Captain's Log Issue #89 - Duality
Julian Stodd, November 2019

I have been sharing some work at a Red Cross conference this week, working with good people, trying to transform learning. As they describe their opportunity, resource, and perceptions of constraint, I was struck by a lesson I have learned before: in most Organisations, we already have almost everything we need to achieve transformation. Great people, motivation, understanding of context, and a willingness to learn. We may not have the answers, but that is ok: it is within this mixture of opportunity and community that we will find it.

The challenge is not to ask for more, but to do more with what we already have, and that will require us to leave some things behind.

The other thing it will require is for us to utilise external spaces, and engage in conversations of difference and dissent: you cannot change a monumental system from within, simply by pushing away at it harder. You need to find third spaces, places for conversations that do not engage directly in oppositional power. And within these spaces, have conversations not simply about the things that you agree on, but also those where you differ.

It is easy to agree, but change will likely lie in nobody getting everything that they need. But everyone getting a new context in which to invest themselves, to utilise their Individual Agency, and drive change.


In The News

Forensic Fake News

This piece of coverage around the UK General Election is interesting, taking a forensic look at how a fake news story spreads.

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story: it’s not that stories have not been weaponised before (indeed, that is almost the primary way that we use them), but rather that the landscape of stories has changed. It’s the ability for opinion to aggregate around a perspective, and amplify it at such speed which is really different.

These are exactly the same dynamics that we seek to utilise when we build social movements for learning or change, so it’s worth understanding the forces at play.


My Writing

Kindness in Community

As I enjoyed my free biscuit, I revisited the writing on my local popup station coffee shop, reflecting upon where we go when we move beyond transaction. In my writing on Modern Learning we discuss choreography, and artefacts, in relation to engagement, and this is an example of that in action. A biscuit may seem like a small thing, but in terms of social currency, it’s valuable. Largely because the biscuit is authentic.

Four Trends in Organisational Learning

I usually feel that I’m cheating when I write lists: it’s a lazy way of driving engagement, but I did it more as part of a reflective process than cynical traffic strategy. The trends here are not definitive, but a reflection on how ‘new things’ are more shiny than the old ones. This year I have been largely focussed on Learning Science and Social Learning, but next year I will be writing the Big Data Guidebook, and the AI and Machine Learning one, both to sit alongside the Modern Learning course.

What I'm Reading

As anyone who knows me will know, I have it in me to be compulsive, so I’ve fallen into a hole of comic books, and I’m working my way through the new Iron Man series. Several visits to Forbidden Planet later, and a lot of eBay hunting, and I have a stack that I’m burning through.

It’s sat right next to the stack of books on Big Data that I’m supposed to be reading as research, right next to the edited manuscript for the   Learning Science Guidebook, which also needs my attention. So that’s all going swimmingly.

Alongside it, I have managed to start the first few pages of ‘Packing my library and ten digressions’ by Alberto Manguel, which I must say is beautifully written. It’s a very short book (which is why I cheated and chose it) about the deconstruction of his 35k strong library, as he moves to the US. I will report back when I have finished it (in my mind, I have a lazy Sunday which includes this).

In related news, I am building a library: I’ve always wanted one, I’m all grown up, so I can have one. More news on this next year.

#WorkingOutLoud on the Certifications

I delivered the first week of the Learning Science module, which went pretty well, although I am already thinking ahead to which illustrations I will need for the book: currently I have around 8 final ones done, but I think I will need 20, and they will form the foundations of the Certification presentations as well.

I am also gearing up to deliver the first of the Community Builder Certifications, and trying to sketch out a map: for this one, I want to illustrate the journey, showing how the elements shape up together.

I’m also thinking about pulling together a collection of writing about ‘running experiments’, as this seems to be one of the hardest parts of the Certifications, and in general it gets a lot of interest.

What I'm Thinking About

River goes swimming every week: this week he got awarded his first swimming badge, aged seven months. This makes him already more qualified in the pool than I am. But I’m not sure if the experience left me more, or less, satisfied with his achievement.

The external validation of progress and capability has its time and place, but I am unclear if this is it. Somehow the award of a badge indicates that lacking the badge is to lack something. There is a long running debate about school league tables and assessment, as to whether it is appropriate to test young children, or whether we simply create a system that is gamed as rapidly as it evolves, in some cases leading to children being excluded in case they drag results down.

More broadly, it got me thinking about the relationship between ‘known knowledge’, the development pathways and ways of thinking that are codified into formal systems, and ‘unknown knowledge’, the creative and divergent ways of doing things that are not codified anywhere.

When I talk about things like Social Leadership, I often say that you need both: strong formal leadership, and strong social. The best of both worlds. It’s probably true of the codification of achievement as well: we need strong frameworks that drive consistency and are validated by the system, and we need strong recognition of creative, anarchic, chaotic play spaces, which are either unvalidated, or validated simply by engagement and enjoyment.

There is a serious point: many trendy Organisations experiment with free time investment: giving people a day a week, or an hour a month, to explore new thinking. But it’s the exception. We are typically trapped by formally validated models of worth, and undoing those handcuffs is hard. But vital.

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