Wednesday 7 December 2016

Mayday! Mayday! Birdstrike!


To get the best out of this it may be useful, for background reading, to listen to Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” Podcast on Complexity Theory  here:
and then read Professor Dave Snowden’s review here:

I listened to Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” Podcast on Complexity Theory  here:  on a long journey.

I was provoked in my view of the social world by Eve Mitleton Kelly’s wise comment, "We can ask human participants what they think...."  This is a long held preference of mine - to listen hard, frost to the folks inside the work we are scrutinising... rather than ponstificate from afar.   It's the observer as "The Trojan Mouse" rather than Dave Snowden’s “Bunny of Disappointment". "So, in making my sense first an image, a metaphor, or a maybe a truth...

The Trojan Mouse

And another... a more powerful image, experienced on a trip back from the Lakes.  A murmiration of starlings.... I often feel like one of those birds in a flying formation and, I reckon I'm not alone, I'm in there flapping, but unhappy with it. I know how this murmuration thingy works, or think I do, and know what I have to do to stay with the migration - follow my feathered friend in front and avoid banging into my neighbours.  I am accepting we are moving from where we are to where, and I sense, I hope, someone up front knows, where we are going. 

But every now and then I fly off, on a maverick swerve of a loop to - feel free - test out my view of things and think... Could I? Should I risk it and go on, further and away from the flock? 

This means that, in my work, family relationships, I am often alone and occasionally followed by a few others.  Other times, I see one of my kind, fly off alone and I follow.. wondering if s/he has found a better, a new direction.  I am, essentially, confused, or unsure and a little frightened when I am away from the mass of my contemporaries and so I tend to return to the group, for some kind of solace and then the frustration sets in again and wells up until I have that need to peel off again.  

For example I am about to resign from the Labour Party again - I am always thinking of resigning from things... I have done it, feeling disloyal, as many times as I think I have given up smoking. A symptom of how I feel surfaced in my book of poetry, "Desire Lines" that surfaced, ten years ago from my romantic brain.  Desire Lines are the paths cut, step by step by those who dare to  leave the well trodden path.  See

That's why I first contacted Dave Snowden, as a free-flier, with some style, but we didn't break cake because he don't eat cake, he can't eat cake, yet I didn't know that when it was offered. How many paths end after these trivialities? Now to my reality - not so different to the metaphor. I came to, what I am starting to understand as Complexity, from a different standpoint, or should that be flypoint?  I have witnessed complexity and the complicated and am usually, at once, intrigued and bewildered. I have two main responses.

The first is to stand back and look at it - let it sink in and try to make sense of it.  Sometimes I think I can make sense of it (Dave’s Cynefin Model to now hand as a check) and then I enter the system with renewed purpose, tweak it and see if it improves. Sometimes, often times, it progresses - slowly. There are times when there is an immediate change for the better. I don't like slow but have come to accept it, although, not as quickly, or obviously as Dave.  I too often get angered by slow thinkers and frustrated at their pace.

The second response, often in the midst of the first, is when I see an individual, or small group, who seem to be on an interesting flight-path. I warm to these folks, always have.  They may be designated leader, the cynic in the corner, the creative and divergent team, the devious, delinquent.  They are, in my mind, the freer flyers and in them I see a precious thing - potential!  A will, determination even, to get the thing going despite the system. A lot of my work is with these middle leaders.  Muddle leaders spellchecker corrected me once - I like that. Much, if not most of my successful work has been with free-fliers.

So, what am I getting to? Well my question - my thinking is about the individuals in the system and how we might affect, recharge, motivate, empower, enable, facilitate the thinking and actions of key individuals with potential IN the system. I wanted to hear from Bragg et al, ways, not to just how to describe the forming and formulae of formations but also any consideration of interventions, activations and actions on an of those individuals IN that crowd as it moved, obediently, through the building. Up to now, and it has been a long up for me, I have reified my thinking and practise into a model that, hitherto I’ve called simple, or in an attempt to inject some power – sophisticated simplicity.

Now an airborne cul-de-sac, or learning loop-de-loop.  The first of my 2 key maxims is, "Keep it simple it will get complicated anyway, start complicated and you don't stand a chance".  The Our Time on Complexity really challenged me on that, "Who is this fool who looks at what we see and know as complex and calls for simplicity?  Isn’t he a simpleton."  

So, am I a blind goose as I flap on?  I am, at this moment, clinging on to my hunch, hypothesis, infatuation, belief, until some reader really challenges me with a different path.  I have been thinking, for a while now that the complex is actually made up of a mass of simples. Furthermore, I am believing that many of the individuals who walk, fly, or work in systems are CAPABLE of changing it for the better. Even moreso and philosophically sensibly, "We do no harm in believing this - it is at least hopeful to believe this can happen".  I just sense that it is critical that we develop, up from a base of thinking individuals (that may start from one person), the CAPACITY for thought through change.  Indeed, my second maxim is, “Never, ever, underestimate the nous of those you work with.”  I really want these free-flyers to become free-thinkers because I believe this has to be better than the ouijaboard, emojiboard (thanks spellchecker again) approach to politics we have seen, most recently in the Arab Spring, Brexit and Trump phenomena.  In these mass movements, it seems that too many have flown along with the crowd, only to regret the consequences when they see the eagle has landed on their heads.

This is a major reason why I developed The iAbacus to be - yes a deceptively simple tool - but more importantly a process that sets the individual's hopes and fears within, alongside and, if necessary, at odds with the simple directional instructions from the Head Birds.  I designed this way of working, to start with each individual's vision, in order that he/she/they can make a better informed decision about their direction of travel, when they check out their judgements against the expectations of others.  We are always looking to find more iAbacus users who "get this approach".  My hope is that these are likely to be the transformational leaders who use it to refine, redirect and nudge not only their own work and lives, but also the group-think, even Gadarene surge, at worst mass hysteria, within their organisations.  Maybe we only need a few free-fliers for it to prove its value?  In other words… whilst there are systems in place that appear to be working, even at a low level, isn’t it possible to work from within and make significant excursions, fly-by experiments, nudges and inner movement trends that will have a significant impact on the organisation’s, system’s direction BEFORE the whole lot crashes around our ears in a mass of tar and feathers?  

I suppose I am asking, in all this complexity, is there, in the Complex view of things, any space for iAbacus this maverick's Map o’Monday? That’s next Monday - we must start soon!  
That is why iAbacus comes prepopulated with the expectations, criteria, flight plans of the Head Birds NOT just to be followed, mutely, but to be challenged, edited and modified to suit local circumstances. For goodness sake even those straight Roman Roads, go round the really big local obstacles. Surely having the Boss’s map to hand and suggesting deviations is better than rejecting the map and going solo into the unknown, unknowns.  In extreme cases the given directions may need to be replaced. On the other wing Head Birds get it right, probably more often than not, that's how we survive. In every case each individual's self-evaluation is helpful because any good leader will be chuffed when a colleague, after checking the direction of travel says, "Yes, I agree we are on course".  I guess each will fly with more enthusiasm too.

Our frustration with the worst iAbacus users is they often default and become slaves to the original, unaltered and faulty criteria map and so, may risk, at worst flying headlong into hillsides and storm clouds because they were just not paying attention.  They are not good because they obey orders, they will become better when they test them. I want them to be outstanding by being prepared to disobey or interpret orders. I want them to realise it must not get too late.  I want them to think now and act soon.  Even Baldrick had a cunning alternative plan.  In the end it’s little use crying, “Mayday! Mayday!” on the final, terrifying dive. Worst still, "I thought this would happen".

To see more about The iAbacus look no further than

Thursday 27 October 2016

Learnings from the Workshop

From the heart of the hearth..

Prompted by a friend who saw a photograph in my Blacksmith workshop, I decided to open up a cherished personal space to my teaching and leadership colleagues...

So, when asked to film the video as Keynote to the Academy Transformation Trust Training Day #STAFFDay on Monday October 31st - I did so. It just seemed right to make the links between what I have learnt in education, in classrooms and staff-rooms and also in my Workshop - where I retreat to reflect and review.  We've just finalised filming a piece with a subtitle:

From Workshop to...

To see to video click:

Tools and methodologies

I was struck by how the links are stronger than I'd, initially, thought....

The first link is between the tools and methods we use.  I have old tools handed down for hundreds of years in my workshop and brand new ones too.  In education we also have old faithful tools and methodologies and always a range of new, shiny items to tempt us.  Some blacksmiths, teachers and leaders hold on to the old and resist change.  Others grab anything new just because it's new.  Whereas, the best in both professions evaluate and select the most appropriate and effective, for each job, proving them as they go. If a bad workman blames his tools, he should get rid of those that don't do task in hand.  If I had to choose my favourite tool from the workshop it would be my Ultimate Brace (Brass and Ebony Circa 1850) As a leader my favourite tool is, "learner talks first" (listen before acting).  I love both tools and use them whenever I can but I sometimes choose other approaches... just because a tool works in one situation it doesn't mean we keep on using the damned thing, "If your only tool is a hammer, you tend to hit things"?

Creating originals

One thing that distinguishes the work of most Blacksmiths is that each piece is original, hammered out lovingly (yes you can hammer lovingly) on the anvil. Welded, filed, honed and polished into a unique form.  This is not mass-production and, whilst some make moulds to copy originals, it takes only few seconds to see and feel a copy is not the real thing.   It's so tough to keep to this belief in making originals - and it's a lousy business model... the original costs so much more than the mass produced copies. And so it is with our education system.  I often muse that we seem to prize the mass production of similar students, to a predetermined pattern, rather than take time to draw out, or allow the original to form.  The artist-teacher, she who prizes the individuality of her pupils, hurts deepest when the system appears to rewards the mass producer who turns out high numbers of the predetermined model.

And what about the customers, the parents?  Are they losing the ability, and the will to detect the real thing? Don't the politicians go for the cheap, bog standard for the masses?  Ironically, there is a real danger that the system itself mitigates against the creative and original in favour of mass produced outcomes - reproduced time and reliably, time again...  I despair for the dreamer and creative mind, who wants to tarry, diverge or think as the are carried forward in a fast moving current of linear progression...

Metaphors we still live by

I love the metaphors we still use in our daily lives that come from the Blacksmith's Forge.  the fact that we temper metal for different purposes in the forge. To spring, or to bend, to be hard or to be soft.  Outside the workshop we talk about losing our tempers, our sense of control. Like the once strong springing beam we will bend loose in the heat of it all.  I still hear the phrase, "Too many irons in the fire" meaning she is trying to do too much.  This is worth extending for, as a blacksmith, I know that putting too many irons into the fire causes them to overheat and melt before I can use them...  How many teachers and heads are currently losing their tempers and melting because they simply have too much to do.  "If I could only speak quicker, write faster, stay up longer..."  The remedy is quick, obvious and easy to right in the forge - only a failing fool keeps using the wrong tempered steel and continues shoving irons in the fire.  But I still see hero and heroine innovators doing too much and getting over-heated and stressed, as I did once. 

Their decline and loss of impact takes longer to show up but it is doing deep damage and is sometimes, later, too much to repair - see Superhead poem

A positive end

Now this BLOG must end positively.

So, I'll end by hammering a point home... If you haven't yet found your Workshop equivalent - your thinking. creative time away - a pastime, or hobby - I say find it soon.. your professional work will be poorer without it.  One thing is sure - my Workshop has kept me sane for all my 46 years in education. It has always been my retreat, my place of solace. I always come away from it enriched, sweaty and dirty but with a real sense of perspective. I get a similar recharging from climbing mountains (By the way I'd be open to a commission for a Keynote Video filmed at the top of a Snow Clad Mountain!)   So I must end, as I always try to do, with a question for you.

Where do you go and what do you do to reflect, relax and gain a sense of proportion and perspective...  Answers on a postcard please

For more....

For the full Keynote video, the inspiration for this BLOG go to 

Here are some taster videos I filmed about Learnings from the Workshop:

1  Old tools versus new tools      -                   
2  Creating something unique     -                   
3  Sliding a bead                       -                   
4  Keeping your temper             -                   
5  Going with the grain             -   

Monday 8 August 2016

"Two legs good - Trump bad"

The flood of prejudiced bile* triggered by Donald Trump' and some of his supporters, plus some in the UK referendum debate and ISIS's media statements all test my belief in humanity's inherent goodness.  It will lead to despair unless.... all, who want better than this, speak up and act..

What I believe

Most of us, when young, naive and protected, are naturally wary, even afraid, of the different, the unknown and strange. So, how our family, friends and communities allow us to learn about difference defines us as individuals, groups and nations.
If we are taught to open our hearts and eyes and engage with strangers we will rarely, if ever, be disappointed, wherever we travel. We will come to know the huge majority of all people are decent, caring and, on balance, good. 
With Berber Mule Drivers on a trek in Morocco

As we mature we begin to recognise a small minority who raise fears, well in excess of their numbers. These are the terrorists, bigots, racists, murderers, abusers and oppressors who transfix our media by creating hurt, and carnage. My experience, and belief, is that this minority is found across all races and creeds.
But there are also malicious leaders who deliberately incite fears about this minority. Their trick is to claim a lie as truth. They repeat that the dangerous minority is, in fact, a threatening and increasing majority. They go on to confuse descriptors, so: foreigners, immigrants, asylum seekers, economic migrants, terrorists and whole races appear as synonyms. They inflate real fear by imagined association.  I fear the dangerous minority but despair of those leaders who inflate my fear for their political gain.
If you share my belief in the common good of humanity it is useless unless we are prepared to do something about it. All with good hearts must rise up and say enough... remaining silent and cowed is not an option. We must react when we hear of simplistic arguments about "types of people - all being the same" by creating a more thoughtful debate by arguing discussion is richer when based on more evidence and less opinion. We must challenge and question anti-social acts carried out by a subset of an identifiable group. But we must never believe, for one sad second, that all evil has its origin in a particular race, colour, creed or type because that signals regression into the childish fear of the different.
Let's judge individuals, their actions and their arguments without prejudice and search for truth and fairness wherever it appears. Maybe we have to accept there will always be huge events of horror and carnage, plus individual acts of bullying, oppression and abuse caused by that minority.  Certainly, we must challenge and vote out weak leaders who label a race, creed or type because, "one who who seemed to be of their kind" committed an evil act. Only then, will we reduce the backlash of their ignorant followers who respond, mob-like, by injuring the innocent. 
How we fair in this regard will determine the future of humanity..
* If you doubt what I am saying about "bile spewing out" spend a few minutes reading the contributions of those who use UK social media to state, triumphantly that #Brexit will stop problems, "Caused by immigration" and allow us to "take back control". Or, listen to Trump and his supporters who believe that building a wall on the Mexican border and stopping Muslims coming to the USA will "Make America Great Again". The claims by ISIS that, "Our god is great - those who disagree are infidels" is just another example. 
I wrote the first draft of this BLOG in a Spanish bar where I did not speak the language, nor they mine. I was made welcome and sensed a genuine camaraderie. I was thinking then as I had done in many places before, this how it should be in our world. Of course I was thinking of Orlando, The EU debate, Jo Cox's assassination in July and, in this redraft: Nice, Baghdad, Rouen and especially perhaps Trump's rise in the US. ..

Oh, Scotland!

Oh, Scotland!    -   After the Referendum 1

Oh, to be in Scotland now that ‪#‎Brexit‬'s here
To drink a dram o'whisky and leave my warming beer.
Oh, to walk the wild hills with freedom in my mind.
To be tolerant and proud and leave prejudice behind.
Oh, to feel the clean air and yes, the gentle rain
Living in a country that wanted to #Remain.
Remain in touch with others
Who stand in line and fear
With the sisters and mothers
With the fathers and brothers
Clutching children near.
Oh, I'll douse my tears in waterfalls
To hide my deepest shame
That Britain is now shrinking small
And will not be Great again.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Students' History of our World...

I was going to write a serious BLOG today - Then lost the will to be sensible....

An important point before giggles.  This morning I received an email from Lisa, a good friend in the US, containing some familiar exam howlers.  Prompted, I looked up a compilation of these I put together a few years ago.  The first of these appeared in the Daily Mail in 1917 as examples  of, "How the young generation are illiterate and much needing of a good education".... Hmm... 

And, lest, we educated adults, forget, we all experience mis-learning.  Come on be honest! Just one example of a personal howler... It is 1970, I am an NQT, an English specialist, in the staffroom.  We are discussing "Lord of the Rings" I reduced the room to hilarity when I said, "Well, some of the credit must go to Tolkein's translator....".  

What personal howler makes you blush?

Students' History of the World
Compiled from examination and essay howlers I found plus a few I met as teacher...

The inhabitants of Egypt were called mummies and they wrote in hydraulics. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and travelled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the dessert are cultivated by irritation. The Egyptians built the Pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube. The Pyramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain

The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, is called Guinness, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked "Am I my brother's son?" God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Montezuma. Jacob, son of Isaac, stole his brother's birthmark.  Jacob was a patriarch who brought up his twelve sons to be patriarchs, but they did not take to it. One of Jacob's sons, Joseph, gave refuse to the Israelites.The natives of Macedonia did not believe in Paul, so he got stoned.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make unleavened bread, which is bread without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandos. David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. He fought with the Philatelists, a race of people who lived in Biblical times. Solomon, one of David's sons, had 500 wives and 500 porcupines.

The Greeks were a highly sculptured people, and without them we wouldn't have history. They invented three kinds of columns - Corinthian, Doric and Ironic. They also had myths. A myth is a female moth. An example of Greek myth is Jason And The Golden Fleas.  Another myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intolerable.  Achilles appears in "The Illiad", by Homer.  Homer also wrote the "Oddity", in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of the same name. Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him.  They did this by forcing him to have an overdose of wedlock.  After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline. In the Olympic Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the discourtoous , and threw the java. The reward to the victor was a coral wreath. The government of Athens was democratic because the people took the law into their own hands. When they fought the Parisians, the Greeks were outnumbered because the Parisians had more men.

Eventually, the Ramones conquered the Geeks. History call people Romans because they never stayed in one place for very long. At Roman banquets, the guests wore garlic in their hair. On one occasion it was terrible when Pompey was destroyed by an overflow of saliva from the Vatican. Julius Caesar extinguished himself on battlefields of Gaul. The Ides of March killed him because they thought he was going to be made king. Dying, he gasped out: "Tee hee, Brutus".  Nero was a cruel tyranny who would torture his poor subjects by fiddling with them.

Then came the Middle Ages. King Alfred conquered the Dames, King Arthur lived in the Age of Shivery.  King Herod mustarded his troops before the Battle of Hastings,  Joan of Arc was burnt to a steak and was cannonized by George Bernard Shaw, and the victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. Finally, the Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offence.

In mid-evil times most of the people were alliterate because the had the same names as their jobs. The greatest writer of the time was Chaucer, who wrote many poems and verse and also wrote literature. Another tale tells of William Tell, who shot an arrow through an apple while standing on his son's head. In the Middle Ages people lived in mud huts and had rough mating on the floor.

The Renaissance was an age in which more individuals felt the value of their human being. It was an age of great invertion and discovery. Martin Luther nailed faeces to the church door at Wittenberg for selling papal indulgences. He died a horrible death being excommunicated by a bull.  It was the painter Donatello's interest in the female nude that made him the father of the Renaissance. It was an age of great inventions and discovery. Gutenberg invented removable type and the Bible. Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes and started smoking.  He was well known for playing with his bowels when the Spanish Armadillo came.  Another important invention was the circulation of blood - it goes down one leg and up another moving through veins and arteries and eventually ends up in little caterpillars at the ends of your fingers.

The government of England was a limited mockery. Henry VIII found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee.  Queen Elizabeth was a virgin but as a queen she was a success. When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted, "Hurrah". The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespeare. He was born in the year 1564, supposedly on his birthday. Shakespeare never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He lived in Windsor with his merry wives, writing tragedies, comedies and errors, all in Islamic pentameter.  In one of Shakespeare's famous plays, Hamlet rations out his situation by relieving himself in the middle of the stage, it is called a long soliloquy. In another paly, Lady Macbeth tries to convince Macbeth to kill the King by attacking his manhood. Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet.  Romeo's last wish was to be laid by Juliet.

Writing at the same time as Shakespeare was Miguel Cervantes. He wrote "Donkey Hote". The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote "Paradise Lost." Then his wife died and he wrote "Paradise Regained." During the Renaissance America began. Christopher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic. His ships were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Fe. In the middle of the 18th-century, all the morons in America moved to Utah.

Meanwhile in Europe, the enlightenment was a reasonable time. Voltare invented electricity and also wrote a book called "Candy". Gravity was invented by Isaac Walton.  It is chiefly noticeable in the Autumn when the apples are falling off the trees.  Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel.  Handel was half German, half Italian and half English. He was very large. Johann Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children.  In between he practised on an old spinster which he kept up in his attic.  Bach died from 1750 to the present.  Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf.  He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him.  Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.

France was in a very serious state. The French Revolution was accomplished before it happened. The Marseillaise was the theme song of the French Revolution, and it catapulted into Napoleon. During the Napoleonic Wars, the crowned heads of Europe were trembling in their shoes. Then the Spanish gorillas came down from the hills and nipped at Napoleon's flanks. Napoleon became ill with bladder problems and was very tense and unrestrained. He wanted an heir to inherit his power, but since Josephine was a baroness, she couldn't bear him any children. Madame Pompadour gained in power while being placed under the king.  The Mona Lisa was the most beautiful woman ever to be laid on canvas.  At this time Merchants appeared and roamed from town to town exposing themselves and having big erections in the countryside called Country Fairs

The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West.  Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. She was a moral woman who practised virtue. Her reclining years and finally the end of her life were exemplary of a great personality. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.

The nineteenth century was a time of many great inventions and thoughts. People stopped reproducing by hand and started reproducing by machine. Samuel Morse invented a code for telepathy. Louis Pastuer discovered a cure for rabbits.  Charles Darwin was a naturalist who wrote the "Organ of the Species".  Madman Curie discovered radiators. Eddy Stone invented electricity by rubbing cats backwards and forwards on plastic.  Yogi Bear invented the television and Karl Marx became one of the Marx Brothers.  The First World War, was caused by the assignation of the Arch-Duck by a surf.  This ushered in a new error in the anus of human history.

And now we have the present today but it will soon be history.  But in this age of equality where so many women are fermenting it should be called herstory because, you must remember it is not all about men.