How to Navigate Transition Fogs with Katie Brown

In this episode of Be & Think in the House of Trust, I meet with Katie Brown, a specialist in research design & delivery and User Centred Design team management. Her work includes large systemic impact and national innovation projects, with a strong focus on projects that support social change. 

Katie discusses her career working on causes close to her heart including the intersection of mental health and tech two decades ago, and more recently modern slavery and the gender pay gap, and how she has learnt to trust the process even when she loses sight of the big picture. 

As someone who lives high above the Yorkshire valleys, Katie is no stranger to fog, and professionally her ability to show resolve and trust when the path ahead lacks clarity has punctuated an inspiring career leading important social change. I am thrilled she has joined us to share some of her insights and perspectives on the podcast. 

This episode is for you if you want to discover your personal signature process, navigate the change within and around you, and understand how you can build trust to go through this.

 

Highlights from this episode: 

(02:17) The intersection of social change and finance 

(07:44) The challenges of bringing opposite perspectives together 

(11:14) Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable 

(14:39) Counter-intuitive decision making 

(17:16) The path out of the fog may change 

(20:01) Allow yourself space to do new things 

(22:17) It’s like climbing a mountain 

 

Useful Links: 

Connect with Katie on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katielornabrown/ 

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Transcript

Hi everyone. I'm Servane Mouazan, your host on Be and Think in the House of Trust. And every week I'll bring you a new episode with a guest who ignites social and environmental impact through their investment of funds, resources, and commitment for a better world. We look at the conditions that generate more trust, more effective and kind collaborations. And also we look with professionals in this, uh, ecosystem at what makes them, what makes it easier for them to make their impact work. And the topic I'd like to think about today is how do you get out of a transition fog? Hmm. It has come up because I've seen a number of people in Social Impact Finance really questioning their next steps for different reasons.

Some of them are freelancers and also specialist generalists, and they feel they might not be employable in a traditional setting, or they don't really know if their work does make a difference whatsoever or if it can really influence change. A lot of questions that are bringing up that fog. And first of all, I want to stress this, that there's nothing wrong with being in a transition, whether it feels like at a crossroad or a long tunnel, uh, because I see that as an opportunity to think, it's a thinking phase, and the chance to explore a new version of yourself. And because when we face the unknown and the uncertainty, it's logical that sometimes we push back or we avoid, uh, making the decision to jump or to commit to a new project or role, you know, we want to explore a little bit more. So today I want to reflect. With you on that question and to give it some insights, I have Katie Brown with me today, and Katie, you're based in the UK in the North, and uh, you've worked on large systemic impact, national change innovation projects. As a senior user research practitioner and many more things.

So what more should we know about you, your work, and your journey?

Hello. Hello. Um, that's a great introduction and then, and uh, and as you were talking, I was just thinking, oh, there's, there's so much within that, that, that idea of transition fog, it was kind of already getting my mind going. But, uh, back to your question a little bit more about me. Yes, you're right. So I tend to lead research and I tend to do it at a sort of, national, sometimes international, field, into a bigger global picture around things that are around social change.

They do sometimes intersect with, uh, investment, uh, uh, from a financial point of view, but really on that, on that social side of things that are about, you know, the impact of modern slavery in business and that in a wider way. Mm-hmm. , uh, gender pay gap. These are all projects that. I was heavily involved in leading research around developing services in relation to those from the government's point of view.

I work freelance, so I'm kind of my own research agency, it's bijou... is the nice way to put it. So I see myself as much more than a contractor. I see myself as very deliberate and very much a sort of business entity operating in that world. Mm-hmm. . Um, and so that's what I tend to bring m more than just a, a delivery of research, but, but, but more of a, a global perspective and, uh, really thinking systemically.

I, I'm interested in what you just said, that deliberate intention. What more could you tell us about that?

It took me a little while to understand that I was deliberate . It was probably, it was probably somewhat, uh, subconscious or, you know, very early days, just who I was, and I didn't really see it as something that I needed to shape particularly, and it was just, Choices that I was making.

And sometimes, you know, when you, when you look back on what you do, you go, oh, now that makes sense. I understand my pathway. And it was probably partway through that helped me to understand when I reflected, I felt very early on in my career. I just keep, there's certain things that just don't make me, they don't resonate for me, then they don't feel, they don't pay me very well, but they don't necessarily feel like they, they work for me on some level.

And it took me and to understand myself a little bit, and it partway through came to understand myself a little bit more, not on my own, through great coaching from people like yourself and other people who, but it was a choice to really kind of go, there's something. So we're already stepping into that conversation about transition.

There's already something going on for me. Either I feel uncertain about what I've been doing. Is it, does it make sense? Mm-hmm. , uh, yes it does, but maybe I'm, uh, my fears are around. How or why? And once I began to understand myself a little bit more and I could really think about, okay, well here's just some strengths and we weaknesses, here's some things that I really enjoy doing.

Here's some things that I don't yet have the skills for, but I want to do, and how do I use all of that information as kind of my arsenal for where I want to go, for what I want to be doing? And I, I, so I think I've been highly reflective, so I suppose that's what I mean by deliberate. Not just about, sometimes it's opportunistic, things come our way and I think, oh, go for that.

And I learn as I do it. Mm-hmm. But really the deliberation is about understanding who I am and how I, uh, you know, how I show up in the world and what's important to me and what I can bring, um, what I can bring to others in the world. I guess

How you show up in the world. Yeah. When can you recall a, a, um, um, specific moment of transition and how they, how did it look like for you?

I was talking earlier about, you know, some transition look like corridors. Others look like tunnels and others look like crossroads. Mm. Do you have an example?

I mean, I really like your, your words "transition fog". I live where I am now. I'm up in the, uh, up in Yorkshire, in beautiful rolling hills, and I live really high up, and I look across from my windows into the valley.

Mm-hmm. and I quite often, particularly this time of year, see this kind of, condensation, this mist, that comes down. And when I look at, when I've been thinking about your, your, you talking about transition fog, it feels very much like that. There are moments in that fog where things sort of appear mm-hmm.

you know, trees or bits of the, of the valley around and then they kind of disappear again. And I suppose I do feel like that, and I do feel at times sometimes that it can feel external that there's something external going on that's foggy. But actually, I suppose where I've reached the point now is I sort of realized that how I feel is what I see.

So if I'm perceiving things as foggy, it's because it's something internal actually that's going on. Mm-hmm.

So you're conscious by your state of mind, what your body is telling you. And I wonder, well, how did that happen for you? In, in, I know you, in your past, you worked around mental health, you worked around technology, all these things that sometimes don't speak with each other.

Less so nowadays, but Yeah. Yeah. Less so. And how did you operate these transitions and how did you find comfort and in, you know, understanding it is the right place for me. I'm out of this transition or. It's a, it's a, I don't know, it's a positive transition cuz I know where it's leading to.

Yeah. C yeah, you're right.

And I think that's you, you've probably spot on. That is probably one of the, the early ones. Cuz when you talk about that transition and, and, and once I'm think, oh, well, it kind of happens all the time now I realize it's a bit cyclical. But the kind of big one, particularly from a career point of view is, as you say, I was working predominantly in mental health for quite long time and not, not a practitioner, not, uh, not trained in, in, uh, a medicalized approach, but I was very interested in different paradigms of thinking in mental health. It's particularly from kind of quite political perspectives, that there is this idea that, that in mental health, that, uh, people are survivors of the mental health system.

So you have these. Two different groups. You know, people who experience the mental health system as damaging and others who are working within it, who are doing their very best to provide the best care that they can. But those two experiences are very real and happen at the same time. Mm-hmm and neither should be discounted.

So I was very interested and already aware of those kinds of two very disparate ways of being and thinking, operating in the same place simultaneously and needing to really take both of those perspectives on. And there's a whole kind of academic research around that now it's really, really built up and we see it more and more can see it more and more coming into the mainstream.

That was already quite alive for the work that I was doing. And then the internet was the thing. It was around I, I was a, it was the MySpace days. It was lots of kind of the beginnings of those kind of online social media. But before we really had those words, and I think because I was just operating in that way and thinking about how two, almost opposing things come existed, uh, simultaneously. Once I saw that I kind of, something resonated for me. I didn't understand how, but I understood that they might be able to come together and I decided that I would like to explore that. And so I did. And I did, and I, I, I made an opportunity for myself to sort of you know, develop a, a digital service and have some kind of remit around that, around, uh, whatever this thing is, you have some space to look at it. And so I sort of, so there was nobody, you know, I got lucky. It's probably a start here is an opportunity, but I suppose more than just, look, I kind of went, well that isn't clear what that is.

Maybe I can figure it out. So I suppose on some level, without realizing it, at that point I kind of went, Ooh, there's an interesting bit of white space that somebody's gonna let me do something with, and they're not really expecting any particular outcome. And so that gave me a first little spot to make it my own.

So I'm hearing a few things. It's like the, you made an opportunity for yourself and actually, and, and the, and the making of it was spotting some connections in the making, some potential things that could become much bigger than themselves. No one was expecting anything from you. Maybe someone believed in you or say, yeah, well let's have Katie play

But, um, and then also there is something at the essence of who you are is that researching and that skill that you have or being comfortable in the unknown and in that space where everything can be, can change if you don't know the answer, you're very comfortable in that space too, aren't you?

Yeah.

Yeah, I am. I suppose I don't, It doesn't... I've gone through that space in so many times now, so that's, , that was an early version. It kind of evolved into many different things. And then there was another version that came from that. I mean, I think some of those, those things I worked on, like the, the gender pay gap, you know, it was what I came to understand. I was operating in this place. It didn't always feel comfortable. It, it was something that I sought out. It wasn't when I was in it, oh, this is all fine and it feels lovely. At times it felt very difficult and at times. To problem-solve within it was very hard. But once I'd done it once you know you, you've got a big white space, you dunno what you're making, you don't know what's gonna come out of it at the other end.

But something is, and you trust it. Actually what I realized is I fell back on, uh, something from even further back in my Life, which was kind of my art, being an artist in some way, making paintings. When I, when I painted, what I found with paintings is you start off very enthusiastic, it's wonderful, and then partway through you go, this painting's not gonna work.

It's a big old mess. And then you keep going and you keep going, and then there's a certain point in which you go, oh, finally it's come together. There's a moment of trust in that process. and I think once I was able to understand, oh, there's a creative process, I have a process. This is my creative process in this space, then, then I kind of felt, well, okay, this is how I can be comfortable.

I understand the not, it's not always comfortable, but I understand this process. When I entered

teaching. Mm. So there was an evolution, there was a, that realization that took place. And you say you went through different cyclical transition and I, and I wonder what are the top insights that you gathered for yourself?

I think we, I think very much from a human point of view, all of us are driven to find, you know, kind of consistency and we like to kind of know what's going on and we understand how to do something, even if we're interested in kind of new and interesting things. There's, if we're constantly going through, like everything's different all the time, takes a lot of mental energy.

So I think sometimes we can be, for me, I can be in a, in an environment, I can be in a sort of a situation. I can be at a point in life where things that I have enjoyed, I don't anymore. Sometimes that's me. I've changed. What's important to me has changed, but sometimes it's because, Other people have changed, they're going through that, or an organization is going through that something is changing and I'm still relating to it in a way that I would like it to be than what it actually is.

And that can be hard. That can be, that can feel like a loss. Um, and so sometimes I think we can keep going at something that's actually, you know, there's a divergence, I think weeks. Experience these things in our lifetime all the time in relationships, whether a romantic or French platonic or or in a workplace, or just, you know, our own connections to the world around us and the people that we know, the things that we do.

Mm-hmm. So you look at your internal patterns, you look at what's changing around you, you recognize that there are also transitions going on around you. C can we, can we dive in the most molecular aspect of making a decision to stop dabbing about this, or to jump or to commit? What, what's happening for you when you make a decision?

It's always very counterintuitive. It's funny you say that. It's, um, because I can get, I mean, you know, the intersection of person, I'm also a bit of an introvert, and I can get a bit, um, No, I must, I must know things. So as much as I'm fine in that messy creative space, I can always be like, but I must, it must become clear once I work out that that there's, there is something, it must now emerge and be clear and I can get a bit overthinking, but could it be this and could it be that?

And so there's lots of that that goes on. And like I go, oh, I'm doing that now. Well, that's right. Okay. And then it's another step back I usually find, which is to go, okay. Look, you know, I must do something. I must make a change something. I know it's a transition. I must do a thing to make this different.

And what that has looked like in the PAst for me is I'll try this. I'll decide that I'm going to, I'm gonna think about the work that I do differently. I'll go and study something specifically that I think that scenario I would like to break into. In, in, in the intention of doing it. I'm doing it because I've decided that's gonna be the thing, I'm now going to do this.

Mm-hmm. And then in the doing thing, I've gone, oh, that wasn't it. ? You have an example? You have an example. Yeah.

And it happened recently, so I really started thinking about, um, data analysis and I really started thinking about the role of, um, kind of big data in social good and I decided that I wanna do everything.

I'll go and learn how to do data engineering and I will do all of that and I'll apply some strategic thinking to this very granular approach. That's what I'm going to do. And I went and, and I got a scholarship and I got to an Uh, uh, university, um, kind of bootcamp to do that. Absolutely brilliant. And partway through went, yeah, why am I doing this?

You know, this clearly, this is not for me. Like what's really helpful about it is I've really got to grips with what it's all about. And I now understand that, that I don't need to do all of the things. Ah, I could work with other people to do some of those things. Understanding what they are is very important.

I don't need to do everything what I am. So back to who am I and what are my skills are the strategic thinking. Oh, they're kind of able to bring disparate things together that haven't been brought together before. Mm. And what to do with it. Yes. That's yours. The technical know-how. No, that's not yours.

No fear on missing out.

No fear on missing out, then you can delegate a bit. Absolutely fine.

But what I understood once I did that, instead of kind of going, well, you've, what are you doing? And why did you do that? I mean, there was an initial, what happened for me was like, well, okay, so what did you do that for? You tried Something and it taught you something. So you don't need to have, the thing that you do doesn't need to be the thing that you now forever do. It can be the thing that helps you on your journey. Actually, my way out of this, I'm in a fog. I'm not quite clear about where I'm going, but here's, I'm trying that route.

I'm trying that route, and as I do, it's helping me narrow down to where I may actually end up and actually just get, okay, I'm comfortable with, with it not being fully defined yet. So I suppose where I'm at in the moment is, oh, I've set off into something. I'm coming out of the fog. I'm not in it anymore.

I just don't actually quite know. I haven't got any way markers to know quite where I am yet, but I know that I'm out. I'm coming out of it. Uh, where that ends up, um, I'll be intrigued to know as anybody else, I suspect.

So I guess there's, there are different things that, there are patterns. There are also processes or some immovable things that, that you find back in many of these, uh, projects that you're doing, whether they're creative projects or data projects, research, there is a lot of things that are coming back.

They're cyclical, I guess sometimes it's not about knowing per se, where is the destination? What is the destination, but being firmer in the principles and the values and in the process that we use to get there.

Yeah,

thinking out loud, but I wonder, . Yeah. I wonder, I wonder where, where do we start feeling content with this?

I think I also think that's spot on, Servane, because I think certainly when I mean, 20 years ago I set myself quite a lot of goals. I want to do a certain thing I want to get to, you know, I don't know what this is, but my goal is to somehow in mental health and digital, that doesn't quite exist yet to be leading it nationally in some way.

Mm-hmm.

And I would set those goals and then I would get there and there was, you know, that was a very powerful thing to do, particularly as a, as a woman building a career and whatever that looked like. Mm-hmm. , it was important. I found two difficulties with that. One was when I got there, well, I've done it now.

It's quite a lot of loss that comes with that and, and how, and kind of being forced into a transition. It was a bit unnatural I found. Mm-hmm. . So I suppose where I've got to now, Um, people say this, I mean, it's almost cliched really, isn't it? Like the journey is the destination, not the destination. But I think I experienced that in a very visceral way.

And so now I'm not, you know, I'm also in a decent life position that not everybody is necessarily in, we're in, in difficult times where actually from a financial perspective, I don't need to worry too much. Not incredibly wealthy. I've just been very thoughtful about, uh, choices that I've made for myself and I'm very thoughtful as I move forward.

Mm-hmm. about that, so I. Have worked hard to put myself in a position where I don't necessarily feel like I must do X, Y, Z, and I can allow myself some space to do the next thing and do the next thing. I think partly when I was younger, I worried a lot. You know, you, you're at school or your education, whatever it is.

There are some people who are very clear, I wanna be a doctor, and then they go away and become a doctor. And I was never that person. Hmm. I never person, I mean, if you'd spoken to me when I was a teenager and asked me what I ended up doing, it would not, I didn't even know what I was doing now as an option.

I think for a lot of us that was true. We're in a different emerging world than. it was 20 plus years ago, and it will be true for the generations now. Um, so I think I've got a lot less fear around, well, I don't know what it will be, but I didn't know what it was then. It didn't exist then. So maybe, maybe what I'm doing in 10 years won't ex, you know, it doesn't exist now.

So if I try and set myself that direction, what will I lose out on? What can I allow myself? What can I trust? that is, that will be right for me, that I will find it. And I now have that body of knowledge of having done that, which at the time didn't feel so easy. But now as I say, I can reflect on it and go, well, okay.

You know, and if it all goes wrong, I do what we sort of, and if it all goes wrong, I can, I can go, you know, I have the capacity to, to earn money and make sure I provide for my family. Mm-hmm. , this is, uh, this is the privilege that I have, this space. You know, if it doesn't, it doesn't. So I think I'm just a lot less, um, precious about my choices.

It's okay. I can mess up if I want to. It's fine. There's room,

There's a lot of strength coming out from you because these choices don't necessarily depend on other people. And I feel like your bijou boutique is, is no longer a startup.

It, it, it took, you know, that going that route, I used to imagine it a bit of like climbing a mountain and I used to always find I did enjoy and lots of it now, but I did use to enjoy some mountain climbing and I always found I would go, my instinct was always to go the long way round.

And I would eventually find, you know, I'd kind of go, oh, there was a path that led you right to the top, and it was much easier. I ended up going all the way. It was just an instinct to go the long way around I noticed in myself, and I felt like that. And that's what my career's been like. Oh, I've really gone the long way round here.

The thing about that was that by the time I got to wherever the top, whatever that meant for me, it meant I was really capable because I'd had to negotiate and navigate some pretty difficult terrain.

Right.

I suppose that gave me some confidence to just sort of go, oh, I'm not, I'm not a novice anymore.

Oh, you know, it felt like a novice the lot of it, because I was doing some. Tricky things at a time when, you know, I was still evolving a skillset set and understanding myself, but once I got through all of that, I could kind of go, huh, am I really still that novice? Probably not. I'm not, I'm not that startup anymore.

It just took me a bit longer to sort of go, well, you, you're here now. Don't worry about it.

That's beautiful.

Oh, thank you so much, Katie. But really give us some, um, some elements of renegotiating that transition and, and what's in it that we can use for the next steps or the continuing journey.

Um, there are the patterns, the skills that you've acquired, the decisions you've made, the process that, that you've used.

If you chose the long path, what is it that you learn along the way that actually make it so much more of an easy ride when you take the easy path, and, and all the things that you are, uh, that, that you discover along the way and you take that with you and they help you make a decisions, decision based on your choices.

So that's a beautiful package that you've given us on, on transition fogs and what happens when the fog dissipates. Thank you so much, Katie.

Thanks taking thanks. It's lovely to talk to you Sercvane as ever.

It's lovely, lovely having you and be part of that, that experience and, uh, and, and to have you Be and think in the, in the House of Trust.

So thank you again everybody for listening to that, that new thinking conversation in the House of Trust and the show is available to listen. anywhere you can find podcasts and it's completely free. And for more insights, events and resources, you can head to my website UK and subscribe to my regular Conscious Innovation update.

You can also find me on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Live me a note and let's Be in Think together in the house of Trust.

Goodbye.

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