Open Thinkering


Month: November 2021

Weeknote 47/2021

The highlight of this week has been celebrating my mother’s 70th birthday. She doesn’t become a true Aged P. until next week, but this weekend was the best time to herd the familial cats, as it were. Despite Storm Arwen bringing trees down and snow to some parts of the country, Team Belshaw managed to make it both to the Stadium of Light to see England Women beat Austria 1-0, and then to Solberge Hall to for afternoon tea with the rest of the family.

Both my parents are only children, so there were only 10 of us in total around a huge table. My mother loved her presents, and my sister (who really should be a contestant on GBBO) made a Raffaelo-style cake which was delicious. After an overnight stay, a few of us went to Fountains Abbey and then had wonderful Sunday dinner at the Black Bull Inn at Moulton.

Work-wise, I published a post on the evolving badges and credentials ecosystem, and recorded the ICoBC Symposium panel keynote with Kerri Lemoie and Phillip Long. It was a great conversation, and we’ve invited Kerri onto The Tao of WAO podcast. Talking of the podcast, Laura edited and posted two episodes we recorded on remote work. We should be recording the final episode of Season 2 next week with another guest, and then our co-op colleagues have given us the go-ahead for a Season 3 in the new year.

Wednesday saw a co-op half-day which was a bit of a celebration in that John has given notice at the full-time job he’s been doing for the past few years, and so will be able to play more of a role in WAO work in 2022. We’ve a number of contracts and agreed bits of work going into the first quarter of next year, which is nice. We discussed a potential asset lock for our co-op but decided that we’re going to wait until we absolutely need one, as it could potentially cause more problems than it solves.

In other news, I heard that the Dutch National Libraries conference is being rearranged to the end of March, which should be good. It’s for the best given the increasing lockdowns coming into force.

Last Sunday, I hurt my back running in the cold weather. I’m not sure whether it was my poor warm-up or I just tweaked my (suspected) slipped disc from earlier this year, but I didn’t run or go to the gym all week as a precaution. Sure enough, when I went back this afternoon (and a couple of hours after a large Sunday dinner) it was hard work.

The only other thing to mention is that I wrote a blog post that arrived pretty much fully-formed as I lay half-awake and half-asleep in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Entitled That silent disappointment face, the one that I can’t bear it’s a reflection on the role disappointment plays both as a pedagogical, and to some extent philosophical tool in our interactions with others.

Next week, we need to finish off the internal part of the digital strategy work we’ve been doing for Julie’s Bicycle, and work towards finishing off this year’s set of deliverables for Participate. I’ve really enjoyed the Keep Badges Weird project we’ve done with them so far. I’m also hoping that something comes of the conversation I had with Ellie Hale and Debby Mulling from Catalyst about cohort-based digital transformation programmes.

Image based on an original photo I took inside the Cellarium at Fountains Abbey.

That silent disappointment face, the one that I can’t bear

Parents talking to child

Perhaps one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox for parents, educators, coaches is disappointment. Whether real or feigned, once a relationship of respect is established between child or student and the person with “pedagogical authority”, then expressing disappointment can be amazingly effective.

In the film Coach Carter, which I watched again with my son at the weekend, the coach in question establishes a culture of respect in a basketball team. He does this initially through discipline. Once this discipline is established, however, he maintains team performance by conveying disappointment when its members contravene the established rules.

Conveying disappointment can be done in at least three ways. Depending on the skills of the pedagogical authority, this can be done in more or less precise ways. In my experience, the most common way of expressing disappointment is through body language: facial expressions, sighing, turning the back. The child or student needs to be able to connect that body language to the thing they have just done.

The next level is verbal: pointing out what the child or student has done to disappoint the pedagogical authority. This is more precise as the child or student is left in no doubt as to what it is they have done. The third level, however, takes on a longer temporal element in that it is written. In my experience, expressing disappointment in written form is the most powerful way of conveying it to a child or student. Unlike body language and verbal expressions which are transitory, a written expression of disappointment is something they can read several times.

As such, disappointment as a tool needs to be conveyed as precisely as possible. The temptation is to over-use it, especially body language and verbal expressions. This can lead to either the child or student starting to ignore the disappointment, or to do the opposite: to take it all onboard which leads to a feeling of helplessness, and a culture of negativity.

Disappointment as a tool between pedagogical authority and child or student is a form of interpersonal relationship. Another form of interpersonal disappointment happens between friends, lovers, and colleagues. In other words, whereas the previous type involved a hierarchical relationship, this type of disappointment happens between peers.

The same three types of expression (body language, verbal, and written) are the forms taken by this disappointment, in my experience. However, because the power relationship is different, the results also differ. In my experience, expressions of disappointment are much less likely to be precisely articulated and instead conveyed via body language. Sometimes (often?) this is involuntary.

As the connection between what the other person has done and the (involuntary) body language is not clear, the feedback loop is often incomplete. This can lead to confusion and problematic relations between the two people, as the cause of the problem has not been identified precisely. There is a feeling of tension, which contribute to what Alex Komoroske calls ‘coordination headwinds’.

The best thing to do in this situation is for one person to verbalise their disappointment in ways that focus on their emotions. For example, there are techniques in both sociocracy and counselling that include sentence templates such as, “When you do… I feel… because…”

The third type of disappointment is intrapersonal. That is to say, it involves disappointment with oneself. In my experience, this kind of disappointment is often felt rather than expressed in a form that involves words. It is a form of internal body language.

One strategy to explore with disappointment with oneself is to externalise the feelings. This is explored in the book How To Think Like a Roman Emperor by the philosopher and psychotherapist Donald Robertson, who has a special interest in Stoicism and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Carrying on with the above theme, then, there are two ways to do this: to verbalise the disappointment and to write it down. CBT is an extremely effective way to verbalise disappointment in oneself, as a trained therapist and guide is there to help you stop spiralling downwards.

Journaling, or maintaining a diary, is a good way to write down the disappointment. Once it’s there on the page in front of you, it either has the power to change your actions going forward, or it looks less of a big deal than it felt in your head. Either way, you can do something about it.

As you may have gathered, I have been both on the receiving end of disappointment and the person conveying it to others recently. This is not a “philosophy of disappointment” as such, although I purposely avoided searching for the term until I’d written the preceding. Perhaps to develop it further I need to read this article in The Independent, watch this 2010 talk by Simon Critchley, and perhaps examine this analysis of the philosophy of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche…

Image based on an original by Monstera. Quotation-as-title via Arctic Monkeys.

Weeknote 46/2021

Dithered image of concrete blocks at Druridge Bay

I reflected this week on the images I use to accompany my blog posts. After reading this post about why websites shouldn’t used dithered images, I had second thoughts about using them here. That led to an interesting conversation about various compression technologies. However, after some tests with some of the options suggested, I decided that the differences were tiny and I quite like the aesthetic of dithered images.

Elsewhere on the images front, after reading about the SOFA principle I started an art project called (Un)familiar. I also read somewhere about a fulfilling life being about sensory experience, which meant I worked in coffee shops, took my wife out for drinks, and took my son to the cinema (for the first time in almost two years!) to see Dune. We really enjoyed it.

On the work front, a client we’re doing a reasonable amount of work for around digital strategy had their managing director leave this week. It was planned, but the founder and the co-managing director both have Covid. Interesting times. For Participate we welcome new members to the Keep Badges Weird community as well as planning new announcements, badges, and activities.

I’ve also been doing some coordination around the ICoBC Symposium panel keynote with other participants. We’re pre-recording the discussion as being in different timezones makes it difficult to do it live. I’ll be focusing on the last decade of Open Badges and what we’ve learned that helps for future work. I also joined the EdTech Circle, a new community for product managers in edtech. I’m kind of that, and certainly have been in the past. I went along to the first informal chat, which was nice. It’s good to meet new people and be reacquainted with familiar faces.

After recording two episodes last week, Laura and I didn’t record a new one for The Tao of WAO this week. However, an episode of the Speexx Exchange Podcast that I recorded in August with Don Taylor was finally released. They must have spent the last few months removing my ‘ums’ and ‘errs’ because people say I sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Sadly, some work that’s taken six months to happen is now not happening because of Brexit. The European Schools wanted to do some initial work around badges, but they realised reasonably late in the process that their procurement process means they can only do business with organisations based in the EU. We’re trying to find a workaround, but it’s not looking likely.

Another thing that’s not going ahead at the moment is the Dutch National Library conference. This is due to the partial lockdown that was announced. Thankfully this is merely postponed to March/April 2022. The annoying thing is that my wife had booked flights (she, unlike me, hasn’t made a commitment) and so it looks like we’re down £300. They were the cheapest flights at the time, so don’t allow changes — and insurance policies at the moment only cover illness, not changes in government policy.

Next week we’ll be doing more work with and for Julie’s Bicycle and Participate, and it looks like I might get involved with some planning for stuff WAO is doing for Greenpeace next year. Other than that, we’ve got a co-op day and I’ve got some other business development chats.

Right now, it’s looking like I’m going to regain the ability to take the last three weeks of the year off, which is great. I’ve found that I can only really unwind when I have 20+ days off in a row and what better time to do it than over a time that spans both my birthday and Christmas?