Monday, 25 July 2011

Movingpictures 12: peace, love and understanding

I'm away from my desk right now. I thought I'd leave you with this thought.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Brave New World: keynote + hand-scribbled notes


Above is the set of slides for the keynote I gave to the Arts Marketing Association conference on Wednesday - click through to the Slideshare site and you can see the text too - everything bar the bit when I made people put their hands in the air and most of the ... well, I'd hesitate to call them jokes, lets go for smartarsed asides shall we? I got some great feedback on it, which is always a relief, and had some interesting conversations around it later. I also got absolutely rightly nabbed for avoiding things which rhyme (like survive/thrive) whilst promulgating an acronym - it's a fair cop, guv. Anyway, thought I'd experiment by sharing it here. Thanks to Julie Aldridge from the AMA for asking me to do it, and for creative conversations along the way - and to the people who came to the session in January I wrote about here that very much informed my thinking.

I had a great time at the conference, met some grand people, and heard some really great speakers. Notes from the trusty P-Pad include:
  • Toxicity of the word 'arts' in tv (Matthew Cain)
  • away from marketing as the last mile (Will McInnes)
  • The Contextualisation Gap between knowledge of art and diversity of art (Jerry Yoshimoto)
  • 'Ukuleles not a good a idea and we shouldn't have done it' (I disagree, by the way, not sure about other former members of the ACENE Management Team Ukulele Orchestra.)
  • Only 2 cultural sites in top 1000 websites in UK (National Archives and National Trust)
  • Not about numbers, it's about patterns
  • Social media doesn't drive traffic to websites (I know this to be true from difference between twitter followers and views of this site)
  • Must set up Google Analytics better (Jane Finnis presentation)
  • Start to use more/properly
There was much much more I didn't write down. 

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Movingpictures 11: Brave New World

Yesterday I gave a keynote at the AMA's conference in Glasgow. No time now to cover what I said, but wanted to share a video I made reference to - showing the great integrated vision of Billingham, once upon a time. I talked about Billingham because it's allegedly one of the inspirations for Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World, also the 'title' of the conference. He called it 'a magnificent kind of poem', and that was before the heated pavements.Unfortunately he wasn't so keen on Middlesbrough, which he described as 'growing like a fungus, like staphylococcus in a test-tube of chicken-broth'. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

TEDxYork notes, direct from my P-Pad

Yesterday I gave myself a treat of a day and went to TEDxYork, organised by Marcus Romer and Pilot Theatre. This was a very different kind of day to the Stronger Together event last week, although there were some people in common, and it was similarly well-delivered. (Can I suggest there's a sideline for theatre people in running/designing conferences, they seem to handle the 'theatrics' of them better than conference organisers.) It was a kind of festival of storytelling and idea sharing and listening, with short bouts of discussion that looked, to the old-fashioned eye, like lunch and coffee breaks. The main sessions didn't even have questions - you just moved on to the next bright person. Some of the talks were better than others, but only a couple didn't give me at least one thing to think about or write down. 

There were lots of I-Pads out. It was that kind of a crowd. Here's a few of the things I wrote down in my high tech Pukka Pad.
  • First Sinclair games machine had 1K memory. An I-phone has 32 million times more than that.
  • Cost of making cutting edge computer game has increased 10,000 fold last 15 years, and in 15 years before that.
  • Ubiquitous broadband and mobile internet allows the kind of connection with mass audiences that niche/cult/indie producers and promoters traditionally have
  • XTK Projects: 'peer-sourced funding for ideas that don't exist yet' (Just looked at this and they coin a brilliant term: 'primordial capital'. Kristin Alford was a good speaker, but she could drop that in.)
  • Work where chaos meets order, or in chaos, rather than rushing to turn order into control
  • 'Talk about success or talk about failing spectacularly' - fine, but what about miserable failure - the kind that drags and is just horrible and energy sapping - failure isn't always going down in flame.
  • The loyalty of phone boxes.
  • Is vernacular social science (eg Information is beautiful) challenging academic social science with its account-based approach, even if complemented now by data.
  • No more lies to sociologists
  • It's a brave man who shows us pictures of his teddy bears
  • Resilience as Agency, Relatedness and Competence
  • Flyposting is illegal, Google map pins are not
  • Technology as a material, not a tool
  • Can arts venues learn from how high end restaurants treat customers?
  • Are we turning the music industry into Pizza Express?  
  • We need a view on the world not a position in the market
  • We are in the business of dis-enthralling
  • Must read Proust and The Squid by Maryanne Wolf
  • That humans learned to read is a miracle - are we now learning to do something else?
There was of course, much more, but they could each become a blog in their own right.

The day was themed around inserting the A of Arts in the STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to make a new STEAM age. A number of speaker made passing reference to this, but it was mainly left implicit. There was a good range of examples in the programmes though, from theatrical and game-based storytelling to cello playing to amazing 'Digital Duets' between artists in Manchester and New York. My one conclusion about this was that we need to widen our definition of Art to actually do this, to make Art a driver of change and energy in society in the way steam was. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Movingpictures10: Keep Britain (including Bridlington) Bona

Special non-moving moving picture this week. (But then, as the cliche has it, the pictures are better on radio...) This says all I care to say right now about the Bridlington school opera fiasco  Opera North and Lee Hall (isn't he bold?) have been embroiled in this week.

Much as I love Julian and Sandy - and I do, come round the office on a lunchtime and you'll often find me glued to Round The Horne over my egg and cress - I really don't want to go back to the times when people could only be gay if they didn't mention it and worked through double entendres. As they put it here: 'The future could be naff or it could be bona.'

Friday, 1 July 2011

It ain’t what you do, it’s what it does to you: collaborative learning

Here’s the outline of what I talked about in the case study at the Stronger Together conference – or event as Erica Whyman pointedly reminded us it really was – at Northern Stage on Wednesday. The theme of the conference for any readers who weren’t there – and at times it seemed anyone likely to read this was there – was collaboration. You can look at the Twitter comments by searching for #artstogether. It was a great event, and there was a real buzz of energy coming off people at the end of the day. It combined a number of approaches, building from provocations and an Open Space to also include some case studies (for those who wanted to sit and listen), some conversations and some speed dating. This diversity and openness of approach really worked for most people, I think. They also used technology brilliantly to include satellite events in Bristol, Manchester and even that remote village, London.

I had suggested talking about the work I have been helping Clare Cooper, Holly Tebbut and Margaret Bolton with on designing a peer support or learning network for MMM – (re)evolution as it is called. (With investment from Creative Scotland and Arts Council England.) As it turned out we are still working through some of the design issues so I was not able to talk in the depth I’d envisaged about the offer (re)evolution will make to leaders (at all levels) in the sector. But it was a useful chance to talk about the thinking and learning that informs us, and set out our thinking so far.

I started by talking about two formative collaborative learning experiences which taught me a lot, including that learning is often the most sustainable thing which comes from collaboration, and that perhaps we should emphasise this more. (I didn’t say this but it strikes me now Simon Armitage puts it brilliantly in his poem/title, ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s what it does to you’. Hear that noise? That’s me kicking myself, really hard, for missing this connection/title before.)

The first was an artistic collaboration, A BALKAN EXCHANGE, which you can read about here: This has been a long collaboration between a group of English poets and a group of Bulgarian poets. My point was not the ‘outputs’ – two books of translations – but the learning I gained from it, about my own writing practice was transformative. The key learning about collaboration included:
  • The importance of listening deeply
  • The paradoxical combination of absolute commitment to both task and your collaborators and ‘non-attachment’ to your own ideas as the only or best ideas
  • Observing self as well as your collaborators and the task
The second was with my ‘executive’ head on, when I took part in the National School of Government’s Top Management Programme some year ago. This was all about collaborative learning, with a very diverse group of senior people from across sectors, which included some heavy duty collaborative tasks assisting national agencies with major challenges. My learning group included senior civil servants, a chief constable, private sectors leaders, even a knight – it was, crucially for me, not a cultural group – although the people themselves were, in the main highly cultured. (Although I do recall one person suggesting the Arts Council should change its name to the Entertainment Council, if indeed it were needed.)

The learning from this experience included:
  • The importance of honest, detailed and specific constructive feedback
  • Framing the experience as both practical and a learning experience and building reflection on experience in from Moment 1
  • The need for diversity: collaboration with people you know you agree with is more a matter of numbers, and less of learning
I then went on to talk about Mission Models Money’s (re)evolver pilot, which brought a diverse group of peers together to help co-design a peer support network. I was the evaluator on this CLP-funded scheme and have been working with MMM on the design of what we are now framing as a peer learning network. This will enable peers to develop their own skills and understanding by helping others address challenges related to mission, model or money, or the leadership, culture and values which we see as cross-cutting issues in that kind of change.
Those involved in (re)evolver reported a number of benefits to learning through shared experience with peers:
  •          growth in and greater awareness of their competencies, qualities and attributes
  •          interaction with diverse group of peers
  •          exploring own thought processes, values and behaviours in a group context
  •          improved communication and active listening skills
  •          opportunities to explore challenges facing the cultural sector
They also stressed the importance of mutuality, trust, investing time in bonding to build trust, understanding scale and varying sense of who a ‘peer’ might be. 

Interestingly the area of MMM’s ‘competencies, qualities and attributes’ framework in which peers reported most growth was ‘Reality Check’. As I said on Wednesday, if there is anything which will help us collaborate our way to a more resilient future it is a great sense of realism about our strengths and situations.

I spoke a little of the design of the peer learning network (re)evolution which MMM, working with industry bodies, want to start rolling later in the year. This would work on the key principle of mutuality, of ‘giving and getting’, with peers committing a certain number of days to the network – we’re currently thinking 3 – and being able to draw on other peers for assistance with their own challenges around mission, model, money or leadership. This could be done through a variety of flexible ‘programmes’ – from peer review style team approaches, to individual exchanges, mentoring or action learning.

I also shared some of the challenges the team and our investors, with whom we are working in a spirit of co-design, are grappling with, which we’d really welcome feedback on here too. (I’ll add in a couple that came up in conversation with people afterwards too.)
  •  How realistic is it to expect this type of investment into CPD and collaborative learning, given pressures on time and budgets?
  • How open can people be to sharing their challenges with others?
  • How do we avoid this becoming another ‘old boys network’ that excludes emerging or divergent leaders?
  • How do we structure the network operate so that it does not inadvertently exclude those who are unfunded or operating in a partly or even wholly commercialised way by asking them to work for nothing, whilst making it open to them as they could bring valuable insights, and could also benefit from the collaborative learning?