Feb 15

Sage advice

Napolean Wrasse - Uploaded on November 30, 2007 by Michael Aston

Napolean Wrasse - Uploaded on November 30, 2007 by Michael Aston

What one piece of advice would you pass on?

A significant part of what we at jbsh get up to is building partnerships. These partnerships involve businesses, Universities, Primary Care Trusts, consultants (business & medical), doctors (academic & medical), private individuals, etc. With so many people there are always differing perceptions about what the collaboration is trying to achieve, and plenty of opportunity for miscommunication.

In my early days of change implementation with small engineering companies in Cornwall, I was given some sage advice by my PhD supervisor:

Don’t ascribe to malice what can be ascribed to ignorance

I believe the quote to have originally been from Napoleon Bonaparte though I can’t find a definitive reference.

Its very easy when you’re charging into a situation to assume that everyone knows everything you do and has the same ambition you do. This is never the case. If you’re not prepared for it, genuine cock-ups can sometime appear to be carefully planned Machiavellian schemes to bring about your professional and personal downfall.

I try to assume that people are acting with good intentions, trying to help me succeed as I try to help them. When things don’t work out its probably because I haven’t explained things well enough or they’re acting on information I’m not aware of.

The solution is of course better communication. Better doesn’t always mean more, a 5 min phone call is usually more productive than several pages of email or “briefing” document; half an hour over coffee, or a beer, is often better than 4 hours in a stuffy meeting room. Spending the time to see someone on their territory is often better than dragging them halfway across the city/country/world.

When you have done the ground work with short, concise messages specific to each party to build shared understanding, then you can hold a larger meeting where everyone can discover that actually they are working to an agreed agenda. You’ll also know where people’s corporate and individual comfort zones are and can help a consensus emerge that still achieves the broad aims.

Of course, sometimes people do act in the short term against what might be broadly considered as ‘fair play’. However, in this world of instant, always on, communications and data overload, we are more reliant than ever before on trusted advisers and connectors.

A reputation is something you build over a lifetime, but throw away in an instant.

That’s another piece of advice for free! 🙂

Thanks to Plinky again for prompting me again.

Jan 21

BETTr learning

Learn to Draw a Horse - Vancouver 1980 - Uploaded on December 1, 2006 by Mikey G Ottawa

Learn to Draw a Horse - Vancouver 1980 - Uploaded on December 1, 2006 by Mikey G Ottawa

What do you get when you fill Olympia Hall, Earls Court with companies trying to sell technology to teachers? The BETT Show is possibly the largest exhibition of it’s sort in the world and certainly Europe.

What don’t you get? You probably don’t get much learning as a delegate.

I attended earlier shows in 2006/07 as part of Futurelab but as with all exhibitions the cost-benefit is sometimes hard to justify. Certainly now, as an independent consultant and working with start-ups, the exhibition is of minimal value. Leaving aside the cost of an actual stand, there’s travel and accommodation and most of a week out of the office. From memory Olympia has poor phone coverage inside (plus concentration breaking levels of noise) and no free WiFi.

I say from memory because I didn’t go to BETT. I did go to BETTr, one of a growing number of unconferences that are springing up alongside their glitzier cousins. The benefits are multiple, being a smaller gathering you actually get to talk to people.

BETTr was mostly developers and smaller companies that supply innovative technologies to schools and universities. I advise growing companies on how best to plan for the future and have a couple of interests in the education sector so that was a perfect match. There was only one teacher, but that in itself was a topic of discussion in a break out session.

I really like the unconference model. In particular we had a detailed discussion on how to engage teachers in the development process far earlier than is currently the case. People shared experiences, ideas, thoughts, barriers, solutions. Challenges included their limited time, curriculum constraints and the usual challenges of getting beyond the early adopters to mainstream. The most popular solution was to take teachers to the pub!

The demands of modern teaching are that for most teachers its more than a 5-day a week 9-5 job, but a way of life. INSET days were commented upon (not just at BETTr but also the twitter backchannel where I was posting along with others in the room and from all over the educational globe).

There wasn’t an action plan or formal report, but it sparked off lots of new ideas, rekindled some old ones, and put a few to rest. It also brought together folks I’ve been reading online so we could meet up, though the Friday night TeachMeetBETT09 was the main event for that.

A big thanks to Jukesie for organising and to all the supporters for making it happen.

Update: Looks like I’m not the only one recognising the difficulty of engaging teachers. Today’s Guardian is reporting on BSF still not getting sufficient engagement despite a new drive from the Government.

Jun 30

Learning un-learning


Uploaded on 12 May, 2006 by Marvin (PA)

I hot-footed it from Cheltenham to the Pervasive Media Studio a couple nights back for a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe. The topic was ‘unlearning’ which is a sufficiently interesting topic for a Knowledge Transfer/Exchange professional to drag me out and through the wind and rain that Bristol chose to throw at us!

I wasn’t entirely sure what ‘unlearning’ was; I’d constructed a meaning that was roughly a bit more purposeful than forgetting. The brief presentation from Daniel Doherty (University of Bristol, Management School) ranged from the quite possibly certifiable Institute of Unlearning through to more constructivist (and believable) approaches.

There was quite a bit that bordered on (or was overtly about) brainwashing and ‘re-programming’ people Leaving aside the ethics and morals of those particular applications of unlearning, the discussions were mainly around trying to decide if there was more to it than situational flexibility. We touched briefly on meta-physics in trying to figure out how far back into perceptions of reality you had to go before it became ‘unlearning’.

Quite a few of the examples described were really just putting one set of learnt behaviours or patterns of thought aside to more effectively address a particular situation. We didn’t feel (and I’m speaking in the royal ‘we’) that this represented unlearning. Quite a few of the proposed unlearning situations (miltary training, regime change, etc) are externally imposed. Even if there is a degree of consent there is an external mechanism, framework and big shouty Sergeant Majors moulding you to become the best of the best of the best. Sah!


Uploaded on 12 May, 2006 by minxlj

I was curious to see if anyone could propose an instance where that level of ‘unlearning’ could be initiated and carried through in a purely individual framework. Apart from physical impact injuries to the skull, or psychotic drugs, there didn’t appear to be. Which got me to wondering if in fact unlearning is something that you can consciously undertake.

Even more benign approaches to unlearning, such as the coporate merger or unlearning intolerace require external intervention. The incoming organisation (or new CEO) will impose ‘their’ view on the organisation being absorbed. The UN has a conference series on unlearning to help people identify strategies to tackle intolerance in their societies through education, inclusion and example.

There’s no doubt that you can learn new patterns and behaviours that are more effective to the changing circumstances and social ‘norms’. Can you unlearn without the rather scary brainwashing aspects, I’m less sure. The brain is remarkably good at retaining data, sometimes we are less good at retriving it and most of us can’t recall every detail of every second of our lives, but I think it’s all in there.

Thanks go to Ed for organising and the Pervasive Media Studio for the venue.

May 16

Celebrating failure

Disclosure: As well as Managing Partner of jbsh LLP (the business behind this blog) I also work part time for the University of the West of England on the Knowledge West project managing their QuickMark® service.]

Pedestrian stop lights on Gibralter runwayToday was an important day for jbsh, I gave our first unsuccessful pitch. Obviously in writing research grant applications and funding proposals, I’ve had unsuccessful submissions and I’ve talked a couple of clients out of engaging me in favour of more appropriate (and cheaper or free) options.

What was different today was that I really felt that this was a great business that I could add value to.

With most funding applications you don’t get great feedback on why you’re unsuccessful. When the negative email came through there was an invitation to explore why we weren’t proceeding with the plan as discussed.

The discussion brought an important point home, you need to constantly evaluate every message across every medium to make sure it’s effective and conveying what you think it is. I’ve been working on building the QuickMark service, taking on new Researchers and more clients. I’m actively seeking ways to grow and build the service as a sustainable offering outside the funding that has provided stability so far. In doing this I’ve significantly refined the proposition, carefully positioning the service between the core activities that the Universities offer and those that are provided by commercial market research organisations.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t spent quite so much time on this blog evaluating what message I wanted it to convey. Originally it was a place to share thoughts, talk about events I’d attended and give jbsh LLP a presence on the web. This has all be augmented by LinkedIn, Facebook, MyBlogLog, Twitter, etc. Since that launch (almost exactly a year ago) the message that this blog is being used to convey has changed. Sam is using it to promote, explain and disseminate her research, and I was using it to build confidence with potential clients to trust their businesses to my advice and guidance. This last bit hasn’t worked, because I haven’t developed the blog, I’ve just used it to a different purpose (one it wasn’t designed for).

The other messages are still important, so we won’t undergo a complete redesign, but there will be some changes. Most critically I’ll be putting more references to existing jbsh clients and stories from businesses I’ve helped in the past.

It’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most adaptable and appropriate to the environment.

[Note on the photo: I grew up in Gibraltar and have fond memories of walking across the runway to catch planes to ‘exotic’ locations like Southend where my Grandad lived. My first thought was say something about stopping and re-evaluating, hence the flickr search for stop signs. Searches for failure weren’t as nice so I’m sticking with the image.]