Weeknotes #5

Weeknotes

A busy week split between client work and an assignment deadline this week, so short weeknotes.

Work

One of the things I’m reflecting on this week is knowing when to be hands-on vs hands-off in developing communities of practice at Triple Sharp. I coach individuals one-to-one with a well-defined structure and framework; but I also work with groups to help nurture company-based communities of practice – these help product teams to develop their craft and shape create the necessary organisational change to help with this.

There’s a moment where communities of practice become self-sustaining and don’t need me to drive the momentum. But judging that moment is hard. At the moment my approach is to do it earlier than I might need to, and watch and quietly coach where things might go slightly astray.

I need to ponder this further but in the meantime I might sound out individuals from client Mozart and see what consensus (if any) arises.

In other work news: am dealing with a couple of complex prospects for the autumn.

Life

Sunshine, exercise, my super-fast-growing courgettes, and a lot of visitors from afar are providing some smiles.

Oh and the new Tales of the City series on Netflix is GREAT.

Weeknotes #4

Weeknotes

Short weeknotes this week, in which June felt like January, essays were being finalised and plans for a busy summer of research and new clients were coming together.

A few things continue to get to me this week and I’m still pondering what to do about them:

  • Observing the unfolding leadership contest of the Conservative party is like watching a dreadful Etonion Inbetweeners movie
  • It’s not news when Trump tweets some faux-pinion (like last night, when he again called Sadiq Khan a ‘disaster’, citing Katie Hopkins as his evidence base. Predictably, this briefly topped the BBC News website. But this cannot be news. I wish the mainstream media would grow an flippin’ pancreas and not let their blood sugar spike based on any old regurgi-twaddle that comes out of that man’s mouth.

In more prosaic news, I switched to Todoist to manage my daily tasks about a month ago and now I can’t live without it. The raspberry bushes started fruiting in spite of the gloomy skies, and I’m squirrelling away the fruit that doesn’t end up in my mouth into the freezer for turning into ice cream.

The Pink Singers performed incredibly on Saturday night as usual, accompanied by the elegant Omphalos Voices from Perugia. I would love groups like these to be able to use their musical prowess to reach larger audiences and help tackle some of the awful polarisation in our society (which have led, it was reported this week, to a huge surge in homophobic hate crimes). Understanding the complex underlying reasons behind this rise is key to making sure all our flourishing LGBTQ organisations can effectively act to counter this kind of behaviour.

Weeknotes #3

Weeknotes

The week began with running a workshop that was regularly interrupted by the din of Trump’s helicoptercade (is that a word?). Three giant choppers streaking across the sky without regard. I suppose it’s easy to misinterpret the protesters as supporters from that high up, far away from the signs. A reminder to the more sane of us to get up close and personal with our critics (and friends) whenever we can.

A lot of self-directed work besides: re-reading about management research methodology, ethics, and planning to recruit some critical friends for my final MBA project, writing up some progress reports for live work.

Went to see Jonny Woo’s all-star Brexit cabaret which was pretty clever and featured music written by the lovely Richard Thomas. Turns out that making consistently laugh-out-loud comedy out of the Brexit situation is quite a challenge, though – the best response an artist can hope for is bittersweet puzzlement, I think, given the complex set of emotions this particular topic arouses. A short-lived belly-laugh, stifled by the suffocating horror of the reality of the political situation unfolding here in the UK.

This made me reflect on a song I adapted for the Barberfellas in April – a barbershop reworking of Erasure’s Love To Hate You featuring Theresa May dancing, Juncker, face masks – the whole bit. The audience response was earnest but a bit flat. We decided we’re going to shelve the song. A shame, given the work we put into it, but it was hard to get the complexity of Brexit across in just a few minutes through the lyrics I put together. Richard Thomas did, of course, a far better job than I in Woo’s cabaret, but nonetheless: suffered a similar audience fate I think.

Barberfellas perform Love To Hate EU at Amnesty International, April 2019. Pic: Liang Wee

Of course, art is not just for cheap laughs, though – and it’s testament to its quality that Woo & Thomas’ work has stayed with me all week and reignited the flame of ‘What am I doing to deepen the nuance of conversation on Brexit and improve political discourse in the UK?’. The answers to date are, pitifully, ‘I wrote this song!’ and ‘I signed that revoke petition’. This isn’t enough.

Perhaps we just need to continue sing the song, accept that nearly all art is political, and get the conversation started.

Also had the privilege to see Armistead Maupin at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern answering Q&A to coincide with the new Netflix series of Tales of the City. The stories in Tales are, of course, ridiculous, but the life Maupin breathes into his characters and the worlds he evokes are incredibly rich – I close my eyes and I’m in 70s or 80s (or beyond) San Francisco.  

On the roof garden: there is precisely one strawberry, the raspberries and blackberries are starting to gain some colour, the (late) tomatoes are growing, and rocket is starting to emerge. Bees have discovered the lavender and there are more birds starting to hang about.

Just dribbled tea on my t-shirt, which must mean it’s time for another.

Weeknotes #2

Weeknotes

This week was spent mostly in Trondheim, Norway with my barbershop group the Barberfellas. We were invited to perform with Kor Hen, Trondheim’s queer choir and they were the most gracious hosts, organising hikes, city tours, social events and so on. I also led a workshop on barbershop singing and surprised myself by how much I enjoyed doing that. Our joint gig was packed to the rafters with an incredibly warm audience of around 150 people.

Kor Hen’s leader is Gunnhild Hasunds, an accomplished musician and singer of impressive vocal range – a chilled Sunday morning listening to her SoundCloud is time well spent.

One of the highlights of Trondheim was a 12-mile walk around Bymarka, where the locals go for a quick weekend ski in winter. We stopped off for hot dogs sitting by a roaring fire (it was about 4°C) in one of the cabins. The views of the lakes, trees and fjords were very soothing. We also briefly visited Hell, but there wasn’t very much there aside from a train station and it was chillier than we’d expected.

Not too much work this week, but a little prep for what will be a busy one coming up. In study world, met up with my MBA buddies and chatted in the sunshine about our next assignment which is due in a little over two weeks.

A back-burner project finally came to fruition after over a year of conversations about rights & royalties: the Pink Singers album that I was project lead on is now available via streaming services like Spotify, Deezer etc.

For the choir, this initiative was mostly to help new people discover the group, as we don’t expect to make any money from it. On a personal level, I learned a bit from this work about how to release music in the age of streaming, about the differences between mechanical and performance rights, and about contracts with session musicians. And that patience works in the end.

My favourite songs on the album are our cover of Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell (arranged by Chris Chambers) and Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush (which I arranged). Both incredibly reflective songs – I hope we do them justice as a choir.

Weeknotes #1

Weeknotes

I’ve been doing weeknotes for myself for a couple of years now – for me, because reflection is the best way to learn and adapt. I also suggest to many of my clients that they try them out.

So, I’m experimenting with going public to practice what I preach. Let’s see how we go.

Work

A relatively busy one this week with a series of coaching sessions (and the consequent write-ups, research and reflections); running the second in a series of innovation workshops with client Mozart; and dealing with a couple of new leads for Triple Sharp coming in – some via some very long-lost colleagues.

Another blast from the past: Little Printer being resurrected by Nord projects. This news stirred up all kinds of memories from working on this back in 2011-12 at BERG: the talent, culture, tenacity and yes, stress, involved in rapidly developing a physical product and its ecosystem. I learned so much working on Little Printer about supply chain, logistics, the challenges of designing physical products, about finance and pricing and much more besides. The whole project provided concrete experience on which to reflect whilst studying for my MBA that really helped cement my learning.

(incidentally BERG was the first place I made public weeknotes too – one of the many things I learned from the mighty Matt, Matt, Jack, Nick, Denise & the crew)

Study

Having finished the final residential school of my MBA, I have two assignments remaining – the final-level bosses – so the end is in sight. My next tasks are assembling a set of critical friends for my final project and iteratively designing my research. Unhelpfully I have started browsing other degrees I might start next. Perhaps I should focus on finishing this one first.

The non-work

We also had Harry, Anya and Mike to stay and I enjoyed peeking into their lives and labours. I caught up with Matt for a natter and to hear the latest news from FutureLearn, where a new investor has just been announced, valuing the organisation at £100m. Not bad for a company that started with about 9 of us in a windowless basement getting high on whiteboard pen whiff.

On Friday night I caught Kings Cross Remix, a performance by Tom Marshman at the Camden Peoples Theatre. It was a really immersing show evoking queer Kings Cross in the 1980s and 90s, culminating in a boogie to 80s tunes with fellow theatre-goers evoking the atmosphere of The Bell.

No more tears?

Other stuff this week: I added band parts to the disco anthem I’ve arranged for the upcoming Pink Singers concert. I also purchased, assembled and filled a VegTrug for our little balcony to grow some salad / all our food for the impending political meltdown. It’s expensive for some bits of wood, but I’m not handy that way and it was easy enough to put together. I’m looking forward to learning how to grow a bunch of different stuff. I’m finding gardening to be a very soothing break from all the political turmoil of the world (predictable late-30s statement).

Also managed to watch some of Special (jury’s still out) and Years and Years (extremely bad for my blood pressure).

Five reflections on beginning the Open University MBA

Study

In this post, I try to summarise five reflections on the experience of joining and starting the Open University’s part-time MBA programme.

It’s exciting and privileging to undertake study as an adult

I realised quite early on how lucky I was to be able to do this: I had the financial support, the support and the guts to sign up and give it a go.

Household spending (Source: ONS)

So many are not in this position: the average family expenditure on education was just £6/week in 2015/16 according to the ONS, down from £16/week in 2001/02. The underlying causes for this are varied but possible explanations lie in the drop in disposable income (and that education is seen as discretionary spending) and the government’s decision to increase tuition fees including for postgraduates in 2012.

Undertaking postgraduate study means learning to learn again

Oh the envy I have of Johnny Five

Reading vast quantities of academic material doesn’t come easy – it takes practice. Similarly, writing concisely, with a clear argument and well-referenced sources was a skill that had entirely escaped me in the eleven years since finishing my first degree (Music and Sound Recording at University of Surrey).

I had to go back and find my final-year dissertation from 2005 to prove that it was something I was once capable of doing. And to start with, words would swim about on the page in front of my eyes. Luckily the Open University has loads of advice on how to study, full of tips from real learners from all kinds of backgrounds, which are reassuring even if you’ve never done it before.

That said, things start quickly and the barrage of acronyms comes thick and fast. B716 (the module code), TGF (tutor group forum), TMA (tutor-marked assessment) and so on – it all feels like an alien language and quite daunting to a returning learner.

Learning at distance is lonely

Photo by Chris Jadoul

Perhaps the hardest element of learning part time at distance is the loneliness.

The Open University provides a number of online forums.

There is a large forum in which it’s possible to converse with all learners embarking on the module (I understand each intake for the Open University is around 300 students from across the world),

In addition, there is a Tutor Group Forum (TGF) which in my case consisted of sixteen learners all based in the London area. Our tutor encouraged us to introduce ourselves and get to know each other, but this felt rather formal and arms-length – I didn’t feel able to share some of the feelings I was having about getting started just yet. I craved a more informal situation – the virtual equivalent of grabbing a coffee after a lecture – and the TGF didn’t provide it.

It’s hard to know what’s expected of you at the outset

The module guide suggests that studying part-time on the course would take around 10-15 hours per week. But who can really say? Everyone reads at different paces; sometimes your brain is functioning, but if you have to squeeze a two-hour study session in after a punishing day at the office, progress can be slow.

I found it hard to keep up with the materials at the time that the Open University suggested I did – sometimes getting ahead when I could, sometimes falling a number of weeks behind. This has really helped give me insight into how learners might progress through FutureLearn courses too – at FutureLearn we have tried with the learning design to keep each step of material – each piece of learning – to around 5-6 minutes or less, such that you could get your phone out on the bus and learn. With the Open University a piece of learning could vary between 15 minutes and four hours, making it quite hard to plan.

The materials the Open University provides, and its learning design, are excellent

The final reflection in this post is this: whilst getting started on the course was not all plain sailing by any means, the quality of the written materials and the learning design are, in my opinion, excellent. The materials are interesting, relevant and consistently invite personal reflection. For example, even in early module materials discussing power and politics int he workplace, regular prompts to think of examples in our own workplaces really helped bring the abstract concepts to life.

Some final thoughts for how starting the degree could have been improved

Bearing in mind all of the above, and also reflecting on four years experience of developing a best-in-class learning platform has led me to a few reflections for the Open University.

  • How can they make the registration process as streamlined and as reassuring as possible?
  • Is there a way to tailor the experience a bit for those who are familiar with studying, and provide better inline guidance for those who haven’t / need a refresher?
  • How can the feeling of community be strengthened during those critical first couple of weeks?

Taking the decision to start a masters degree

Study

It’s the middle of 2016. I’ve been asked to take on a strategic lead role at work.

But I don’t formally know anything about strategy.

Following a short period of mild alarm and a few sleepless nights, I decide to look into my options for further study. After hunting for short courses and face-to-face offerings, I feel they are either too light, or too expensive.

As I work for a subsidiary of the Open University, it’s possible to undertake credit-bearing courses at a reduced rate. I peruse online modules and settle on the first module of the MBA program, management perspectives and practice, also snappily known as module B716.

I dig out my first degree certificate, send in my CV and submit my application.

Then the worries really set in.

What would happen to my free time?

Will I have a social life?

Can I still write academically, after eleven years without doing so?

What if it’s really boring?

Fast forward to now, and I’m looking back having completed the first year, part time. It’s been a ride.

I’m hoping to lay out my experience, warts and all, of this first year of study with the OU, over a series of blog posts here. I hope to also continue it periodically as I continue through my second year of study.

LASEK diary: one year on

Undergoing corrective laser eye surgery

This is the last in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

Fourteen months after my LASEK surgery, I have mostly forgotten about it. Which is to say, my vision is at least as good as it was before the surgery (with glasses). It’s a great outcome – the one I’d hoped for but feared might not happen.

My last contact with the clinic at Moorfields was back in November for my 6-month check-up. They did a sight test and I could actually read slightly more of the chart than I had been able to with my glasses on previously. This is a major result for me, especially as my eyesight with contact lenses was never as good as with glasses.

If I had to sum up my experience in a tweet, I’d say this: the procedure is quick and totally painless, it look much longer than I thought to heal (acceptable detailed eyesight took about 3 months) but LASEK has been brilliant for me.

LASEK diary: three and a bit months in

Undergoing corrective laser eye surgery

This is the twelfth in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

It’s now three months post surgery and I was rather hoping that the last 10% of my eyesight would come into crisp focus, but it’s still not quite as good as it was before with glasses. I had my three-month follow up this week and my left eye is now +1.25 and my right eye is +1.00 (I was previously -7 in both). It means my distance vision is OK but my close-up vision is still a little bit poor (especially in my left eye).

I’ve been prescribed a cream and some drops which may well stimulate my eyes to completely heal, but it may take another six months or so according to the surgeon. For LASEK patients with severe myopia pre-op, it’s normal for the surgery to slightly overcorrect the problem as when the eyes settle the effect is to become more short sighted, apparently, so hopefully I’ll come back in to 0 or nearabouts in both eyes.

I’m not really having any problems apart from sometimes using my computer at night when my eyes are tired. Driving and normal day-to-day life is totally fine.

Will update again in a few months.

View the last post in this series

LASEK diary: two months in

Undergoing corrective laser eye surgery

This is the eleventh in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

It’s now eight weeks after my LASEK surgery and I can happily report things improved a lot since the last post. Around three weeks after surgery, my right eye became pretty clear, although my left eye was still experiencing some double vision. That is still ever so slightly true, but my overall vision is now probably about 90% of what it was with glasses before the procedure. That is to say: I am no longer struggling to see things at all, thankfully.  They may well continue to get a little better over the next few months.

I now regularly forget that I’ve had the procedure (apart from when I’m tired and think I need to take my contact lenses out, only to remember they aren’t in!). I’ve experienced absolutely no dry eye (but sometimes I put drops in late in the evening if I’ve had a long day). It’s great now that they have settled down enough for me to use my computer at full resolution again and I’ve started taking / editing pictures with my SLR again.

There’s one more check-up in late April at the three month point, but then I’m done.

All in all I’d recommend the procedure. Aside from a few weeks of frustration whilst I was healing, I think it’s been a total success. If I were to go through it again, I’d have it done in a break between jobs to have a proper four week break to recover.

View the next post in this series