Open Thinkering


Tag: competition

The end of competition

The period of time I spent at the end of December consciously not working is one of the first where I wasn’t either (a) explicitly in competition with others, or (b) implicitly in competition with myself.

Competition can be good. It can be motivational and help us strive to be better / faster / stronger. But, too often, it can be damaging and cause us to act in ways that aren’t beneficial to ourselves or those around us.

I’ve been a gamer all my life and so the idea of beating myself (as a kind of ghost car) has always appealed to me. But, having reached the age at which almost every elite athlete has retired, I need to stop kidding myself that I’ll ever run a sub-20 minute 5k. That’s OK.

In addition, I’ve come to understand the approach my mother took to family board games when I was a child. She refused to play to win, instead making sure (as far as she could) that my sister and I never finished last. As a parent, I get that now.

A competitive approach to life is often justified by talking about “preparing young people for the real world”. It’ as if the so-called real world is red in tooth and claw. In my experience that’s not the case; the ‘real world’ is more focused on collaboration than competition.

So, perhaps we’ve got things backwards. Maybe the reason adult life involves competition is not because of the nature of the ‘real world’ but because capitalism demands competition, and so we bake it into childhood.

All of this has made me realise that while competition still has a role in my life, it’s a diminished one. I need to put it back in the box where it belongs, to be taken out where appropriate.

The rest of the time, I should be collaborating, helping bring attention to those who deserve it. That’s instead of (and it pains me to admit it) seeking the reassurance of “doing better” than others. We’re all in this together, after all.

This post is Day 82 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

Competition and the problem with ‘reality’.

This is a scheduled post whilst I’m on holiday in the UAE – my apologies if I don’t respond to comments straight away!

“There’s a philosophical tendency in the West, following Plato, to conclude that if a theory isn’t working, there must be something wrong with reality.” (Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, Harvard Business Review)

An increasingly-prevailing rhetoric of competition has invested western society. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is the dominant mantra: nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’ justifies everything from ultra-competitive school sports days to bankers being paid huge bonuses. Anyone who opposes such an ‘obvious’ state of affairs is seen as naive and, well, a bit… fluffy.

Interestingly, where the real work gets done – on the frontlines (be those military or educational) camaraderie and sharing rules the roost. Why? Because when it comes down to it, we are what we share. Competition, despite what the current government would have us believe, does not ‘drive up standards’ in and of itself: it’s a lazy shorthand for innovation. And if, like me, you believe that co-operation is the best way to bring people together to innovate, then competition is diametrically opposed to this. Everything is not a market.

So the next time you try work out how to boost your Klout score, improve the numbers in that little Feedburner chicklet, or be reshared/retweeted on Google+ or Twitter, just ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Am I doing this to make the world a little bit better than I left it? What and whose theory am I acting on here?

My first infographic competition.

Flowing Data competition - US class sizes vs. SAT (v2)

(click on infographic to enlarge)

I’ve come across a wealth of fantastic infographics blogs recently. One of the best, and which has a community element is Flowing Data maintained by Nathan Yau, an UCLA PhD candidate. Nathan runs regular Visualize This competitions, the latest of which (closes 24 November 2009) compares teacher/student ratio with SAT scores by State.

The hardest bit, I’ve found, of creating an infographic is (perhaps obviously) working out how to visualize the data in a meaningful way. The problem with the raw data presented in this competition was that there were 3 SAT scores (reading, maths, writing) and that a meaningful correlation would assume an inverse relationship between this and teacher/student ratio.

In other words I had to figure out a way of plotting something increasing whilst the other decreased.

After a bit of playing around fruitlessly, I settled on the infographic at the top of this post. I’ve a few days left to change it a bit if necessary, but I think that it does, on the whole, do what’s required of it.

I’m never going to win the competition (a copy of David McCandless’ The Visual Miscellaneum) but, like entering a half-marathon or a 5k to focus your running routine, it’s still worth doing! 😀

A Week of Divesting: Domains [incl. a competition!]

This blog post involves a competition to win the domain names and It’s free to enter, but you have to comment and make a promise! If you’re not interested in the story behind the competition, simply scroll down to the section in bold at the end for what to do.

Hot Air Balloons
Image by a4gpa @ Flickr


Every now and then I decide to buy a domain name. It’s usually related to some project or other I’m thinking of undertaking. Sometimes the project doesn’t take off (e.g. whereas other times it does (e.g. Unfortunately, the two domain names I’m proudest of coming up with are currently lying dormant. That’s causing me increasing angst as I wonder what to do so as not to squander them. I’ve decided, therefore, to donate them to a worthy cause. 🙂

The stories behind the domains

In 2007 I was growing frustrated at ‘only’ being a teacher of History and ICT. I wanted to do something like what I’ll be doing from this academic year onwards as Director of E-Learning. Unfortunately, such positions were still very much in their infancy and it wasn’t clear that schools in the state sector would create such positions. Consequently, I started creating a consultancy and training company. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much further than the business cards and website.

The domain name for this business, however, I thought was clever as it was based on what I consider to be quite a valuable domain: This is the first domain name that’s up for grabs. All you need to do is to add a comment to this post explaining what you would do with it. The other thing that you must promise is that it will be beneficial to the educational community in some way and not be for-profit.

The second domain name also has a backstory. In January 2008 I went to the Headteacher of the school where I was teaching History and ICT explaining that we needed a position akin to a Director of E-Learning. The Head agreed that we needed something like that, but that the position I was proposing was a little ahead of its time, shall we say, at that particular school. To cut a long story short, I became E-Learning Staff Tutor for the academic year 2008/09.

Reflecting on this position during the summer holiday of 2008 I realised that whilst a physical presence was necessary in terms of a noticeboard and things in staff pigeonholes, having a central digital place would also be important. I had a think, realised that for various reasons it should be separate from the staff website, and started a blog entitled ‘Elearnr’ (like Flickr – without the ‘e’) powered by Edublogs.

After a while, as it was used increasingly by staff, I realised that was available. This not only shortened the URL but solved some of the frustration I’d experienced with Edublogs introducing advertising. This, then, is the second domain that’s available. It’s currently got guides and useful links relating to e-learning on it. If you’re fortunate enough to secure the domain name, feel free to keep or dispose of this content!

What to do to enter the competition:

Want to enter the competition to win one or both domain names? Here’s what to do:

  1. Decide which domain name you’d like (or both!)

  2. Explain what you’d do with the domain in the comments section to this blog post.

  3. Add the following to the bottom of your comment: ‘I hereby promise that I shall use the domain in a way beneficial to the educational community and not for financial gain.’

Be as creative and detailed as you can and may the best entry win! Entries close on Sunday 6th September 2009 at 12pm British Summer Time* and the winners will be announced in a blog post on the same day. If you know someone who may be interested, why not tweet or blog about it, or send them an email? 😀

* Find out what time this is in your part of the world here.

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Competition: win a Macvatar Macbook skin!

Can you spot the difference in the picture to the left? Yep, that’s my Macbook at the bottom, Hannah (my wife)’s Macbook in the middle, and a Macvatar Macbook skin all by its lonesome at the top. I’m absolutely delighted with the resulting look from the skin I chose from their website. The quality of the vinyl material used is excellent, and you can remove and re-apply it easily. The speed of delivery was nothing short of fantastic (4 working days from US to UK!)

Macvatar were either very kind or mis-counted when they sent my chosen skin. Yep, they sent two. I could sell the second on eBay, but I’m not going to: I’m giving it away! To get your hands on that second skin I’ve got spare, simply do the following:

  1. Tell me (in the comments to this post) why you need the skin so much. This could be because of scratches or other damage to your once-shiny Macbook, because you have 2 or more Macbooks in your household/school, or some other creative reason! 😀
  2. Attach, or link to, a picture backing up your entry. This, again, can be as creative as you’d like. Try for free image hosting if you need it…
  3. Wait in anticipation until Sunday 27 April 2008 when the winner shall be announced!

Around 450 people subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog. I reckon that means that about 1000 people read it regularly. Of those, probably 20% have Macs, and of those, probably about a quarter have Macbooks. That means 5% of 1000 = 50 people. Of those, only about a fifth will no doubt enter….

So, if you enter you’ve probably got a 1 in 10 chance of winning! 🙂