Sunday, 30 June 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Blogger - Publish & be Damned!

This week my blog got to 10,000 page views, so I thought this would be a good time to reflect on yet another new social media experience for this digital immigrant.

By the way, if you are a digital immigrant does that mean you can get deported?

Blogging, Blagging or Bragging? 
Although, I have to admit, this milestone has ended up raising a few questions as much as anything...

1) Is 10,000 page views in 6 months a good result - I have had this blog since 2011 but rarely posted until Jan 2013.

2) Did all 10,000 people read the entire post? Some posts are quite long, but I know a number of people who did read them as they gave my ramblings some great feedback.

3) I have all the stats on the most viewed posts, how can I use these analytics to improve on future posts? For the record the most popular posts to date include;

4) How many page views and posts do you need before you get to call yourself a blogger? If you call yourself a blogger too soon does this make you a blogger blagger/blaggart?

Why Blog 
My reasons for starting the blog was because I wanted to express an opinion outside of a work context and my first post was well received... Although it resembled more of a mini novel than a blog post!

I didn't do a great deal with this blog until January this year. The reason? Twitter... Again!

Sarah Simons, the moderator of #ukfechat, included a blog section on the chat webpage and this encouraged a core group of FE Chat regulars to began exploring the topics discussed via their blogs.

What to Write About

If you open a new communication channel its important to use it. If you open a new channel up and find that you don't have time to update the content, it might be advisable to shut the channel down.

So account open. Time to think about what to blog about? ...And where to find the time on more social media?
The subject matter of my blog does tend to be aligned in some way with either a forthcoming FE Chat (Thu 9pm) or Ed Tech Chat (Mon 1am) topic or on a recently discussed theme. This is usually; 
  • To share the ideas and knowledge on the subject prior to the chat session to help facilitate the debate, or
  • If I blog about a topic after the session this helps me internalise the discussion and share any ideas once I have considered the various points from the discussion
  • To demonstrate to those who are not on Twitter the value of the social media channel
So one of the many advantages of being involved with EdChats on Twitter is that it helps provide plenty of material for Edu Bloggers.

Publish and be damned!
Being all too aware that what you put online can be "A digital tattoo" (ie permanent!) my first few posts probably took the best part of 2-3 days before I was happy to publish. Apart from the odd critical observation about useless or ill conceived government policy, I don't think I'm being in any way controversial.

Today producing new content for the blog only takes about 1-2 hours a week.

I think this is partly an issue of confidence and you do eventually get a mentality of "Publish and be damned." 

This is not to say that it is unplanned and I always try to consider whether the post will be relevant and useful to educators and their partners; and you will never see any corporate communications from me on any social media channel.

If I have written about a topical issue, with educators in mind and, hopefully, have included some new ideas or a different perspective then the post will get read and people may share it... If it's no so good or not too relevant then it won't get read, so no real harm done. 

Blogging or Bragging
As the perpetual "digital immigrant" I faced a new experience this week regarding my exploration with blogging.

This week there was the Festival of Education in the UK and the International Society for Technology in Education Conference (#iste13) in the US, and I found myself asking "Am I blogging or bragging here?"

The issue I had was that every other Tweet seemed to be along the lines of "Oh here's a link to one of my posts..."

Now the content of the post I highlighted did seem relevant to the discussion, and the posts had been well received by educators. 

But how do you know when you have crossed a line from sharing information... To becoming blatantly and shamelessly self promoting? 

I can only hope that I am blogging and Tweeting with the appropriate "Netiquette" and that I have enough critical friends in education who would have a quiet word in my ear... After all I don't pretend to be an expert with any of this social media stuff, but I do see the value in it and the impact that it can have. 

The Impact
So what has the impact of blogging been? It's been an extremely positive experience.

From a #ukfechat perspective there is a small but merry band of regular bloggers, many of whom are posting twice a week now, this includes;

Sarah Simons -     Tes Articles & curator of UK FE Chat  
Jayne Stigger -      FE Culture
Steven Keevil -      Teacher Learner
Carolyn Houlihan - I Can So I Will
Clare Fenwick -     Tech, Innovation & Learning
Nikki Gilbey -         FE Teaching Thoughts

Some of these bloggers have also submitted articles to TES and FE Week and, like the chat session itself, the number of regular FE bloggers looks set to grow.

It would also be great to hear about any other FE Bloggers, so please feel free to post a comment below with the details of your blog.

I think it is important that blogging does increase within FE as it is a useful form of CPD, it will also benefit students too. 

Content creation is becoming a key skill, but how can FE advise students on blogging if they are not doing it themselves?

And will this be an important skill in the future... It's difficult to see why it wouldn't be an advantage or to see how much content creation;
It also makes sense from an educators perspective too;
As for the impact blogging has had on me personally? I think a good example is when I was taking part in a US chat session and when people saw me join the discussion, they commented that they enjoyed reading my blog posts and reports... Which was so unexpected that I asked "Are you sure it was my blog?"

This was all the more of a surprise when I saw that one of the people was an education expert from a prestigious US Ivy League University.

So my advice would most definitely be "Publish and be Damned" whats the worst that could happen? 

One thing is for sure any educator will most certainly be in a better position than me to explore this medium - but I'm giving it a go and am getting a lot out of it - connecting, collaborating... and learning!

If you did want to experiment with blogging before opening and managing a blog you might be interested in;

1) Submiting posts to @MrsSarahSimons for publication at 

2) Contact Steven Keevil or Carolyn Houlihan who are encouraging people in FE to blog about their week 

3) I am sure that any of the FE bloggers would be happy to discuss their experiences of blogging with anyone interested in finding out more about this platform. 

4) There are also a host of US educators who I am sure would be delighted to offer assistance to any aspiring "Connected Educators." Edu blogsTeach 100 and Connected Principals have a list of popular blogs

If you already have an FE blog I'd be delighted to hear about it and subscribe to it.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Mining Data....Nuggets of Gold & Pearls of Wisdom

I have a geeky confession to make... I get way too excited about the potential findings from the spreadsheets with huge data sets that I pull together and analyse looking for ideas and insight. 

It has been 6 months since I became involved with #UKfechat and 2 months since #edtechchat was established. I get a lot out of these and am keen to highlight what a great resource this is to others.

Recently I spent a bit of time looking at the archives for both these chat sessions, and I noticed some interesting recurring themes that I thought were worth researching.

If you're interested in finding out what these themes are, I'm afraid you'll need to stay tuned as I am still collating and assessing the data... but all will be reveled very soon. Or as Dr River Song would might put it to The Doctor;

River Song says, "Spoilers, sweetie."

Anyway, exploring these themes has led to me spending a considerable amount of time collating tweets from over 170 chat sessions over a 2 month period. This has generated a data set consisting of thousands of rows in an excel spreadsheet, which I will be wading my way through to compile my findings... Thanks a lot #ukfechat & #edtechchat!

I needed to give my eyes and head a bit of a break from this never ending spreadsheet and thought I'd work on a blog post... But what to discuss?

Why bother spending weeks - maybe even months - looking at this huge data set?

There are a number of reasons for my motivation for working on these time consuming (not to mention mind numbing) projects. I thought it might be worth highlighting the rationale to demonstrate (or convince myself) that there is "method in the madness"

Scratch Your Own Itch
In his brilliant book "ReWork" Jason Fried, CEO of 37 Signals discusses his unconventional, but extremely effective, business strategies and philosophy. One of these practices includes how the company decides which products and software to develop; 

"The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use. That let's you design what you know - and you'll figure out immediately whether or not what you're making is any good."

By the way, Fried also goes on to highlight what I believe to be one of the biggest challenges in EdTech today;

"At 37 Signals, we build products that we need to run our own business... If you're solving someone else's problem, you're constantly stabbing in the dark. When you solve you're own problem, the lights come on. You know exactly what the right answer is" 

It is for this precise reason that I think more educators need to be involved with the R&D process for education services, something that seems to be in a healthier state in the US than I can see in the UK.

Anyway I like 37 Signals advice and I work on projects and areas that are of interest to me and hope that, eventually, both myself and others will find the data useful, I'm delighted that this does tend to usually turn out to be the case... even if its for different reasons than the original hypothesis.

For example, in my Business Development Idea for FE report, I wanted to map all the FE College campuses to save time when planning college meetings, I had no idea that I would discover the number of commercial outlets that the FE Community had. 

Show your Friendship First
If the research is done well then this will provide some good, relevant and (hopefully) unique content.

Content is the core of inbound marketing but for me it is more than the prospect of having good content. I think that Dave Kerpen from Likeable Media puts an important point across very well in this post "Always show your friendship first

After all... as Steven Johnston highlights collaboration is a great source of good ideas! Where ideas come from.

The spirit of Kerpen's message also mirrors Napoleon Hill's advice.

Quality & Community Spirit
In 1937 Napoleon Hill was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie to research the philosophy of successful people. He makes some great observations about mindset, work ethic... and the importance of time;

Hill points observes "What else, apart from ideas, services and your time, can someone 'not possessed of property' have to give?" 

He goes on to suggest that you need to identify what advantages and benefits you can offer members of your group/community in return for their collaboration and cooperation. Regardless of the sector you work in or what advantages you might offer, Hill recommends following the "QQS Formula" - Quality, Quantity and Spirit.
  • Quality of service - performing in the most efficient manner possible.
  • Quantity of service - Giving all the service of which you are capable, at all times, with the purpose of increasing the amount of service as you develop greater skill through practice and experience.
  • Spirit - The positive manner in which you deliver service.
Sounds a lot like community engagement and inbound marketing techniques, written in the 1930s.

Implicit Learning & Meta Data
I mentioned the potential impact of Implicit Learning in education in my Culture in Education report, which seems to be equally applicable in a work context. 

An good area to study the role of implicit learning at work is the stock market trading floor. Obviously traders are following data from the markets minute by minute, day after day. A study looked at the behaviour and actions of extremely successful traders compared with other traders. 

In the study it was clear that the high performing traders were utilising methods different from those used by others. They were less likely to rely on elaborate research for their decision-making and much more likely to cite "instinct" in buying and selling shares. Implicit knowledge played an important part of the most successful people in this industry. Other traders operated in a rule governed way.

The concept here is not dissimilar to the much touted 10,000 hour mentality.

Market traders can also use biological cues to assess when they might be making good and bad decisions, i.e. don't buy or sell when the readings get below some baseline levels... this could mean that frustration won't play a role in making any bad trades.

When they hooked themselves up to biofeedback units traders can measure blood flow in the pre-frontal cortex (part of the brain most responsible for focus, concentration and attention). Temperature readings rise when relaxed and "in the zone" and fall during periods of frustration and distraction.

Indeed some people have suggested that these biofeedback machines should be hooked up to traders PCs and cut out any time the traders are frustrated, distracted or not focused... they either find a way to relax and regain focus or they don't trade! Boy could we have done with a system like this a few years ago!

Anyway the point here for me is that immersing myself in this kind of data set might have a similar effect and I might, one day, intuitively know what a good Edu idea looks like. Who knows what kind of information my subconscious will pick up by reading thousands of educators tweets and links? 

Or maybe its just that my introverted nature means that I like to get away from it all for a while, and claiming to mine data from a massive spreadsheet is as good a reason as any... and is more professionally acceptable than if I were to put a sign up saying...

The Worst Fisherman Ever!
Thomas Edison, with 1,093 US patents, is one of the most successful scientists ever… but was also one of the worst fishermen ever!

Edison used to spend an hour almost everyday sitting at the end of a dock and fish. He always fished alone, but he never caught any fish. People wondered why Edison was obsessed with fishing when he is so bad at it? Late in life Edison admitted;

“I never caught any fish because I have never used any bait.”
 “Why in the world would you fish without bait?” Asked his audience
 “Because when you fish without bait, people don’t bother you and neither do the fish. It provides me my best time to think.”

In today's "always on" 24/7 lifestyle, some commentators question whether we are setting ourselves enough time aside to reflect and think? And highlights the power of these quiet times? Susan Cain suggests there is...

"We need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work. School, same thing. We need to be teaching kids to work together, for sure, but we also need to be teaching them how to work on their own. This is especially important for extroverted children too. They need to work on their own because that is where deep thought comes from in part.

We need to go to the wilderness. Be like Buddha, have your own revelations. I'm not saying that we all have to now go off and build our own cabins in the woods and never talk to each other again, but I am saying that we could all stand to unplug and get inside our own heads a little more often" Susan Cain, Author of Quiet and The Power of the Introverts Ted Talk

Maybe trawling through spreadsheets has nothing to do with meta data and more to do with the fact that analyzing big data sets gives me time to myself. 

While I am more than happy to spend time on these projects... especially as the positive feedback I get from educators makes it all worthwhile! But, at the same time it is important that we value our time and deciding where and what to spend time on is not something that I take lightly! Especially when you consider what Hill's parting comment from his research;

"I would remind you that life is a draughts board, and the player opposite you is time. If you hesitate before moving, or neglect to move promptly, your draughts will be wiped off the board by time. You are playing against a partner who will not tolerate indecision!"

I know that I want to work in education, but I also realise that the sales processes are radically changing, so I need to find new methods of engaging with the various stakeholders that I want to work with.

When you know what you want, go toward it. Sometimes you go very fast, sometimes only an inch a year. It doesn't matter... as long as you move.

It is for all these reasons that I now return to the wilderness that is a huge spreadsheet to see if I can turn it into a magnificent garden... And maybe to come up smelling of roses within the education community.

Regardless I am more than happy to "show my friendship first" by spending my time on these projects to see what little gems of information and ideas the data uncovers... 

There's gold in that there data!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Crowdsourcing – Open Collaboration & Results

“No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”
                                                                           Bill Joy, Co-founder Sun Micro Systems

A lot of my posts recently have been discussing issues around a culture of collaboration amongst the various stakeholders in education and considering some of the strategies that start ups employ.

This week I joined #YthEmpChat which is organized by @Charharagain and they were discussing this very issue and, given my interest in this area, I felt compelled to wade in.
Some of the discussion revolved around the idea of we know that organizations should be collaborating more but what can be done to encourage more collaboration. 

By coincidence San Francisco had their annual Start Up Edu Weekend where education leaders and EdTech start ups and VCs came together to see if they could "design the school of the future in 54 hours."

So I thought I would share some of the successful examples of collaboration I am aware of. Welcome to the world of possibilities that is... crowdsourcing.

What is Crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing isn’t a single strategy. It’s an umbrella term for a highly varied group of approaches that share one obvious attribute in common: they all depend on some contribution from the crowd. But the nature of the contributions can differ tremendously.

Why Crowdsourcing?
In 1945 the economist F A Hayek, economist wrote a paper called “The Use of Knowledge in Society, he observed that;

"Each member of society can have only a small fraction of the knowledge possessed by all, and each is therefore ignorant of most of the facts on which the working of society rests… civilization rests on the fact that we all benefit from knowledge which we do not possess. And one of the ways in which civilization helps us to overcome that limitation on the extent of individual knowledge is by conquering ignorance, not by the acquisition of more knowledge, but by the utilization of knowledge which is and which remains widely dispersed among individuals" 

Why Get Involved with Crowdsourcing?
One of the most successful crowdsourced initiatives is the open source Linux program (more on Linux below), where a community of coders self organized to improve and develop software. Something that I couldn’t understand when I first heard about crowdsourcing was the motivation with these community members?

Here is a group that would be working in IT all day, then clock off and go home and do some more coding… on someone else’s program… for reasons other than for financial remuneration… what’s going on here? 

Then I saw a comment which clarified this and makes perfect sense;

The knowledge economy and the internet enables the sharing of information and a diversely talented, highly skilled workforce. Add to this the fact that job satisfaction rates are at an all time low, this leaves people feeling over educated and under fulfilled. Is it any wonder people are seeking more meaningful work outside the confines of the workplace?

If techs are working on code that does not challenge them, then crowdsourcing makes perfect sense… as does the inspired idea behind any company that offers 20% time where people spend 1 day a week to explore challenges that could benefit the organization but, is of interest and that the individual, as they choose and leads on the project.

Open source software was born in Bell Labs in the 1960s along with Unix, “An operating system around which a fellowship could develop.” A culture of close collaboration and sharing of software enhancements emerged which went way beyond the fixing of bugs. Fellows were motivated more by the desire to do interesting work and to impress each other than any notion of business efficiency.

In 1991 Linus Torvalds was a graduate student in Helsinki and he released the source code for a program he called Linux on an internet news group and persuaded 100 like minded hackers to join him.

The result of this way of working is truly staggering. In 2008 the global Linux market reached $35.7 billion a year. None of this could have happened cost effectively within a single company’s, or even consortium’s, proprietary software development.

To compile the millions of lines of source code in Red Hat Linux (the first important Linux product) would have taken 8,000 man years of conventional development time at a cost of $1.08 billion a year.

Innovation Jam
This model has not gone unnoticed by the corporate world and they have enjoyed some fantastic results with this model. The crowds collective opinion can be terribly effective.

In 2006 IBM held an “innovation jam” which the company billed at “the largest brainstorming session ever,” more than 150,000 people from 104 countries posted more than 46,000 ideas. Later that year the company announced it would spend $100 million to create 10 new businesses based on ideas suggested during the Innovation Jam.

Proctor and Gamble
Proctor and Gamble have found that the pace of innovation has doubled in the last 5 years and its army of 7,500 researchers is no longer enough to sustain its lead. P&G’s CEO instructed business unit leaders to source 50% of their new product ideas from outside the company using platforms like Innocentive.

Co-Create with Customers
In 2005, Eric von Hippel, head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at MIT Sloan School of Management, published Democratizing Innovation, which demonstrated how customers were taking the process of innovation into their own hands. “Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfect) agents.

The pace of change and demands of customers are such that companies can no longer depend on internal capabilities to meet external needs. Nor can they depend only on tightly coupled relationships with a handful of business partners to keep up with customer desires for speed and innovation.

Companies must engage and co-create in a dynamic fashion with everyone – partners, competitors, educators, government and – most importantly – customers. 

Some companies are embracing this change and enter into a creative relationship with their customers, even going so far as to provide them with the tools to help design the end product. The company then institutes the innovation and sells it back to the customer, who is, in this case, also a supplier. The customer may or may not receive direct compensation for his input. Either way, the real pay off lies in an improved product, a result from which all parties benefit.

Before launching any crowdsourcing initiative, one of the first steps is to determine what the ultimate goal is: Do you want to draw upon your customers to help design a new product? Are you trying to create a new platform for your community?

Regardless of the overall aim, in the latest report I am working on I look at the relationship between Education and EdTech suppliers. I will highlight a number of areas that I think could be improved upon and my research and findings will argue that this kind of collaboration has a number of benefits for all stakeholders.

While there is a lot of collaboration within FE amongst educators, is there as much collaboration as there could be with suppliers? After all it’s easy to spot the services that work with education in the R&D stages, which is the best way for suppliers to achieve “product-market fit” 

Crowdsourcing in Education
There are examples of this in education for example;
  • The Californian Department of Education thinks it can harness the insights and spare time of its teachers to make high quality educational materials available to every aspiring student while saving local tax payer over $400 million every year. The Californian Open Source TextbookProject runs on the same software that powers Wikipeadia. It’s already running a pilot program to create a world history for 10th Grade history classes.
  • Companies like Learn Zillion have a “Dream Team” of 200 educators who they get together to discuss their latest ideas and trial their latest products. 
  • There are also a number of “Hack Education” events planned, one of which was held at Edinburgh’s Tech Cube and others at London’s EdTech Incubator. The results? At the  Edinburgh event educators, government reps, techs, edu suppliers and start ups came together and in the space of one weekend produced this website - Learner Journey Data Jam
This type of co-creation and collaboration seems to be in its early stages but does look extremely promising… there was also a really exciting development announced today.

Co-Creation of Products in FE
I was very excited to hear about OCR launching a new initiative to help teachers design and create innovative educational technology for use in the classroom.

This project will be ran in collaboration with where educators will have the opportunity to become more involved with the development of the kind of services they’d like to see being used in the classroom.

If successful then FE could be set to join tech companies like IBM, Sun Microsystems and top universities like MIT, where hundreds of great ideas get developed as a result of some Innovation Jams or developing free open source educational materials that anyone can use and large communities of educators can improve.

If you liked this post and would like to explore these ideas further you may be interested in Crowdsourcing by Jeff Howe, Wikinomics by Don Tapscott, Flip by Peter Sheahan and Winners and Losers of the Internet by Keiran Levis

Lesson #2 in Persistence - Failure... Or Temporary Setbacks?


"Failure? I never encountered it. All I ever met were temporary setbacks" 
                                                                                           Abraham Lincoln

In my last post I highlighted the setbacks, persistence and resolve of Winston Churchill, another great leader who simply refused to give up was Abraham Lincoln. 

Born into poverty, Lincoln was faced with failure and defeat throughout his life. He lost 8 elections, twice failed in business and suffered a nervous breakdown.

He could have quit many times – but he didn’t and because he didn’t quit, he became one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States.

“The sense of obligation to continue is present in all of us. A duty to strive is the duty of us all. I felt a call to that duty” Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was a champion and he never gave up. Here is a brief outline of Lincoln’s road to the White House:

1816 His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them
1818 His mother died 
1831 Failed in business 
1832 Ran for state legislature. Result? Lost 
1832 Lost his job. Applied to law school. Result? Application rejected 
1833 Borrowed money from a friend to begin a business. Within a year he was bankrupt 
(He spent the next 17 years paying off his debt) 
1834 Ran for state legislature. Result? Won! 
1835 Was engaged, but his fiancée died 
1836 Had a nervous breakdown and was in bed for 6 months 
1838 Sought to become speaker of the state legislature. Result? Lost 
1843 Ran for congress. Result? Lost 
1846 Ran for congress. Result? Won 
1848 Ran for congress to get re-elected. Result? Lost 
1849 Sought job of land officer in his home state. Result? Rejected 
1854 Ran for Senate of the United States. Result? Lost 
1856 Sought the Vice Presidential Nomination. Result? Lost (He got less than 100 votes) 
1858 Ran for US Senate again. Result? Lost 
1860 Elected president of the United States

"The path was worn and slippery. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other out of the way, but I recovered and said to myself, “It’s a slip and not a fall” Abraham Lincoln

As well as demonstrating such resolve, resilience and persistence in the face of setbacks, Lincoln's leadership style is also worth studying. 

Jim Collins has coined the phrase "Level 5 leaders" which is well worth exploring... but we'll need to leave that for another day because I'm off to watch a film about someone who never gave up even though he may have felt that "the world was against him"

Friday, 7 June 2013

Lesson #1 in Persistence... Never Give Up!

This week I attended an assessment for a prestigious leadership program. This involved assessing some interesting business case studies and some other exercises. This also happened to be the first job interview I have had in something like 13 years. 

I have had quite an unconventional employment history, which was discussed. As you'd expect I was asked about the various personal and career goals that I set myself during each stage of my career. This included the successes and achievements.... as well as some of the low points. 

With regard to the issue of facing challenges, I think the most important thing is what you do with any adverse experience as and when they arise... and not what the experience does to you.

Personally something that helps me cope with adversity is
 reading about the strength of character that Shackleton, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Viktor Frankel and others demonstrated with their epic struggles. 

The assessment and interview this week has allowed for some contemplation and reflection on my own twisting, winding journey. It's certainly been a long, tiring, uphill road at times... and more than a little rough and bumpy underfoot in places - but at least the scenery is breathtaking and the people who accompany me truly are fantastic.

Most people have to cope with, and make sense of, setbacks at some point and I thought I'd make the theme of this weeks post on the topic of never giving up! We may need to adapt or have a slight detour all of which is to be expected... just so long as you don't quit!

A Lesson in Persistence 
In the early 1930s Winston Churchill's career had descended into; 

“A quagmire from which there seemed to be no rescue.” 

The reasons for this assessment included;
  • He had been widely blamed for Britains financial dislocation in the depression - having put Britain back on the gold standard (whatever that means?!) as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 
  • He’d broken with his party , isolating himself from the mainstream - due to his opposition to Indian self rule 
  • He’d been tagged as the architect of the WW1 tragedy at Gallipoli - which cost 213,980 British casualties for little gain (even though the Dardanelles Commission cleared him of blame, he remained tainted by the disaster). 
  • The 1929 stock market crash - cost Churchill a considerable fortune.
Down... but Not Out?
To top it all off, in December
 1931, he was hit by a car in New York. The accident put him in hospital, followed by a long recovery and severe depression.

The author William Manchester captures Churchills position in 1932, where he details a discussion that Lady Astor had with Joseph Stalin on the political landscape in Britain;

“What about Churchill?” Asked Stalin.
“Churchill? Oh he's finished.” She answered

Beaten Up... But Still Standing!
Someone must have forgotten to send that particular memo to Churchill!

Eight years later on June 4th 1940, Chuchill stood in front of parliament as PM while Hilter’s Panzer divisions swept across Europe.

Poland: gone. Belgium: Gone. Holland: gone. Noway: gone. Denmark: gone. France: collapsing. Britain: reeling from the rout leading up to the evacuation from Dunkirk. 

A Bloody Nose... or The Knock Out Blow?
Most world leaders, including many in Britain, saw no choice but to cede Eurpoe to the Nazis. Churchills rivals expected Churchill to see no other alternative than a negotiated peace with Hitler and his Nazi henchmen, and they hoped to capitalise on his taking the political fallout for capitulation... 
They were to be disappointed.

The Compromise of Conviction - Zero Tolerance

Clutching his notes, Churchill glowered out across the House of Commons and issued his famous words, 

“We shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in Gods good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the old"

Churchill's persistence gave voice to Britain's resolve.

Today's Lesson

In 1941, during England's sternest days, Churchill returned to his old school Harrow (where, by the way, he’d received embarrassingly low scores), to give a commencement address. 

“This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

I don't know about you but I sure am glad that examples like this exist to help you to both put any challenges and set backs into perspective... and to show how things can be turned around.

Persistence is one thing... Stubbornness is another
In a work and organisational culture context, as I continue to explore and develop a number of ideas, I find it useful to add the advice from people like Jim Collins who puts this into a business context for us.

For example, to never give in on something that you passionately believe in is one thing, but what's the difference between persistence and being stubborn? Given the pace of change, how do you decide when to make any changes? and what areas you should be adapting? I like Collins' advice on this issue; 
  • Be willing to change tactics... but never give up your core purpose. 
  • Be willing to kill failed business ideas, even to shutter big operations you’ve been in for a long time... (Kimberely Clarke was a failing paper company) but never give up on the idea of building a great organisation. 
  • Be willing to evolve into an entirely different portfolio of activities, even to the point of zero overlap with what you do today (Nokia started out in paper mills)... but never give up on the principles that define your culture. 
  • Be willing to embrace the inevitability of creative destruction... but never give up on the discipline to create your own future. 
  • Be willing to form alliances with former adversaries, to accept necessary compromise... but never-ever give up on your core values.     
The path out of darkness begins with those exasperatingly persistent individuals who are constitutionally incapable of capitulation. Its one thing to suffer a staggering defeat – as will likely happen to every enduring business and social enterprise at some point in its history – its quite another to give up on the values and asperations that make the protracted struggle worthwhile. 

Failure is not so much a physical state as a state of mind; success is falling down, and getting up one more time, withoutend... Just ask another bulldog, James J Braddock, aka "The Bulldog of Bergen" about that! 

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Teaching Environments - Making Space for a Positive Culture

This week's #ukfechat was on the subject of teaching environments, which is another important aspect in establishing a positive culture for both students and staff. This post includes some fascinating examples that educators may find useful.

What would Google Do?
In his book "Are you Smart Enough to Work for Google" William Poundstone details how Googleplex is a cornucopia of amenities for their employees. There are;
  • 11 gourmet restaurants (which are free)
  • Climbing walls 
  • Swimming pools 
  • Mural size whiteboards for sharing spontaneous thoughts
  • Ping pong, table football and air hockey tables.
  • Free laundry machines 
  • Foreign language lessons 
  • Car washes and oil changes. There is a shuttle service between home and work
  • Communal scooters for use on campus. 
  • New parents get $500 for takeaway meals and 18 weeks’ leave to bond with their infant.
  • All employees get an annual ski trip.
Poundstone goes on to highlight that these perks aren’t necessarily about generosity, it’s good business for Google to offer such benefits in an industry so dependent on attracting top talent.

Now if colleges were to offer these kind of services, for some reason, there would be an outcry about the use of public funds... But these kind of benefits keep employees happy and keep everyone else with their noses pressed against the glass, surely this could only be a good thing for education? ...Its not outwith the realms of possibility, given that there are initiatives like the one in Newark where teachers are given accommodation rent free... These are the types of initiatives that could help to "unslum" deprived areas.

Cultivating a positive culture is something that most of the tech companies obsess about, this includes the way they design and usitilse space. 

My Pad
Any team is affected by their work environment and the work space can have a strong influence on how well a team functions. Jay Elliot, Apple Vice President, details how the physical setting is part of creating the right atmosphere. 

In 1981, the Mac group that Steve Jobs was working with moved into a new building. The center piece of the new building was a large atrium, which had a piano, video games, and a huge fridge stocked with bottles of juice and quickly became a place for the employees to meet and hang out. On display in the atrium was Steve’s old original BMW motorcycle, still in mint condition – a symbol of great design and functionality but also a symbol that this particular team had a very different kind of leader. 

When employees needed a breather people were drawn to the atrium, it was a gathering spot to relax, it was a great place for sharing what you were working on, what you needed, what challenges you were facing. A gathering place like the this helps everyone get a sense that they aren’t alone. A problem facing one part of the team is a problem for everyone.

As well as looking at successful tech companies I find it useful to compare other types of education institutions.

Space to Think
On my travels its difficult not to notice the difference between private education, red brick unis and other education institutions. When I visited Cambridge for the first time I was struck by how iydillic the parks were - fantastic spaces for study, reflection and contemplation. The best park in Glasgow is on the door step of Glasgow University. 

I am sure I don't need to go into too much detail regarding the grand buildings, the sprawling, well kept grounds and facilities that private education have access to.

You also can't escape noticing how the landscape changes as you enter some inner city areas. Andrew Mawson details the impact that this has on people;

“The environments we live, work and play in profoundly affect how we are as human beings and how we relate to each other. I learned this from Bromley-in-Bow. It was such a dump down there when I first arrived. We were determined to create a really nice space. As I began to deliver this, I realised that people took it as a sign of respect for themselves and their children – they felt they were being taken seriously. 

When we are careful about the way we create a physical environment, when we pay attention to every detail of it, people start to think about themselves and each other differently. What was becoming clear was how value judgements about Bromley-in-Bow had been keeping it down all these years.

When we later wrote to a government body, outlining our plans to build a top quality restaurant with granite work surfaces and limestone flooring on our site, we received a response telling us that this was far too high quality for such a rundown area. It demonstrated an extraordinarily skewed logic and a total lack of even a fundamental understanding of the human spirit. I was treating people as people; they were treating people like statistics. 

If you give people quality, if you treat them with respect, they will respond in kind. A café that offers people instant coffee in a foam cup gives a very different message from a café that offers them a range of coffee in elegant cups which are nice to drink from, literally and metaphorically. It was all they were worthy of.” Andrew Mawson, The Social Entrepreneur 

Inner Peace
Colleges may be limited in what they can do with the surrounding areas, but they can affect what happens in the college and may find some of these examples surprising, I certainly did.

White Wash
Part of the #ukfechat discussion focused on the role that posters and other positive messages can play, if any. Opinion seemed to be divided on this topic, with some suggesting that the impact can be limited.

With the right kind of campaign, the potential of some psychology based interventions is impressive, and similar results in the UK and FE Colleges could have a real impact. 

I have been involved with a number of Social Norms projects and have read some interesting results based on "Priming." Both interventions have the potential to improve attitudes, behaviour and even exam results. Please see this  post for more details: College Brand and Identity - Just Do It 

Inner Peace - Proximity
Another area that can have some unexpected consequences is the issue of proximity - or "The new science of who sits where at work"

One study that looked at this involved a group of police officers who had just completed their training. The police cadets received a letter from Professor Segal who was doing some sociology research looking into the factors that had contributed to new acquaintances "hitting it off".

When Segal received the surveys back and examined the data she found that biographical data that you'd expect to matter - religious affiliation, age, marital status, ethnic background, hobbies, group membership - had little, if any, predictive value in whether or not two candidates "clicked." But there was one factor that had a huge effect... the first letter of their last name.

The cadets were assigned seats in alphabetical order. When the cadets listed the people with whom they had formed a close relationship, 90% named the individual they sat right next to.  Sit even a couple of chairs further apart and your chances of forming a close relationship with the other person were dramatically diminished.

We usually don't give much thought to where we sit in class or in a meeting. Bit a couple of feet of space can make a world of difference.

Collaboration & Spontaneous Communication 
Another study that produced similar results was Bell Communications Research.

Bell examined 500 research scientists, the majority of whom held advanced degrees in engineering or computer science. They all worked for the same company and were encouraged to collaborate on projects and to publish the results of their cutting edge research.

It looked as though any disadvantage of geographical distance was offset with telecommunications - Email flew between work teams and frequent phone conversations and conference calls allowed everyone to keep in touch. The scientists worked in buildings 40 miles apart but as a group they made significant scientific progress and published numerous articles.

But the pattern of exponential attraction emerges when we look at the research papers published by the scientists. 

If you were to visit one of the scientists sitting at his or her desk and then walk down the corridor, there'd be a 10% chance that we'd bump into someone that scientist has collaborated with. But continue down the corridor and out the main part of the floor, and the chances of the scientist collaborating with someone there fall to 1.9%. And if we were to go up one floor of the building the odds of collaboration drop to 1%. In other words, the odds of a scientist collaborating with someone on a different floor were about as high as collaborating with someone 40 miles away.

Physical proximity is often dictated by work departments - we sit near the people from our own department. And we're obviously much more prone to collaborate with the individuals, because they're part of the same business unit.

But when the researchers controlled for departmental similarity, proximity remained a substantial force in terms of attraction. 

Scientists were twice as likely to collaborate with a departmental colleague on the same floor as with a departmental colleague on a different floor. Moreover, employees who worked in different departments but sat close to each other were six times more likely to form collaborative partnerships than they were with counterparts in different departments who worked on different floors.

One would expect scientist to make decisions on whom to collaborate with based on research ability or knowledge, not whether someone is sitting in the adjacent office. Their academic reputations,their careers, their very livelihoods depends on their choice of collaboration partners. But the exponential attraction rule is so powerful that it overrides other factors.

One explanation for the power and ubiquity of the proximity rule is something psychologists call spontaneous communication - the unplanned, ordinary conversations and exchanges that occur when people interact serendipitously because they are in the same place at the same time. Over time, these seemingly casual interactions with people can have long term consequences.

We're increasingly told to maximize efficiency: write an email instead of picking up the phone, attend a video conference instead of travelling across the country. Virtualising our relationships is more efficient, more focused - we get right to the core of business and don't waste time on extraneous content.

But actually there's tremendous power in the casual conversations and interactions. They create social glue that enables the formation of deeper connections and relationships between people. 

Creating Space - Effectively and Efficiently 
Through these examples of proximity, spontaneous communication and unforced communal interaction   we get an idea of why Google, Apple, Facebook et al take this so seriously.

Even in Apple's retail stores there could be lessons that educators might be able to adapt for the classroom and differentiated learning - Our children need schools of 

Another organisation who demonstrate a good understanding of creating space differently is the retailer Zara.
Instead of isolating design, production, and marketing staff in separate silos, Zara’s offices, shops and other facitilites are laid out to encourage the fast, free flow of information, with designers working in the midst of production and marketing so that feedback on new styles, production glitches, quality problems and customer behaviour becomes virtually immediate.

This also sends a message to Zara’s staff that no one is “cooler” than anyone else, or to put it another way, that everybody in the company is as cool as the design team...and weekly telephone communication on how customers are reacting to different offerings. 

The result is that whereas most competitors are hard-pressed to vary 20% of the order mix in any one selling season in response to customer behaviour and other factors, Zara can adjust 40-50% of the order mix without strain.

Making Space for Values...A Good IDEO?
When the early buzz about Tribal Leadership began to form, many company leaders asked us to help them figure out why they couldn't get traction on teamwork. One visit to their company showed at least part of the problem: their physical space didn't match the values of the team and company they wanted to be... These companies preached "open door policies" and "we" not "me," yet their physical design sent a different message. We believe that the future of commercial architecture must hold hands with the future of collaborate cultures, producing workplaces like that at IDEO - where cultures, values and physical space are consistent. Tribal Leadership

Sir Ken Robinson and others highlight that the classroom was designed for the industrial age, like so many other areas of education... how could we, should we and would we re-think about making space for new ideas like these and others?

If you liked this post you may like some of the following books "I'm Feeling Lucky" by Doug Edwards; "The Steve Jobs Way" by Jay Elliot; "The Social Entrepreneur"  by Andrew Mawson; "Flip" by Peter Sheahan, Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright