New Horizons …

My three amazing years at NoTosh are drawing to a close.

At the end of July, I’ll sign off my tenure with a flight back to London from Johannesburg. The prospect of raising a toast to the NoTosh team at 35,000 feet after a week working with educators in South Africa seems a fitting finale. A final ten hours to reflect on wonderful camaraderie, expanded horizons and lasting memories of learning adventures.

  The working journey that began at Stirling Castle, has taken in a wide range of schools and universities from Northampton to Tokyo, the United Nations, luxury fashion brands and global technology companies. This variety forms the beauty of the world of NoTosh. The creative collision between business, enterprise and education tends to make a big bang … and lasting impact.

It has been a genuine privilege to collaborate with NoTosh colleagues and clients in turning creative strategy and ideas into practical outcomes and sustainable realities. Working with smart, creative people like Ewan, Tom and Hamish has proved both personally formative and inspiring. I will definitely miss the larks, laughs and conversations.

NoTosh dares us all to design brighter learning futures. That compelling vision continues to drive the lovely and talented NoTosh team. For me, it has made getting out of bed over the last three years very easy indeed – except for those very early planes, trains and automobiles …

No less of a challenge will be my new role at Apple managing the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) community across a region encompassing Europe, Middle East, India and Africa. Encouraged and equipped by my experience and learning at NoTosh, I feel ready and able to embrace new horizons. Onwards!

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Six Class Blogging Tips …

superheroesI was reminded the other day of my class blogging tips that formed initial advice on the auto-generated, default first post on hundreds of class blogs. Here is a flavour of the list.

  •  Make sure your first post is an engaging one. Start as you mean to go on. Craft titles and headlines.
  • Ask your students what they think of a new blog and what they would like to see and do on it. Act on their recommendations.
  • Put students in the driving seat.
  • Make sure that the blog demonstrates how much you personally love learning. Your example will be powerful.
  • Consider your students the primary audience for the class blog. Amplify and celebrate their achievements. Challenge and provoke them to action.
  • Use hyperlinks to connect students with ideas and engaging content from peers, experts, and local and global communities.
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Silent Milestones

kidsEach of my three children acted as toddling alarm clocks in their early days.

Clambering into our bed at some ungodly hour of the morning, they would demand larks, food and general attention. My response was regularly characterised by sleepy grumpiness, comatose parenting on autopilot and futile attempts at playing ‘Sleeping Bunnies.’

A complex negotiation with my wife invariably ensued about whose turn it was to play the early morning entertainer. The morning would break in this way with pinpoint consistency for several years. We moaned about it but actually loved this point of contact early every day – in hindsight at least.

By the time we realised that this early morning ritual had stopped happening, it was too late. We could not put an exact date on the last time that our children woke us like that. Had we known, that it was going to be the last time, we would have marked the occasion with a celebration, something special. However, this was a silent milestone, unannounced and only missed in retrospect.

Life and learning is full of silent milestones. We meander along our fast-flowing river of plans, activities and deadlines. We constantly delay gratification of our goal to live more in the moment with those that really matter. We long for the future yet fail to enjoy the succession of present moments that forms its backdrop. We are exhorted to ‘seize the day’ in a flurry of activity, action and temporal blindness. Rather less seizure, and a lot more seeing during each day is the real daily milestone worth celebrating.

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A Little Less Inspiration. A Little More Action …

The list was endless ;-)In 1991, Bryan Adams spent sixteen consecutive weeks at the top of the UK music charts with, ‘Everything I Do, I Do It for You’. On first hearing the single, I quite enjoyed it. Fast forward sixteen weeks. Each subsequent rendition of the track felt as though Bryan was doing everything to waterboard my senses. Its drowning ubiquity had altered my perception and experience of the song forever.

A similar fate has befallen the lyrics of other great and good personalities. A perpetual river of inspiration and motivation carves its way through the social media landscape in the form of quotes, ripped from their original context, and pasted on to zen-like backdrops of cascading waterfalls.

Designed to brighten our days, the motivational or inspirational quote has become ubiquitous, and divorced from any original sense-making setting. It saturates the mind like a fist full of Italian lira. Feels good but is no longer of actual value in making anything actually happen. The motivational quote rarely inspires to action. Indeed, it is serves only to feed our tendency towards confirmation bias and tunnel vision.

Motivational quotes thrive on the hope of thinking ourselves into action. My reality is that, in the noisy world of information overload and desensitising media saturation, I need to be provoked to act myself into a new ways of thinking. The vast majority of inspirational quotes simply  ricochet around the walls of my existing echo chambers. Effective provocation reminds me that there is life and action beyond them.

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Working Titles …

Exit Stage Left ...

Tom Rees and I have been writing a book for the last five years. Or rather … we have been talking about writing a book for the last five years. Thinking is not the same as actual writing. Of that we are aware. We are not that delusional.

We have also actually been doing real stuff in parallel to our collaborative procrastination and deliberations. And that is the problem. Real life often gets in the way of a vanity project like writing a book.

Nevertheless, I think we are still on track to publish a working prototype with a sustained combined effort of twenty four writing hours. Time constraints are effective motivators. For me, a really purposeful deadline remains just about the only thing that focuses my mind with any consistency.

To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.
Leonard Bernstein 

The small matter remains of narrowing down our whims, musings and experiences into a common focus. We have a a smattering of expertise, coupled with lots to say on many subjects, most of which has been articulated before by experts far more eloquent and influential than ourselves. That does not stop most wannabe authors and I see no reason why it should stop us.

Our theme is likely to meander around leadership vision, strategy and creative action. It will be highly likely to include our experiences of developing grassroots networks as well as a healthy dollop of thinking around the potential role of technology in making learning better.

The tone of what we produce will be ever so slightly irreverent and tongue-in-cheek. There is so much seriousness and hot air in the world of education. We will probably not avoid creating more of the latter but we will offer insight into some of our ongoing muppetry. That accumulation of failures is core to whatever we have learned, and should hopefully lighten the mood.

All that remains, is to actually make a start on this writing. This is my first contribution. A creative guru once advised me to launch every project before you are ready. I have just taken this approach one step further by launching a prototype before even starting. At least the essence is out of my head now. Over to you, Mr Rees …

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Think Global. Act Local.

Tom Barrett’s idea of #28daysofwriting has captured the imagination of over hundred educators from around the globe. One hundred educators are in the process of sparking, rekindling and establishing a habitual blogging mojo. The range of writing is impressive, as is the collegiate determination to encourage, inspire and inform through regular reflection and celebration. This hashtag collective is a laudable and exciting initiative.

ThinkGlobalActLocalTom is also right to look forward and wonder what might happen after the 28 days are over. After all, participants are already one quarter of the way through the challenge. Should the goal be to replicate and expand this fledgling writing community to reach interested folks in further flung corners of the educational world? The internet is a simple and satisfying medium for connecting such a rich and diverse tapestry of minds under common hashtags and purposeful activity. The options are plentiful, the thresholds for participation low, and the gratification almost instant – certainly compared to the general pace of change in many educational environments. It seems, therefore, a no-brainer to simply focus on enlarging such virtual  islands of excellence.

However, that should not be the end of the story. The challenge (and responsibility) is not simply to grow hashtag islands of dispersed-yet-connected educators and their ideas. Each participating individual is potentially a catalytic node in a local network. Distilling the learnings, knowledge sharing techniques and reflections from individuals’ ‘island’ experience of projects such as #28daysofwriting is an important first step in assessing how they might have impact at the local level. Taking resulting principles, customising and translating them into common practice across schools, communities and with colleagues who might be more reticent to write, reflect and share, nearly always presents a formidable challenge. It is sometimes the reason why folks so enjoy like-minded connection with others across the world. The island of ‘virtual’ connection is more pleasant and more effective than trying to ‘change the way things have always been done around here.’

I believe, however, that a connected and supportive bunch of over a hundred resilient, reflective writers could (and probably should) make a dent in the universe. Thinking (and linking) globally and acting locally is the key to making it happen – starting on Day 29 …

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Humblebragging – I’m Kind of a Big Deal …

The humblebrag combines  a modicum of self-awareness with an inability to suppress the urge to show off about something. Where an outright boast might jar an audience’s sensibility, it is probably best avoided if one is not to be viewed as a self-congratulatory gasconader. However, couching swagger in terms of self-deprecation conveys the impression of being nonplussed by the attention, while simultaneously being able to knock out a tune on one’s own trumpet. That is the beauty of the humblebrag.

Humble-bragging  is, like story-topping, a craft that rests on a medium to high threshold for embarrassment. On Twitter the @humblebrag account retweets some delightful exemplar material, enough to fill and inform a book on the subject. ‘Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty’ by Harris Wittels is either a handbook for success or a cautionary tale, depending on one’s propensity for veiled boasting. Will Dean’s article, ‘Nobody likes a show off: The excruciating rise of the ‘humblebrag‘ also provides a welcome and amusing overview of the opportunities and potential pitfalls of such an approach to life and social media.

My own experience of humble-bragging? I’m still a novice, I’m afraid. Despite my best efforts, I regularly make the rookie’s mistake of exaggerating a boast – Kanye West stylee – and forgetting the crucial element of false humility. Alternatively, I simply disguise the boast in so much false humility that the bragging rights are effectively lost in a fog of Britishness. But I am trying …

I often reflect on these issues from the comfort of the executive lounge at airports around the world. The champagne always tastes awful there anyway. What else is one to do?

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Marriage, Consultancy & the Cutting Room Floor

When the well-off and the well-known retrace their path to success for the benefit of people seeking to follow their lead, the accounts tend to be coloured by ‘survivorship bias’ – they simply don’t reckon with the examples of thousands of other people who followed a similar route and ended up nowhere. In hindsight success can look like a repeatable formula and a series of canny decisions.

HusbandTim Dowling’s ‘How to be a Husband’ is an honest and humorous reflection on his experiences within the realities and nitty-gritty of marriage and family life. It is far from the traditional ‘self-help’ genre but his brutally-honest assessments of his own frailties and how they worked out in action make it a really helpful read.

My successful marriage is built of mistakes. It may be founded on love, trust and a shared sense of purpose, but it runs on a steady diet of cowardice, impatience, ill-advised remarks and low cunning. But also: apologies, belated expressions of gratitude and frequent appeals for calm. Every day is a lesson in what I am doing wrong. Looking back over the course of twenty years it’s obvious the only really smart thing I did was choose the right person in the first place, and I’m not certain I did that on purpose.

I chuckled my way through each chapter with an uncanny sense that most of the reflection could easily apply to my own mediocrity in this whole realm over the last twenty years. I am, nevertheless, inspired as well as better informed about my own muppetry. I resolve to pull up my socks and do another twenty years  – but better this time 😉

The real beauty of Dowling’s reflections are that they offer insight into the process of success as an accumulation of failures, adding balanced insight to the survivorship bias that is conveniently neglected in most recipes for success. I would love to see this approach more prevalent in the keynotes, case studies and in the general tone of consultancy culture. We talk often about the importance of failure for learning but give only selective access into our actual accumulation of failed thought processes, wild goose chases and simple poor decisions.

cutting roomThe more savvy presenters will include an engaging, empathic soupçon of failure, heavily disguised under the auspices of a successful outcome. However, final post-production edits of most success stories concentrate on distilling replicable formulas from the ‘canny’ decisions that brought about success. That narrative is much easier to sell than the statistical reality of the three factors that determine the outcomes of decisions: how you think about the problem, your actions, and luck.

Michael Mauboussin in  ‘Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counter-intuition’ asks a key question.

… should you evaluate the quality of your decision based on the process that you make the decision or by its outcome?

The intuitive way of thinking is to concentrate on the concrete and objective nature of outcomes. That approach is the currency of decision makers the world over, who evaluate a favourable outcome as automatic evidence of an effective process. According to Mauboussin, this is a bad habit that closes a world of insight into decision making.

When evaluating other people’s decisions, you are again better served by looking at their decision-making process rather than the outcome. There are plenty of people who succeed largely by chance.

The cumulative outcome of decisions – particularly in the world of slick marketing and ‘celebrity’ consultancy success ‘recipes’ – should really only be half the story. The unseen footage that documents the successful accumulation of failures – warts and all – is far more interesting, inspiring and ultimately useful for others in the same boat. Let’s feel free to showcase our latest triumph but let’s also narrate our work for others to see what did not make the final cut and why it ended on up on the cutting room floor.

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Show talent where the ladder is …

Show talent where the ladder is ...

Show talent where the ladder is …


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Down with the Burger!

Technical issues? A show-stopping whopper ...

Weight-watching King Angus

declared war on flame-grilled patties

of dubious origin

and calorific extreme.

A flab-busting Royale assault

on the nation’s whopper waistline.

Down with the burger!

Long live the king!

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