Tag: business

Why I’ve just closed my LinkedIn account

Update (February 2015): I’ve resurrected my LinkedIn account. Here’s why.

If you’ve ever read the Freakonomics book – or better yet, listened to the excellent podcast – then you’ll know about the sunk cost fallacy:

Sunk costs… influence actors’ decisions because humans are prone to loss aversion and framing effects.

I’ve had a Gmail account ever since I was able to get my hands on an invite – yet I decided to move away recently. Likewise, I’ve had a LinkedIn account since the beginning, but today I closed my account. Just because you’ve used something for a long time and become used to it doesn’t mean it’s still the best option right now.

Here’s my three main reasons for closing my LinkedIn account:

  1. Spammy emails – I’ve tried my best to stop these, but it’s almost impossible. Enough is enough.
  2. I want to own my professional identity – I’m not interested in ‘endorsements’. I’m interested in people finding out about me in spaces I fully control.
  3. The zeitgeist – there’s a growing backlash to LinkedIn. I noticed Audrey Watters deleted her account recently, and then there’s the fact that the company is being taken to court.

So it’s gone.

It’s up to you if you want to do likewise, but know that if you do decide to close your account, you’re not alone!

PS I recently replaced my about.me page at dougbelshaw.com with one created using Mozilla Thimble. You’re very welcome to hit the ‘Remix’ button on that page if you need a new profile!

Banner image CC BY Bryan Mills

“It’s About Time!” Introducing Synechism Ltd.

I did something this Bank Holiday weekend that I’ve been wanting to do for a couple of years: I registered a Limited Company with myself as sole Director.

Synechism Ltd.

Why now?

It’s not that I’m looking to leave my current employers in the short-term, it’s more to do with getting things in place for when I finish my doctoral thesis in July. I want to start working with people on interesting projects and setting up a company helps me do that in a straightforward way.

The new site for my business is at Synechism.com.

What kinds of projects?

The tagline of Synechism Ltd. is making connections, creating meaning. I’ve developed a modified version of the Hierarchy of Understanding developed by Briggs, et al. (2002) upon which I’ll be basing a lot of my work.

I’ve a wealth of experience from Primary and Secondary school level through to Higher Education, so the majority of my projects in the first instance shall be focusing on the education sector. However, through my work with businesses and third sector bodies in the last couple of years, I’ve realised how much they could also benefit from working in partnership.

The wonderful thing about the technologies available to us is that I can just as easily work on a project with someone in a different continent and different timezone as I can with those local to me. For example, a week ago I presented to a conference in Australia from the comfort of my study.

I’m looking for educational institutions, businesses and third sector bodies who are interested in the kinds of things I am – namely:

  • Models of learning
  • Digital and New literacies
  • Knowledge workflows
  • Productivity 2.0
  • Mobile learning
  • Open Educational Resources
  • Google Apps Education Edition

That doesn’t cover everything, but gives you a flavour of the kinds of connections and meaning-making I’m talking about.

I want to know more!

Great! Head on over to Synechism.com and click on the contact details. 😀

Use is not strategy.

Using social media doesn’t make you a guru. Having attended a school doesn’t qualify you to speak on education policy. Working in an organisation doesn’t make you a business leader.

Strategy, not of the crystal-ball-gazing or guessing variety, but of the values-based, focused, considered type, is what separates good from great.

Edtech companies: inspiring or conspiring?

As I attend an increasing number of conferences, I’m becoming more and more aware of differences in approach taken by educational technology-related companies. Broadly-speaking, they can be represented on a continuum from ‘conspiring’ to ‘inspiring’ (place each on the left or the right depending on your political preferences).

To my mind, there’s three ways in which an edtech company can be inspiring:

  1. Develop a product or way of learning that changes the parameters of the debate
  2. Model effective practices with a demonstrable commitment to pedagogy
  3. Solve a genuine learning problem

The first type can usually only be done by someone as large as Google, someone with the money, time and resources to either invent or mainstream something that changes conversations about learning and teaching.

I’ve already written about how I believe BrainPOP! to be an example of the second type; their product, whilst great, isn’t as important as their approach to how they do business.

The third type, solving a genuine learning problem (not a pseudo-problem or manufactured crisis) is important. Let me attempt to explain the subtle difference between conspiring and inspiring:

  • If you’re providing a way to make examinations faster and cheaper without adding any value to the process, then you’re conspiring.
  • If your business model is predicated upon an ‘average teacher’ or lecturer who is hostile to technology, then you’re conspiring.
  • If you uncritically apply the latest fad, buzzword or way of describing your product to what you’re offering, then you’re conspiring.

Involving yourself and your company in the above means conspiring to rob students of authentic and valuable educational experiences. You’re conspiring, at the end of the day, to enrich yourself and your colleagues at the expense of learners.

How, then, can edtech companies, inspire?

  • By making more intuitive something (educationally-valuable) that was previously difficult, awkward or tricky.
  • By helping engage learners through pedagogically-sound processes and not just shiny toys and impressive graphics.
  • By treating teachers as professionals who care about educational experiences without castigating them for not necessarily jumping on the latest bandwagon.

The Inspiring/Conspiring continuum, then, is my new method of judging edtech companies. I’ve seen some of both at the conference I’m currently attending, and I’ll be avoiding BETT 2011 (based on past experience) due to too much of a focus at the wrong end of the continuum.

As I explained to Gavin Cooney, CEO of Learnosity, after BETT 2008 I was fairly convinced that their offering, a method of recording students for language learning, was in the ‘conspiring’ camp. I couldn’t see how they were adding value. Now that I’ve actually seen what they do, I’m more convinced to place them in the other camp. It can be subtle, as it’s often one of emphasis, but anything that allows learners of a compulsory foreign language to enjoy what they’re doing, pseudocontext to be avoided through real-world learning, and teachers to have access to intuitive technology, is OK by me. 🙂

Google Wave: now with added usefulness.

Background

Remember the hype just before and during the launch of Google Wave on 30 September 2009? It was going to be revolutionary, change the way we work forever, and oh! to have an invite…

And then reality hit home. What can you actually do with it?

It was all a bit… meh. 🙁

Growing maturity

Google certainly does love the ‘release early, release often’ mantra. That means, of course, that its offerings tend to get better as time goes on. And this is certainly true of Google Wave.

As you can see from the screenshot above, when you go to create a new wave you are given 6 templates from which to choose. Below is the ‘Task tracking’ option:

When you throw the extensions into the mix, you’ve got a very powerful collaborative tool. The iFrame gadget, in particular, is an extremely valuable option. I can imagine, for example, distributed teams using Google Wave for meetings. They’d use the meeting or brainstorm template, add the ‘Yes/No/Maybe’ gadget and the ‘Map’ gadget to organise a face-to-face meetup. There’s also several gadgets to turn Google Wave into the liveblogging app to end all liveblogging apps:

I’m going to be recommending Google Wave for meetings, project management and more over the next few weeks/months – both at work and for ‘extra-curricular’ activities. I’ll also be purchasing The Complete Guide to Google Wave by Gina Trapani’s, of Lifehacker fame. The book’s also freely available to read online – probably for a limited period only. 😀

Are YOU using Google Wave? What for?

Surviving the matrix: 5 common leadership pitfalls and how to avoid them.

The Matrix

by Jamie Zawinski (Wikimedia Commons)

Jo Owen, in his excellent How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed has a wonderfully concise and vivid section on the ‘pitfalls of survival’ for leaders. This post outlines these and gives some advice as to how to avoid them. 🙂

Owen calls the middle management of an organization ‘the matrix’. It can be an uncomfortable and difficult place from which to emerge, he says. The five most common pitfalls of survival are:

  1. The expert in the matrix
  2. The cave dweller
  3. The politician
  4. The boy scout
  5. The autocrat

expert

The expert in the matrix

The expert in the matrix has been promoted because of their technical competency. On becoming a leader they are out of their comfort zone and therefore lean on their exceptional technical skills. They are likely to demand almost impossibly high standards from their subordinates leading to friction and discontent.

cave_dweller

The cave dweller

Cave dwellers try to avoid the matrix as much as possible by hiding in their ‘cave’ of pseudo-certainty. In an attempt to recreate the security they felt lower down the organization they become more territorial and less valuable to the organization. These, says Owen, are likely to be the first to go in any organizational ‘rationalisation’.

Machiavelli

The politician

Coming across as rather too enthusiastic about ‘learning the dark arts of the matrix,’ the politician works hard to cultivate a power network. They are constantly on the lookout for new initiatives and seek a position in relation to them. Politicians seek to be close enough to projects to be able to claim a stake in them if successful whilst being able to distance themselves from projects that fail or are discredited. After a while politicians are seen for their true colours and are ignored.

Scout emblem

The boy scout

The opposite to the politician is the boy scout. They think that by working hard and delivering results they will automatically receive recognition and promotion. In practice, however, they got ‘lost in the matrix.’ Boy scouts need to stake their claim and show that they are leading and delivering.

autocrat

The autocrat

Autocrats act as if they are already higher than they actually are in the organizational hierarchy. Whilst they talk about the importance of being a team player, in reality they are chiefly concerned with people being loyal to them. If they perform well, autocrats can succeed and are promoted. If not, they become irritating and a burden to their colleagues.

winding_path

The path through the matrix

So how do middle managers be successful in and/or find their way out of the matrix? Owen believes this comes back to the ‘three and a half Ps’ that he outlines at the start of the book:

  1. People – focus not only on those you have direct formal control but those ou can motivate and coach. These widens your circle of influence.
  2. Professional – model the values needed as a senior leader. One of the best ways to do this, believes Owen, is to chair meetings well.
  3. Positive – being positive is especially important in the middle of the matrix. Treat ambiguity and change as opportunity instead of risk. Learn how to deal with conflict in your particular context and you will be successful.
  4. Performance (the half-P) – you need a ‘claim to fame’ to emerge from the matrix. Show that you can deliver exceptional results out of ambiguity and complexity. Actively take on challenge.

Conclusion

I really liked this section of Owen’s book In fact, the whole thing is becoming invaluable to me as I step up from being a an ‘expert in the matrix’ (and ‘boy scout’ at times) to, hopefully, becoming an effectively and successful senior leader! 😀

Under-promise and Over-deliver: the language of productivity.

Remember time lost cannot be regained

I’m not going to look up the fancy psychological name for the process, but it’s a truism that we often don’t know what our opinions are or where we stand on a subject before we talk about it with someone else. That back-and-forth and interface with others not only helps cement our views on a topic, but helps to form our identity. It’s natural, therefore, that interactions with colleagues and friends shapes our self-identity.

When you’re communicating with others, you’re actually also communicating with yourself. Why? Because you’re the type of person who says the things that you’re saying. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is about to fire off an angry email, but goes back and re-drafts it in order not to further fan the flames. What I’m saying is that what you say about yourself to other people can actually shape how you are.

Most people over-promise and under-deliver. They say they’re going to be back from work before dinner. Then they’re not. They say that they’ll be able to achieve a certain target. Then they fail to hit it. I was the same until I read a productivity blog last year (I forget which) that talked about Tom Peters‘ mantra that you should under-promise and over-deliver. No-one is surprised when you achieve something you said you would or arrive at an agreed time. However, surpassing the target, or arriving early is often looked upon as a very positive trait in an individual.

Allied to this is the language you then use in your interactions. Be the type of person who can be trusted, the type of person who delivers. Which of the following would you rather receive?

Response A

Thanks for your email. Just got it. I’m working on a portfolio until late tomorrow, but will get the file to you then!

Followed by:

Here’s the file I promised you. Look forward to catching up next week!

Response B

On the other hand, there’s the usual:

Sorry I haven’t got back to you for a couple of days. I’ve been snowed under and then forgot! Oh well, apologies again, and please find the file you wanted attached.

Response A gives off the vibe of someone in control and who can cope with what’s being thrown at them. They’re the type of person who can deliver. Response B, however, smacks of someone who can barely cope with their inbox on a daily basis.

Who would you rather do business with?

(Image = Time Lost by gothick_matt @ Flickr)

Why we should adopt the OA5 system in education

My friend Paul Lewis, he of the infrequent blogging, very kindly let me have his Dilbert omnibus last year. I’ve been reading it again recently and it’s got me thinking about conformity and creativity. The omnibus brings together 3 Dilbert books into one volume. Joy! 😀

In The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams outlines the ‘Out At Five’ business model. Enshrined within it are not only some comic gems, but some great pieces of advice. If we stuck to some of these in education, we’d go a long way to reforming the whole system.

He divides his principles into two subcategories:

Staying out of the way

  1. Scott Adams advocates letting the ’employees dress any way they want, decorate their work spaces any way they want, format memos any way they want’. This is because that there is no proof that any of these impact productivity. Instead, they create a message that conformity is valued above efficiency or creativity. Whilst I would still advocate some form of school uniform to prevent undue focus on students’ clothes, I do think schools in general could be a bit more laid-back about the ways both students and staff express themselves. I’m certainly not saying profanity, drugs and alcohol should be imported to create some type of dystopian educational system. Instead, I’m saying that we should value difference and (that abused word) diversity over conformity and standardization.
  2. Eliminate artificial processes. In businesses these are obvious, but in education they can still be seen. For example ‘Every Child Matters‘ and ‘Personalising Learning’ agendas. They’ve got titles no-one can disagree with, but lead to bureaucracy and a loss of focus on the actual students themselves. It’s my belief that every educator has, at their core, the well-being and interests of students in their charge. As Scott Adams puts it:

If you have a good e-mail system, a stable organization chart, and an unstressed workplace the good ideas will get to the right person without any help The main thing is to let people know that creativity is okay and get out of the way.

What does an OA5 manager do?

  1. Eliminate the assholes. Quite blunt, but you know exactly what he means. There’s people who put a downer on the whole enterprise of education. They’re quick to blame students rather than themselves, they’re more interested in internal politics than student wellbeing and achievement, they like being controversial for the sake of it. Let’s get rid of them. In fact, I’m all for moves to make it easier to remove teachers from their posts. Why should we get, in effect, ‘immediate tenure’?
  2. The second is my favourite: make sure employees (i.e. teachers) learn something new every day. As Scott Adams remarks:

    The more you know, the more connections form in your brain, and the easier every task becomes. Learning creates job satisfaction and suports and person’s ego and energy level.

    But more than that, as teachers, we should be good role-models as everday and curious learners! 🙂

  3. Cultivate all the little things that support curiosity and learning. Questions such as ‘What did you learn?’ when you make mistakes are more powerful than, ‘What the hell were you thinking?’
  4. Teach employees how to be efficient. Lead by example – keep meetings short, refuse to take part or go along with low-priority activities because it’s ‘polite’, and (my favourite) respectfully interrupt people who talk too long without getting to the point. I’d force everyone to read blogs such as Lifehacker, Zen Habits and Unclutterer every day. But that’s just me… 😉

What do YOU think? Besides the name (Out At 5) is there anything with which you’d disagree?

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Blue Skies Thinking vs. Grey Skies Thinking

I attended a meeting today. It began as it meant to go on: it was assumed and then stated explicitly that we all wanted to be home ASAP and that there was some stuff that needed to be done so we’d better get on and do it to meet our obligations and get it out of the way. It’s what I would term a ‘Grey Skies Meeting’.

We’ve all been to Grey Skies Meetings. They’re the ones where:

  • Something needs to be done but no-one wants to do it.
  • Problems are raised.
  • There is a strict hierarchy and everyone ‘knows their place’.
  • Saying anything that entails lengthy discussion is frowned upon and there is immense peer pressure not to do so.
  • Internal politics are at the forefront, the actual purpose of the organization is put on the backburner.
  • Quick solutions that tick boxes are welcomed.

I came away from the meeting somewhat downhearted. There were a few in that meeting who genuinely wanted things to move forwards in the same way that I did. But, for some of the reasons given above, they only expressed these ideas and thoughts before and after the meeting had taken place.

I want to work in a Blue Skies environment that has meetings whereby:

  • Opportunities are identified.
  • The reason for the organization’s existence guides the process and progress of the meeting.
  • People feel confident at putting forward ideas and concepts that aren’t necessarily full-formed, but point in the right direction.
  • A meritocracy operates: people’s contributions are judged by their usefulness rather than the position that the contributor holds or the length of time they’ve spent within the organization.
  • Smaller plans feed into a bigger plan.
  • The talents of the whole of the individual are used rather than their utility being defined by their position within the organization.

This isn’t a blog post about my school. It isn’t really about education per se. It’s about how our society operates and defines people. I want to be where there’s a blue sky. In fact, just saying that has made me remember ELO’s feelgood anthem Mr Blue Sky, which has cheered me up no end… :-p

Want to improve your meetings? Take a look at lifehacker.com/tag/meetings!

Dilbert on ‘best practice’

If you’re an educator, you don’t need me to comment on this:

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