, it’s not surprising that some of this year’s missives don’t show up higher on the list; they’ve only been around for a little while. We Wanted Reset. We Got Pause. was only published in June, for example, and yet still made its appearance on this list.
Far and away the most popular post this year was Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys. It remains one of my favourite posts, also, and has featured as one of the top posts of the year since it was published in 2018. It is also the second most popular post of all time on this site, period. The second most popular post this year, Exercising Agency: What is Agency? was number one last year, and remains the most popular post ever, and by a fairly hefty margin (it’s actually more popular than the home page, which is its own fascinating bit of trivia).
Overall, the most popular posts are surprisingly persistent. Every one of the top five posts for the year was a part of the top six posts for last year. The top three posts for the year are also the most popular posts ever to have appeared on the site, and the number of views of each of them far outweigh any of the other ones on this list. It’s gratifying to know that something I wrote continues to have that much staying power. At the same time, I hope some of my more recent posts do find a larger audience in time.
There are the most popular posts, of course, and then there are the ones that I am proudest of. The circles of that particular Venn diagram don’t always overlap, but sometimes they do. We Wanted Reset. We Got Pause. was one of those. It’s one of the few pandemic-related articles I wrote this year. It was a heartfelt reaction to the experience of enduring the reality of Covid-19 for more than a year, and the shift in perspectives and viewpoints that have occurred since. Very early in the pandemic I had written a post called Hitting the Reset Button. This was its bookend, and a personal reflection on the challenges of persevering, even in the face of relatively good personal productivity. Despite the hope I expressed that we might be nearing the end as double-vaccination status loomed, six months later we’re still very much on pause.
I wrote several series over the year as well. Some were small, and others were epic. I explored models and their relevance, and the usefulness and flexibility that simple models give us in answering those oh-so-many “it depends” situations. Over the summer, I suggested strategies to employ in hitting your metaphorical reset button and designing your new normal. There was a brief dive into managing our outlook in the face of challenge, recognizing that important work can still be hard, and that both our perfectionism and our avoidance of failure can get firmly in our way. For a good chunk of the fall, I took a deep dive into systems and organization and note-taking, and came out the other side of a great deal of research with some useful and usable insights.
Each of those series had a topic to explore and a message to advance. While I’m proud of each of them as whole explorations, there are some individual articles that stand out as what I consider to be some of my best writing of the year.
Always Look On the Bright Side of Life was one of those pieces. It was actually part of the perfectionism and failure series, but also stands on its own as an ode to optimism. In a year when many of us—myself included—were struggling with anger, frustration and stress, the article attempted to highlight the value and positive benefits that optimism has to offer. Another article that I was particularly proud of was A Room of One’s Own. The pandemic was again a departure point for this piece, but it is a useful reminder of what we all need in order to do our best work: the physical, mental and emotional state necessary to create.
Three other posts stick out for me as ones I value and take pride in. They are the three most recent ones I have published. While they haven’t had enough time to filter to the top of any version of a “most popular” list, they each spoke to me, and they each hopefully had something to say to others. Each piece is inspired by a metaphor of sorts. They presented challenges that many of us experience regularly, and offered practical insights to either overcome or at least find peace with the reality in which we find ourselves.
The first was The Merits & Misfortunes of Rabbit Holes, inspired by our propensity to procrastinate and the deep, infinite wells of scrolling offered to us by our various personal devices and the voraciously omniscient Google search engine. The Cliffs of Insanity took as its point of departure an early scene of one of my favourite movies, to explore the acute avoidance we experience when confronted by challenges well beyond our current capacity and knowledge, and how we can manage the steepest of learning curves. Finally, The Elephant in Your Brain took on the presence of virtual pachyderms as proxies for persistent personal problems.
I have written a lot here this past year, but it is not the only place that I write. Somewhat incredibly, I have been an author for projectmanagement.com for more than two decades now. Despite that longevity, I apparently still have things to say and an audience willing to listen to me. My monthly columns tend to be the most commented on (if not always highest-ranked; clearly expressed opinions are going to find their detractors) features on the site.
Judging by popular reaction, Rethinking Resilience was far-and-away the front-runner of this year’s columns in the eyes of the site’s readership. (It also inspired an astonishing number of speaking requests on the topic, which prompted the building of a presentation that was in no ways planned or intended to exist). In actual ratings, however, there are a trio of articles that have all received rankings of four-point-eight-something: Eight Things We’ve Learned About Teams in a Difficult Year, Your Problems Aren’t Wicked, Just Messy, and Doing the Hard Work to Stand Up and Stand Out.
If I’m very honest, though, I would have to say that one of the articles on projectmanagement.com this year that I am most proud of is one that was rated the lowest (to the extent that any of the ratings are really low). Getting Out of the Way of Your Own Biases takes a critical look at the short-cuts and short-circuits that exist in our brains. Not only are these the biases that influence our decisions and choices, they are also the biases by which we judge and categorize others. As the comments attest, not everyone was comfortable with what the column had to say or the assertion that we are all—each and every one of us—biased in our own way. I am proud to have been in some way able to contribute to a larger conversation that has still a great deal more to be addressed.
Last but not least, I also started writing this year for Municipal World. Actually, that’s not strictly true; I’ve been writing for them for a couple of years now, but this year I was awarded a regular column as one of their monthly contributors. The Strategy Field is an exploration of all things strategic, and how municipalities face different and difficult choices as they navigate towards their desired future. It has been an enjoyable and rewarding column to be invited to write, and I’m looking forward to it continuing.
Without question, I write a lot. I have made the assertion before that by the nature of my work, I’m a professional writer; virtually anything of substance that I do comes to fruition as a document, report or presentation. The columns and articles that I variously contribute are the places where I most get to be me. I value the opportunity to explore topics of interest, and I’m grateful to have an audience that shares my interests and passions. Thank you for being here, and for your own contributions and comments to this site. I look forward to continuing the explorations next year.
So we come to the end of another year. What was the writing that meant the most to you this year, and why?
Michael Hilbert says
I believe I found two articles of particular interest this year. The first was the article in Project Management.Com on Rethinking Resilience and the subsequent webinar. This article was published at a time when it was needed most. It was a reflection for those who were striving to get to a normal that may never come. It was a reminder that above all else, we need to be committed to making the changes needed to simply keep moving forward. The other article was Always Look On the Bright Side of Life. This post hit home for me on many levels and served as a reminder to look at the possibilities for moving forward. Not to just close things out, and ask “What’s Next?”. Evaluate what we have done and ask, what we could do better next time. And of course, my all-time favorite is “Not My Circus, Not My Monkey”. I have forwarded this link to many colleagues and friends. I re-read it every few months, just to keep my sanity in check.
I believe your writings are so popular because they are personal and heartfelt. They speak to the realities, concerns, fears and questions that that we all face on a daily basis. I can relate personally to so many of your writings and in some way, knowing that it is not just me, helps to make things just a bit brighter. I find your blog to be a safe place to comment and offer input for further discussion. That you take the time to respond and continue the dialog is also fantastic.
Please keep the articles flowing! I am looking forward to what 2022 holds and the unique areas you are going to explore next. Here is wishing you and your readers a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.
Mark Mullaly says
I can’t thank you enough for replying here, and throughout the year. I always appreciate your reflections when you have the opportunity to share.
I continue to be amazed at how popular Rethinking Resilience truly was. It felt as much as anything like a straightforward clarification and distinction about a linguistic problem when I wrote it (in the spirit of “you keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.”)
But it struck a chord with many, and seemed to resonate strongly at that particular point in time. I imagine (hope) that in another year or so it won’t resonate at all, but it was a unique situation of the words matching the time.
Thank you again. Merry Christmas to you and your family as well, and best wishes for the new year.