Friday, December 9, 2011

Musings on Creativity

I thought that I would write a blog post this week for #FF rather than the usual obligatory visual media.

The main theme of the creative #FF idea was to try out different creative ways to send out a #FF message. Therefore each week I find myself trying to think of different ways to do a #FF message, I seldom have a problem inventing wild and outlandish ways to do this, but am soon brought down to earth with a resounding thump as I acknowledge the limited time I actually have to do anything.

This is one of the problems with creativity, it has to be imagination put into action and we seldom allow ourselves the time to a) have the space for imagination or b) have the time to actually do anything about it. So we fall into a formulaic "what already works" mindset, I fell into this trap with the success of the Star Wars video, it's a simple tool called Jib Jab to make them and thus very easy for me to do it - people liked it, therefore more of the same. Television falls into this trap all the time hence the constant TV format derivatives you see on the screen all the time. Hollywood is in this trap at the moment with re-makes, simply re-package what has gone before.

We make the same mistake in education too, we keep re-packaging and re-formatting a model from an era that has transpired and we need an overhaul. The danger is due to a severe lack of nurturing creativity in education for some time now we've disconnected with how to do it and confused the concept with artistry too much ie To be creative, one must be an artist.

I think I was probably born with an overactive imagination, because as long as I can remember I have been a consistent daydreamer looking for outlets to turn these thoughts and ideas into something, one of my earliest memories of school is taking an old wind-up 8mm film camera to school and in playtime getting my peers (I was about 6) to act an entire film under my direction with the camera (which had no film in it I hasten to add) over an entire week (an eternity as a child), it was an epic and I'm not sure how I managed expectations as these child actors then awaited the world premiere which could only ever be screened in my head. Throughout school I never harnessed a way to turn this imagination into creativity, ie applied to output. As I recall it was often frowned upon. My staging of a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as a gothic fairytale that Tim Burton would have been proud of (yes with a full fairy battle led by Puck, played by large female goth) did not meet with favour from my purist English teacher (I was 15 then) or my Hamlet as Wall Street boardroom (when I was 16).

In fact as I went through education, I tried all manner of ways to output this imagination - photography, science, drama, drawing, writing and the further I went through education, the following equation came true:

It wasn't until I went to University I finally learnt (and it was encouraged) the frameworks of how to turn imagination into creativity and had to undo all the trappings of prior education to absorb this.

With this in mind, I reflect on the idea that I often hear from lawyers about "how they are not creative" and think back to the UCL debate recently on the future of legal education. I found the debate interesting in the fact their was much debate over "what" should be taught or educated, rather than "how". The moment I found most interesting was when Prof. Philippe Sands stated he "regretted studying law" because it narrowed the mind and in itself legal education could not encourage divergent thought. This I believe probably says more about his education rather (and indeed maybe the problem with current legal education) than the possibilities for creativity in legal education.

As W.B Yeats said "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the igniting of a fire", we should be looking at creative ways to ignite that fire, rather than filling the pail with information and knowledge for our future lawyers and society at large for public legal education.

Whilst not a lawyer myself, I believe law is a creative arena, in fact it is one of the key frameworks in society that can enable it, turning imagination into something that can grow, evolve, expand etc. Lawyers have to be creative in how they run their industry, how they engage with clients and how they resolve disputes amongst many other areas.

The image of law and all of it's permutations often has a perception problem for the uninitiated as rather old fashioned and reserved, it's a perception that many in the industry perpetuate by self harming statements about their lack of creativity or conservatism. It also translates in the way we educate and teach the law often, as if it is a dry subject or historical rather than a living breathing amazing power. I think we need to start thinking more creatively about how we educate and need to start thinking about enabling more creativity and divergent thought in our students about how to evolve the legal industry in an ever complex world.

Sometimes I meet people who say "Jon, you come from the entertainment business, education should not be entertaining - it should be hard"

I simply point them to Marshall McLuhan's words painted across my office wall:

"Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn't know the first thing about either"

So please take some time out to listen to Sir Ken Robinson's passionate speech about the importance of creativity in education and think about how we as an industry and as educators can embed creativity into our futures.

As for future #FF creative posts, I'm going to take away the pressure of trying to find a method each week, but do it when the right mood and idea takes me so as to avoid a formulaic approach.

Until then the show goes on.....

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Twitter #FF Experiment

I was starting to find Twitter a bit stale and a certain level of back biting and status anxiety about followers/ Klout etc was creeping into my stream at a steady pace. I wanted to bring some fun back to Twitter and #FF seemed a great place to start. I've always liked the idea of #FF in theory, in practice it's a bit of a burden and too backslapping. It felt insincere and I was always likely to miss someone. So I thought I would throw caution to wind and set out to try and do something a bit different each week and create a little uplift and smile at the end of the week. It's also a test in engagement, the stats were quite interesting in terms of retweets and views of videos.

It all started on a beach in Norway, with a few simple sketches in the sand:

#FF 1 "Life's A Beach"

it raised a smile and some nice comments, so it seemed logical to continue. This time it was a little more animated:

#FF 2 "Post It"

With each week a sense of community and positive feedback ensued so it felt ripe to go epic, and therefore go with an epic trilogy:

#FF 3 "May the #FF Be With You"

This really took off and spread quickly with some lovely comments in response, the experiment was working - turning #FF into more than just an online backslapping competition. Though the pressure was then on for the following week, so I kept with the film theme:

#FF 4 "Mash Up Galore"
Some well known films re-imagined with legal tweeters

The Latex
Night of the Dead
Unnecessary Force

So after this mammoth week, I wanted to go to something a bit more basic, so went back to photos:

#FF 5 "Cereal Thought"

I then tried an approach with a Livescribe pen that had lots of problems with and probably the weakest, but I like the lo-fi element of it...

FF 6 "Pencast"
This was an experiment with a magic Livescribe pen.

New Thing
brought to you by Livescribe

With the purchase of a new vid camera, I thought I would return to video again for the next episode, would also allow me room for getting in a few more names...

#FF 7 "Drive FF"

The latest episode was easily inspired by Halloween...

#FF 8 "Halloween Mixes"

Halloween Rap:

and two other Halloween themes:

Math Camp Massacre
Monster Mash

#FF 9 "Where is My Mind"
Some snapshots of things I had been doing:

Where is My Mind? from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF10 "Ramblings of an Insomniac"
Clips from a low budget series I had made

Ramblings of an Insomniac #FF from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF11 "Xmas in Hollis"
A little xmas cheer

#FollowXmas from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF12 "Xmas Tidings"
Some JibJab Creations for the festive period.

A Christmas Carol
It's a Jib Jab Life
Hard Rockin' Holidays
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
Comin' To Town
Winter Wonderland
Tree Slaughter

#FF13 "Cheers"
Wanted to highlight that Twitter is a place of friendship as much as trolls.

Cheers #FF from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF14 "Cuba"
Because I went to Cuba.

FF Cuba from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF15 "Legal Walk"
Highlights of the London Legal Walk 2012.
#FF Legal Walk from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF16 "Twitter Karaoke"
Wanted to see if I could get a bunch of tweeters to tweet song lyrics they didn't know and trust me.

Twitter Karaoke from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF17 "Olympics"
My own little way to celebrate the London Olympics 2012.

#FF Olympics from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF18 "Closing Ceremony"
I didn't want the upsurge of the Olympics spirit to ignore that we are actually failing future generations.

FF Closing Ceremony from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF19 "Clegg and Cameron"
This was to really highlight that Nick Clegg is a convenient fall guy for Cameron. Someone he uses.

Clegg and Cameron from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF20 "Norway"
One year of #FF videos etc, culminated in returning back to where it all began - a beach in Norway.

FF Norway from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF21 "Subliminal Film"
Some film clips with subliminal messages

FF CharonQC from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF BHamiltonBruce from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF _Millymoo from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF LegalTwo from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF PaulBernalUK from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF Sobukira from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF RichardMoorhead from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF AnyaPalmer from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF SteveKuncewicz from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF @lifeincustody from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF PrincessofVP from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF MissMollyPops from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

FF @JoannaMG22 from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

#FF22 "Halloween 2"

The Time Warp
Skeleton Dance

#FF23 "Tweet Ups"

FF New Year - An Ode to Tweetups from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

and that's it so far, I enjoy finding new ways to do it and will be scratching head for future one's. There is no set time frame for the duration of the experiment, I shall keep doing it whilst it feels like it is achieving what it sets out, to bring a smile and to liven up a Twitter tradition.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I'm going to regret writing this. A quick scan of both Twitter and Facebook tells me that my finger is so not on the pulse of public opinion, but I'm a sucker like that. So here goes.

My heart is genuinely bleeding at the vitriol being spread across the networks I view, "they" "them" "scum" "rats" "chavs". How quickly we disassociate through language; our collective responsibility for our society, these misguided youths and people are our people, our youth, they are our creation and our problem. Name calling and Daily Mail headline statements does not help or assist the situation, neither does calling for the return of corporal punishment, national service or hanging. These are knee jerk platitudes, pointless pontificating and as mindless as the rioting.

I don't condone violence of any ilk, the scenes rolling out across London are horrific and senseless, but let's as a generally educated society try to reflect and understand the causes rather than pick over the symptoms. I've walked in the shoes of the disaffected and dispossessed, I see how easy it is to throw everything to the wind because there is no hope, no future, no community. I've also walked in the shoes of the priviledged and had my property vandalised, my person intimidated, my loved ones terrorised. How easy it would have been to dismiss with inflected language, to take a moral high ground. My heart won't let me though.

I know I will be dismissed as a "hug a hoodie" bleeding heart liberal, as stated before, labels mean little to me. I have to believe that we will rise above the brinkmanship of disdain and hatred for one another, that we can find common ground, that we can reclaim community.

Read the insightful words of Camila Batmanghelidjh

Listen to people like Darcus Howe and a brilliantly outspoken local Dalston resident Pauline Pearce

Look at the pattern of riots across London alongside levels of deprivation

I prepare to be shot down, I'll even get my coat and stand out in the cold of public opinion, it's a price worth paying for continued hope in a future for compassion and humanity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Norway - I din mørkeste time skinne deg den lyseste

I’m still reeling from the atrocities this weekend in Norway, it is a country that I am very familiar with and which has a strong place in my heart. It is a country that has made me incredibly welcome and opened my eyes to the possibilities of an intelligent and inclusive society. This is what makes the events of the weekend so hard to comprehend at first glance.

I have been with my Norwegian wife for 13 years and visited Norway multiple times, I consider it my second home, so by default I feel the national sorrow side by side, I know how deeply this atrocity will affect a country that is so collective socially and so family focussed. I know that the children on Utoya will have been representatives from every small community across Norway. Every single community will have lost a bright burning star of hope and the future. This is what makes this tragedy so profound for me. Looking at the local paper from our Norwegian community and seeing the faces of young people who have both survived and died at Utoya makes me realise that there are few degrees of separation to this tragedy for any Norwegians.

When the reports first rolled out across the news about the Oslo bombing it was hard for myself and my wife to reconcile why anyone would bomb Oslo, whilst people speculated about Al Qaeda and all manner of international terrorism, it didn’t ring true to us. Whilst there was the long history of unease with refugee Mullah Krekar, it seemed unlikely to be connected and with Norway’s pro Palestinian stance it just didn’t feel right that this was in retribution for anything in particular. Also coupled with happening on a Friday afternoon and during the national holiday period – this did not fit correctly with the usual media orchestration of a major terrorist attack. I held back from commenting about this on Twitter, I prefer not to speculate in absence of any facts (unlike most of the mainstream media) as explained by Charlie Brooker in his Guardian article.

I hoped that it had no connection to Islamist terror due to how precarious Scandinavia is right now with anti multi-culturalism and Islamophobia, I feared such an event could tip Norway closer to how Sweden and Denmark are dealing with multi culturalism, something they have resisted well. As I watched the news from Utoya gradually emerge I felt that this was more likely to be a character more in the vein of Varg Vikernes than international terrorism, a deranged individual seeking to justify their actions through some disjointed ideology attributable to a right wing point of view.

Before speculating too much about the deranged killer, I wanted to reflect on how strikingly different the socio cultural response from Norway was in this tragedy, something many have commented upon, summed up best by a German newspaper:

"Even in their deepest sorrow, the Norwegians don't get hysterical. They resist the hate. It is amazing to see how politicians and the whole country reacts. They are sad to the deepest thread of their souls. They cry in dignity. But nobody swears to take revenge. Instead they want even more humanity and democracy. That is one of the most remarkable strengths of that little country."

I have always been in awe of Norwegian culture, it’s honesty, it’s integrity and its sheer intelligent maturity on so many things. It is an approach I wish I could see in our culture more, I feel more at home in Norway than I do in Britain right now. Could you imagine our politicians responding with integrity like these statements: Prime Minister Stoltenberg Initial Statement and at Oslo Cathedral.
The key statements echo and resonate for me:

“the answer to violence is even more democracy. Even more humanity.”
“If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create.”

That one man was just that, one man. A man who does not deserve to be named, written about or debated – it feeds him. As Dr Park Dietz points out here:

We should not fuel the media saturation for good reason. Much will be said about links and causal attributes in a bid to understand this, I would hazard a guess he is a classic narcissist and his ranting about conspiracy and the right wing drove him to it are about the same as David Berkowitz blaming his neighbour’s dog for his killing spree. The words of Fabian Stang, Oslo’s mayor ring very true:

“We are going to punish him with democracy and love.”

It will take a long time for the wounds to heal, but Norway is in a healthy state to do this, they have the emotional maturity and dignity to grow from this, the fallen at Utoya and those in the Oslo blast will not be forgotten, their memory will not be wasted.

In closing, the words of Norwegian poet Nordahl Grieg seem fitting in memoriam.

Our Youth

Enemies near and by,
threatening your right!
Under a storm of blood -
You have to fight!

Might you then ask in fear,
unarmed and open:
how shall I combat them,
what is my weapon?

Here is your shelter strong,
here is your sword:
faith in mankind,
and in everyone's worth.

For all the future holds,
seek this and tend it.
Die, if you have to, but:
deepen, extend it!

Silent the bullets glide
all through the night.
Use all your strength and love,
stop deadly flight!

War is contempt for life.
Peace is creating.
Add forces to the strife:
death shall be beaten!

Love - and enrich with dreams -
greatness of old!
Challenge unknown terrain -
truth will be told.

Works not yet being built,
stars never seen -
reveal them through rescued lives,
able and keen!

Noble is everyone,
earth, rich and sweet!
Hunger and suffering,
caused by deceit.

Crush it! In life's own name
injustice shall fall.
Light, bread and love and hope,
birth right of all.

Forcing all weapons down,
warfare shall cease!
Shielding man's dignity
creating true peace.

Who by his right hand's side
carries a burden,
precious and dear to him,
can never murder.

This is our promise,
from kin to kin:
cherish our fragile Earth,
it's ours to win.

We will protect and keep
beauty and grace -
as if we held a child
in tender embrace!

This is the playlist of music that helped me write this post:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Murdoch - The Last Frontier or The Next Frontier?

Stepping back from the hacking scandal and the detail that must now obviously be sifted through, I try to wonder about the tactic of the Murdoch empire in dropping the toxic News of the World so quickly, there is the obvious desire to complete the BSkyB deal as a paramount concern, but are we starting to see a change in direction for News Corp for the long term as media disintermediates across the spectrum? Ditching a print medium in this long term view is merely small change and may have been on the cards in the medium term anyway, recent events would have just made it more expedient. Thinking about this made me go back to a speech Murdoch gave in Paris in May this year to the eG8 Forum. The speech was titled Education: The Last Frontier.

In the speech Rupert Murdoch outlines a compelling truth about how education is lagging behind in the use of technology to engage and facilitate learning and he sets out compelling evidence that any learning technologist would firmly agree with, but before we commend him too highly on this noble outspoken and passionate speech (apologies for evident cynicism) – what lies behind it?
His opening statement that “we are living through a time when many of our leading economies are not performing as they should” maybe the key indicator to his mindset, he knows that News Corp will need to diversify their businesses away from mainstream media over the next couple of decades.
He continues, “everywhere we turn, digital advances are making workers more productive - creating jobs that did not exist only a few years ago, and liberating us from the old tyrannies of time and distance. This is true in every area except one: Education”. Like countless other publishers News Corp knows the education market is being set up for ripe exploitation across the globe.

He preceded this speech by making strong forays into the educational market at the end of last year, firstly by acquiring Joel Klein, the chancellor of New York city’s public schools, the same man who is now heading the internal News International investigation in the UK, he is Executive Vice President overseeing investments in digital learning companies with a News Corp education division and a $2 million salary. A few weeks after Klein joined News Corp they then acquired Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn based education technology company, for $360 million, with News Corp owning a 90% stake. Prior to this takeover News Corp had told the New York Times they planned to make “seed investments” in entrepreneurial education companies, it is likely that Wireless Generation is the first of these investments. Spokeswoman Andrea Reibel stated that “Wireless Generation is positioned to grow aggressively, and it was the right time in the company’s journey to find a home where it will have access to the resources it needs to fuel that aggressive growth”.

Rupert Murdoch stated “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone” about the acquisition. Murdoch is not stupid, he would have seen the success of other large publishers entering into the education sector and firmly set his eyes on the same prize as he concludes in his eG8 speech “Right now, these are just bits and pieces. Our challenge is to learn from what works best - wherever in the world we find it - and put it all together. My company is determined to try - in a big way”. Is this Murdoch's next frontier?

The landscape in education is shifting dramatically and quickly, particularly in the learning technology sector.
We have recently seen the acquisition of the large global learning technology provider Blackboard(the provider of VLE’s for a large proportion of global education) by “affiliates of Providence Equity Partners” for $1.64 billion. Providence Equity is an investment banker; naturally for investment banking, the firm’s goal is profit. To maintain Blackboard’s stock price at Oracle price-earnings ratio of 20—equivalent to an annual 5% return on investment (ROI)—earnings would need to increase from 2010’s $16.6 million to $74.9 million. That is, net revenue increases and cost reductions of at least $58.3 million are needed to be comparable with other public software companies. The average annual ROI of private equity firms for buyouts is 19.6%, though they may accept a less aggressive figure for one or two years. Assuming a market capitalization of $ 1.5 billion, earnings would need to be $292 million. This is $271 million more than current projections for 2011. To meet their expectations software prices would need to increase 52.3%. This could well impact increased licensing costs and maintenance costs for thousands of schools and HE organizations.

Additionally we know that for profit educational establishments owned by large corporations in the US are not without their own scandals as last year’s US Senate Hearings and undercover investigation by The U.S. General Accountability Office into practices at 15 for-profit colleges showed.

Whilst this activity has predominantly been in the US, the global marketplace for the publishing/ information businesses extension of their offerings into education is rapidly growing and as the global outsourcing sector develops into rapidly developing economies (RDE’s) such as India, China and Brazil as their populations are growing and professionalising at a fast rate. Those publishers with their combined resources and global reach will squeeze orthodox education and training providers and gradually start to make headway into buying their way in to the marketplace. It is safe to say that the squeeze has already started with the HE White Paper in the UK that had it’s way paved by the report law firm Eversheds provided to David Willetts back in 2010 and was commissioned by private education provider BPP, owned by Apollo Group.

I am not against the injection of private investment within the education sector or private providers of education (I work for one), but I am cautious of large corporations manipulation of education as a market and where it may lead based on the history of the profit motive that drives large corporations and the inevitable risks that start to occur over time. We’ve seen it with the property markets, the banking markets and even more recently with the media in the guise of the News International scandal.

I’m mindful of what Richard Hall outlined in his post,

“Higher education is explicitly a commodity now. It is explicitly open to market forces and for-profiteering. This exposes it to risk, hedging, venture capitalism, and the treadmill of competition. This means that all of the social relationships we develop and nurture within higher education are subject to the rule of money. There is no outside this exchange mechanism that frames how we relate, as Capital turns back in on what it terms ‘the developed world’, in order to accumulate [our mutual futures] by dispossession through debt-driven consumption.”

We need to keep a watchful eye on the corporations that do enter this market and how they operate in their other fields of business, what is their operating ethos and ethics? Something we are all asking about News Corp this week and as they marketise our education, we must educate their markets.

And just in case we ever need reminding of News Corps ethos and ethics:

Friday, July 8, 2011

End of the World?

As I sit and reflect on the stunning revelations, actions and developments of the News International story I think it’s important to try and step back and think about the wider picture. There will inevitably be countless more facts, e-mails, twists and turns in this story because of the nature of the history of it. It is a complex web of a culture that has pervaded our wider society for a long time.

I have always been uncomfortable with the nature of tabloid investigation and sensationalism, I have witnessed it from the sidelines numerous times, a bizarre symbiotic relationship between news media, politics and entertainment.

As a naive entrant into the world of media I believed in the strong tenets of noble journalism, I believed that it was all in the realms of Woodward and Bernstein, a somewhat romantic rose tinted view of the industry. This continued in my training in broadcasting having been taught by excellent broadcast journalists such as Peter O’Kill and Sue Roberts, it was an arena that I wanted to pursue.

But then I saw a side of myself that I didn’t like in a news simulation training exercise where we performed the duties of journalists in a major catastrophe. The simulation was to cover a fake disaster and cover the story from a hospital. It was mainly a training exercise to aide the hospital management in how to cope with a major news story whilst also dealing with a mass of wounded people. It was a full simulation with actors and make-up, us with cameras and sat trucks etc playing our part. We felt the pressure to get the story, and I realised that you soon will do anything to achieve your goal when under that level of pressure. We applied subterfuge, lies, coercion and all manner of tricks to get the story – the “victims” were mere pieces in the game and we forgot about the humanity and I recall it scaring me, I looked into the abyss and it certainly looked back at me. It was a strange experience and I wasn’t entirely comfortable.

A year later I was making a documentary in the midst of the 1997 election campaign about a political outsider running a campaign in the provinces, whilst doing this I constantly came into contact with journalists of all ilks from tabloid to broadcast, I was going for an observational feel rather than investigative so I observed the different journalists that buzzed around the candidate like flies at a barbeque, what struck me was the arrogance and mightier than thou attitude of a high volume of them, it never felt like they were drawing a story out, they had a narrative that they needed to substantiate come what may. I also felt the sting of the media manipulators that handle the candidates too, the other side of the relationship so to speak. Having inadvertently caught something on camera that suddenly became news worthy, so I also understand what it is like to be heavily leant on by the handlers, the whole thing put me off politics and news journalism. I wrote in my journal at the time that this strange relationship would corrupt the inner workings of the political media set if it continued. I was not remotely surprised by the whole Kelly affair, nor am I surprised by the News of the World affair – it was all self evident for me as an observer at that time and I tried to move away from it.

However, it was hard to get away from, shortly after I did a stint at a low rent cable channel that just happened to be owned by a tabloid newspaper, this is where I saw the more typical traits of tabloid journalism being applied to “factual entertainment”, working with ex newspaper hacks to make “documentaries” in the style of tabloid news stories, I recall one title was "Is Glenn Hoddle Mad?". I was sent to hound and door step people on stories of no real merit, they were mere salacious tittle tattle and my cameraman who was an ex-pap photographer may have been one of the most odious people I have ever worked with. He also didn’t seem to understand that constantly shouting out the rather clichéd rants that paps do to get a photo from celebs doesn’t really work when operating a video camera with sound, therefore luckily rendering some of the footage useless. I also got to see how an editor sets the narrative and then you are under pressure to merely find material to illustrate that narrative by whatever means, it’s an unpleasant feeling and I have sympathy for those that do it day in and day out, I also understand how this can lead to such events that are now unfolding if you forego integrity for income.

The last chapter in my experiential tale is then being an entertainment show producer and regularly doing the premieres and hotel press kits for a film show and standing side by side many paps and tabloid journos whilst waiting for little events to happen. I’ve seen the paps on the rocks outside the Hotel Du Cap with listening devices and telephoto lenses during Cannes desperately trying to get something other than just sunburnt. I’ve also seen the stars who will grab a girl in a wheelchair for a photo opportunity then push her away once the shot is taken or the PR person who will bully you into stopping an interview even against the subject’s will . What will always astound is the banter amongst these people, the arrogance and contempt they show not only for their subjects but their audience too, it is truly gods and monsters stuff. This has been the downfall of all media, politics and entertainment in my opinion, this bacteria ridden little microcosm of a culture that has fed off of itself, it’s spread through so many parts of our mainstream and you have to ask why?

As we sit on our high and mighty thrones to condemn all this wrongdoing can we really say we had no part in it? Why do we have an insatiable appetite for salacious stories? Surely we feed the beast with circulation numbers and audience figures? What is it about our society that so enjoys feeding on the banal and salacious gossip, that enjoys righteous indignation about others behaviour? Have we become a suburban cul-de-sac of curtain twitchers and over the fence gossipers?

We fed these machines, we bought the papers, we elected the MP’s, we riddled ourselves with debt. We played the game too and as we disintermediate some of these intermediaries in that process, will we actually change our society or will we actually continue to in our appetite by spreading gossip, xenophobia, tittle tattle etc via social networks or blogging and just continue – I fear we are there already as I see the online equivalents of the News of the World appear as groups and pages on Facebook, Blogs or cliques in Twitter.

It is good that a stranglehold of an inner circle is being broken within the media industry, it has been too pervasive for too long, but it is just the tip of the iceberg above the water in a cultural context.

I'll make a prediction that we will see the social media equivalent of this story within the next 10 years.

In the mean time, here are some old clips when I tried to allude to the absurdity of it all:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Market Education

Watching thousands of students take to the streets in protest over the rise in tuition fees and the ensuing riot by those that had a heightened sense of anger, the circling media circus and the commentary on Twitter and so forth fascinated me last year. All of it a palpable and heightened energy about education, or is it?

I query whether this is about education because the actual debate about education, university and more importantly learning is not really happening. The focus has so narrowly been on the cost of attending and accessing university and the consequential debt, we don’t seem to be actually analysing, debating and discussing the complexity of future education, it is rapidly becoming what Daniel Pink refers to as the "candle problem".

For over a decade we have been commoditising education into a market economy and changing the role of student from learner to consumer, we have brought such terms as “value for money” and “student/ consumer satisfaction” into the equation which has the natural conclusion of focussing on a tangible result, which is employability and certification. It’s education as “product” and has brought in a culture of “marketing that product” utilising all of the usual psychological tricks of marketing to create desire and aspiration, universities as “brands”, which is probably why all prospectuses look like holiday brochures or Gap adverts. Why did this happen?

It happened because there is a genuine need to increase participation with education and have a more educated workforce as the world has moved from an industrial age into a knowledge age, therefore more educational establishments were created to run more courses in the diverse knowledge range the world needs. The concept of “education as a market” is not that new, in fact the concept of the market as an effective mechanism for the “management” of the education sector dates back to the ideas of Milton Friedman (1962) and Friedrich von Hayek (1976), there has been a steady increase in reviews, research and policy development in this field ever since.

With the expansion of Higher Education institutions, it rapidly became unsustainable to publicly fund, this was known for some time and there have been conferences etc for venture capital investment in higher education long before deficit cuts, this is why large PLC’s bought private education providers with degree awarding powers for large sums of money. This is why reports on how private institutions can take over public universities and the necessary changes in the law have been submitted to politicians. The marketisation of education seed was planted a long time ago and now it’s coming to it’s logical conclusion, the cap on income has been lifted enough to make the market fully viable for exploitation.

All of this is a distraction though, because the discussion and narrative takes us away from the core issue of education and learning. This is true of all involved, principally students, who having been weaned on the outcomes of learning, ie grades or forms of assessment based on pre-determined outcomes, so called performance indicators, which conflict with the well established principles of “Goodhart’s Law” (Elton 2004) that “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”; as well as to the additional one of “playing games” – from students concentrating on the examined as opposed to the taught curriculum, via plagiarism and other forms of cheating, to tutors teaching to the test.

There is seldom an evaluation or self reflection on the learning process by the student, as meta-cognition principles tell us, we seldom know what we know and what we don’t know. The narrative needs to change and there needs to be a re-focus on learning and an increased understanding in being able to assess what institutions approach to learning is, rather than glossy prospectuses. I shall return to this point again in the future.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Balanced Society

Let me preclude this post with first off stating I am not an economist in any regard and thus cannot put my ideas through stringent analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, but that said neither is George Osborne and he successfully staked a claim to be the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, so what’s good for George is good for me.

I’ve listened to the debates and read the manifestoes ad nauseam and agree there is need for radical reform in the way we run the country financially, I also agree that the idea of Big Society is a compelling one. However, unless we have a time machine that can take us back to a golden age where we thought and acted as a society or community I can not see how we can pull the Big Society out of the hat with our current cultural system. Thatcher changed that with the entrepreneurial individual spirit set out in the eighties, the what’s in it for me culture that we still have the echoes of today. Labour compounded this with the let’s legislate and run everything for society so they are controlled to act fairly, rather than taking responsibility for our actions, this was based on a notion of game theory that people will work like markets. Both strategies have failed, so how do we get back to a way where we act for the advancement of society, rather than individually?

We cannot rely on some idea of altruistic sensibility, which seems to be the underpinning of the Big Society idea, anybody that has ever been on a PTA or governing body can tell you it never really works that way, most altruism is inevitably self-serving and therefore one has to query the effectiveness for the bigger picture. So with this in mind I’ve been giving it some thought, how do you incentivise and reward people to be a better society, to contribute more without having to re-educate the culture?
Tricky one, until I watched this great presentation on the economics of Facebook gaming from Jesse Schell. He latches on to something that is either deeply cynical or a different way of looking at things, a framework for incentivising good actions or what he calls "intrinsic motivation".
Now most of Jesse’s ideas rely upon a technological framework that isn’t there yet, but that doesn’t prevent us from trying out the ideas in other ways. Why not create tax credits that are like reward points for contributing and bettering society. The more you do, the more tax credits you accumulate.
If the tax credits amounts are aligned to a notional amount that the government saves in expenditure, then we’re gradually re-educating society through gaming/ incentivisation.
So, first thoughts are:
Devise annual health MOT, the fitter you are, the decrease in BMI etc, the less you use the NHS – the more tax credit you get.
If your children perform well at school, behave, conform etc, the points you accumulate and thus the more tax credit you receive.
Fuel consumption/ carbon footprint – the smaller the footprint/ less fuel consumption etc – more tax credits.
The volunteer work you do, ie charity, governance, PTA, youth work – tax credits.
If you have fair employment practices, show diversity, have sustainable energy policies and practices etc – tax credits.
You get the idea. There obviously has to be a framework to prove these things are happening and there has to be a balance so that there is a measure of fairness, but maybe if the haves were incentivised more to help the have nots rather than purely relying on altruistic ethics, maybe we could get the balance back.
I know that there is a naivete to these ideas, but I am sure with a bit more rigour there’s some mileage in it. I want to live in the big society (essentially christianity without the hocus pocus?), it’s how I live my life now – but I know there’s not enough of us to go round and we always inevitably get drawn back into the “what’s in it for me” rather than the long term benefits of “what’s in it for us”. I’m just looking for a middle ground that could get us moving in the right direction. Thoughts?

Here is the Jesse Schell talk that explains wider:

and here is a nice example of gaming for better behaviour:

Networking Tourettes

I hate networking, shakes me to the core at the very thought of it because of all the insincerity, bland chit chat, watching over the shoulder looking for the next person to talk to or the fact that so many conversations are more the other person waiting for their chance to talk again rather than any actual engagement or active listening. This rational fear comes from early years working in TV and Film and the incessant need to network and BS/KA everybody. If you’ve ever spent 5 mins in Soho House or The Groucho you will know what I mean, imagine the terror I had spending time at the Cannes Film Festival, you’ll never find a place as sycophantic as the Soho House yacht during the festival. After a number of years doing this “darling” stuff I developed networking tourettes, an involuntary response mechanism to luvviness that made me blurt out mildly amusing and often offensive retorts to actors, agents, producers et al, for instance when Harvey Weinstein’s “right hand man” introduced himself to me with that moniker, I asked how much he had to spend on lube per annum to keep himself busy. You can see why I quickly retreated from such a scene and why they were happy for me to do so.
So for someone that despises networking so much, why would I attend the “legal networking event of the year”? I did ask myself this question numerous times before RSVPing, and I think the reason is because it would be so different, how could it be insincere or shallow when you feel that you know so many of the attendees through prior social networking communication. I had been conversing with some of these people for a couple of years, though we had never met. This was going to be a reunion of sorts, not first time networking. The ability to jump into non surface level conversation was the appeal, to already know things about the people rather than spending chit chat getting a bio and rundown of their job. Social Networking had made Real Life Networking effective and efficient, like some six sigma process – hurray, how do we get more of this! All the fallacies of SN making people disconnected from real life were not in evidence last Wednesday night. Also made me reflect on all the courses that are out there on networking for lawyers, teaching people how to smile, have open body language etc...It’s not the people, it’s the events that are the problem – they don’t really foster connection or engagement (I exclude Netlaw Media from that criticism as I know this is something they put a lot of effort into to great success).
I don’t have photos and others have written better about the events of the night than I will attempt here, I will say that it was a pleasure to meet those I had conversed with for some time and those who were newer to me. Big thanks to @brianinkster and @lindacheunguk for organising and already looking forward to the next one.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

I'm standing in a bleached out studio with a hospital gurney in the corner, dressed in a Guantanamo style orange boiler suit. Right in front of me is Charlie Brooker barking interrogation at me whilst 2 cameras capture it all for posterity. How did I get here? What on earth am I doing? Questions that spark through my fear filled synapses as I hope this is all some kind of Kafkaesque nightmare and any minute I will awake from uneasy dream. But I don't, it's real, it's happening and I know why I am here. I'm here because I wanted to be afraid, to be challenged - to have that sweet and sour nervosa feeling in my stomach and step out of my comfort zone.

I wanted to shake myself up in a bid not to be complacent, to not settle into comfortable shoes. One of my mentors told me that if you don't feel a bit afraid in what you do everyday, you're doing something wrong. I'm a control freak and I had no control, it made me feel alive.

Why am I telling you this? Because it's important to embrace the fear of doing something different, it's how we evolve and change, it's integral to innovation. Fear often arises out of change and we're having to change a lot recently, so I would expect and understand as we go through those changes for people to fear doing things differently or fearing some of the unknown consequences of our actions, this is an essential part of change. The key is recognising it and embracing it. Using it to keep pushing and challenging the conventional norm.

It is an essential component to learning as adults, when we are children we are not afraid to try and fail. This is the essence of how we learn so much in a short period, trial, error, modify and it is only as we age we are taught to fear getting it wrong which inhibits our ability to evolve, change or innovate.

I say all of this because I know we're all having to throw ourselves into the deep-end of new things and start swimming quite rapidly, it's scary at times and there are elements that are unknown for all, we have to learn together how we overcome those obstacles and help each other out when we each individually feel the unease of trying out new practices.

All the recent education debates have centred on intelligence and "brightness" IQ alone is not going to be enough, this is where Michael Gove is wrong in his traditional view of education. We need to look at EI (Emotional Intelligence) and AQ (adversity quotient which indicates how agile and acceptable you are to change). I see this as a core component to our long term development as an agile society. I think about the application of this in my own workplace and for those we create learning media for.

This is not a one off event though, I see change as a constant and important element in an agile workplace and will want to see us explore this through the many ways we work and communicate. The key is that everybody is involved in that process, that everybody contributes and that everybody embraces the fear together. We're on a mountain climbing expedition and we have to climb up and over some overhangs and help others across ravines, but the view at the top as a shared experience is something to behold.

Back in that studio I was suddenly asked "what scares you the most?" and in the pressure cooker of the moment I had no time to reflect, analyse or debate my answer, I had to be honest with unhindered clarity - "Michael Gove, he looks like Pob"

The interview should be appearing at some point in Charlie Brooker's new series "How TV Ruined My Life"