How I work (the principles I follow)

Alex Papworth
5 min readJan 20, 2019

I’m sharing my story for four reasons:

i) to help me reflect and learn

ii) to share my lessons to help you

iii) to connect and learn alongside people who are interested in their own development

iv) to be honest and open about my experiences, good and bad (to lead by example)

Having been invited to redo my CV before Christmas, I spent some time reflecting on my work (mostly the previous 18 months but building on my experience to date) not just to do my CV but also to be able to tell the world:

This is Alex Papworth. This is how he views the world of work and this is how he goes about it.

If it worked well, it would represent my answers to an imaginary conversation with a future collobarator (where I had guessed their questions pretty well!). It would help them decide whether I would be a good fit for an opportunity they had.

I was determined not to be constrained by the traditional CV format but also to make sure it was practical and met my objective.

I also wanted to approach it in a way that provided a greater insight to my mindset which would run the risk of either confusing or antagonising people. I don’t want to confuse or antagonise people. However, I will be most successful if I work with people who value my mindset and don’t have to spend my time convincing them of another way.

So I started by reviewing my recent work experiences to draw out what I had learnt during a period where the learning was coming thick and fast.

Starting with agile, digital transformation, design thinking and other jargon-loaded methods and, most recently, taking me down the direction of developmental psychology, a little philosophy, academic sources of knowledge and starting out into anthropology. My final conclusions were to head to the academic sources to accelerate my learning and to create new hypotheses.

I won’t go into the detail here but the most valuable output I found from this reflection was distilling this down into a short list of principles.

They help me understand and communicate how I operate now and provide a valuable guide as I develop.

Most importantly, I have learnt the power of these through experience, they are not copy and pasted from elsewhere (although the influences will be obvious to some).

I BELIEVE in these principles.

My aim is to share these with you in the hope they will help you to develop your own principles.

Manage uncertainty through rigorous, safe experimentation

Using learning to manage uncertainty

Managing risk by running safe experiments

Find creative ways to run experiments cheaply and quickly (don’t default to the pbvious approaches)

Importance of clarity and establishing success criteria to manage effectively through uncertainty

Make it easy for others to understand and contribute

Make the effort to communicate effectively in a human way to increase everyone’s understanding (my test is — would my family members understand?).

This allows everyone to contribute to increase effectiveness. It also knocks down walls and clarifies thinking that are created when jargon is used carelessly

(e.g. we need to be more agile — is ambiguous

as opposed to

let’s understand what the customer needs or

this problem is too complex so we need to test things in a safe way to learn how best to solve the problem)

Each person, team and challenge IS unique

Treating each problem as a new challenge and avoid dangerous assumptions (cutting and pasting methodologies will be disastrous)

Understanding the context and deciding how to respond is critical

Borrow and adapt great models, techniques and tools but test, don’t copy and paste

Compassion for individuals and recognising their context

Change mindset and behaviours by constantly reflecting on your work (individually and as a team)

Change to mindset is best achieved by learning through doing

Providing others/teams with opportunities to learn through work

Using personal reflection to grow personally and increase my impact (through the work itself, including one to one coaching)

Create lasting performance improvement by recognising that it is almost always the organisation’s structure, processes and policies that drives people’s behaviour

Recognising the value of understanding a team or organisation’s behaviour and performance as a system.

Consider the analogy of the team with the human body. The human body works as a whole. Focusing on an individual team member is like building the muscle strength in one leg to run faster)

Knowing that the performance of a team or organisation is almost always a product of the system, not individual attributes drives optimism, positivity and a desire to help and avoids anger and destructive thoughts

i.e. getting angry with an individual’s behaviour does not lead to long term solutions. Understanding what drives their behaviour and avoiding blaming the individual does.

Create lasting performance improvement by finding the root cause (e.g. mindset)

Knowing that addressing symptoms is quicker but not nearly as effective as finding and fixing root cause

e.g. Lasting change to mindset and behaviour is many times more powerful than new skills applied with limited understanding

Create high performing teams through shared purpose, shared understanding, a foundation of trust and team autonomy

Treating individuals as adults and helping them to achieve their purpose

Recognizing partnership and shared purpose is needed rather than individual heroism

Involve everyone involved in the journey from understanding to solution

Know that creating relationships based on trust is the foundation for success and that patience and changing the organisation’s structure, processes or policies may be necessary

Value and promote feedback and input for individuals and for ideas in a positive and fair way

Grow as an individual by taking ownership of your development, discovering your values and strengths and connecting your purpose with the team

Recognising the value of individual and team purpose and the need to find the connection

Knowing my strengths, the circumstances that allow me to succeed and the support I need

Help is welcomed!

To be honest, I’ve also got a stuck with the CV! I’m hoping that by sharing these principles, it will move me forward but also start that imaginary conversation with future collaborators.

If that collaborator is you, please drop me a line!



Alex Papworth

An adventurer who helps professionals find inspiration on their own adventure