Open Thinkering


Tag: Dynamic Skillset

Developing my offer: what I’m planning for the next few months

Time horizons are funny things. For example, I don’t know about you, but I like to plan a few months ahead. However, there’s a couple of times of year when this feels more difficult. The most obvious of these is Christmas; in December I still find it hard to make plans for January of the next year!

Another of these times is thinking about beyond the ‘summer holidays’ This is partly because I’ve been conditioned all my life to think in terms of the academic year. This year, we’re planning to go away as a family for a good chunk of the summer, but as a consultant I obviously need to think about business continuity and paid work that I’m going to be coming back to afterwards.

Hence this post! I like to think out loud and show my work.

Since setting up by myself, as well as shorter-term work for other clients, I’ve had a steady stream of work with City & Guilds. That’s tapered off from initially working on a full-time basis with them, down to two days at the moment. It’s been great and, as all good teachers do, I’ve greatly enjoyed making myself progressively redundant. So from the end of August I’ll be working with City & Guilds on a per-project basis.

This, of course, means I’m looking for ways to make myself useful to other organisations. I’ve got a few things scheduled but, right now, lots more availability from September onwards than I’ve had previously. Given that so far all of my consultancy work has been ‘inbound’ (i.e. people and organisations have approached me, instead of me approaching them) I’m thinking about ways of packaging up what I do in ways that make immediate sense to people.

One such way that I’ve highlighted before is an approach developed by Bryan Mathers and the good people at wapisasa: the Thinkathon.

Ordinarily, Thinkathons last from 10am until about 4pm, with a break for lunch. The facilitators will have done some preparation beforehand, then on the day they meet with three or four people from the organisation who has requested the Thinkathon. Afterwards, the facilitators package up what was captured during the day into actionable next steps.

The great thing about Thinkathons is that they’re simultaneously ‘off-the-shelf’ (i.e. they’re a fixed price, you know the format of the day, and there’s an output) and bespoke (i.e. what we discuss and sort out is entirely dependent on your organisation and context). They’re also a great way to provide value in a ‘bounded’ way. The Thinkathon by itself could be all that’s needed, or it lead to further work. It’s up to the organisation.

Rocket (CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers)As I’ve mentioned before, we’re currently revving-up, a co-operative consortium of limited companies including mine and those controlled by John Bevan, Laura Hilliger, and Bryan Mathers. The deal is that anything we do individually goes through our respective businesses, but anything we do that requires more than one of us goes through the co-op. That means Thinkathons are something you should approach the co-op about: [email protected].

For the avoidance of doubt, the things you’re likely to hire me individually for as Dynamic Skillset are things relating to education, technology, and productivity. For example:

  • Digital skills/literacies keynotes, workshops, and curriculum development
  • Open Badges keynotes, workshops, and system design
  • Productivity and workflow analysis, coaching, and report-writing
  • Critical Friend services
  • Analysis (desk research and in-person) around use of technology in learning and training contexts.
  • Desk research, synthesis, and report-writing relating to anything I tend to talk about here or elsewhere.

In terms of, it’s a case of ‘watch this space’ to some extent as our first planning meeting is next week). However, as our name indicates, we’re interested in all elements of openness, including Open Badges, but also helping organisations work more openly and transparently.

The Essential Elements of Digital LiteraciesThere’s plenty of other things I want to start offering as well as the above. One of these is a short email-based course based on my ebook The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. This would be a paid addition to the ebook, which (in line with my ‘OpenBeta’ approach) will decrease in price next month to ‘pay what you want’. Do let me know if you’d be willing to be a guinea pig for that. I’d like to do some testing before it goes live for everyone.

Another thing I’d like to offer is the kind of five-day sprint as outlined in the recent book from Google Ventures entitled Sprint: how to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. This would be an a large undertaking for an organisation, but likely to be hugely valuable. I’d be willing to do this at a 50% for my first one, in return for detailed feedback.

And finally (although I’ve got plenty more ideas in my notebook) I’m wondering if it might be worthwhile to build an extremely lightweight badging platform. I’ve had this idea with the codename ‘Self-Badger’ which would provide a much-needed antidote to some of the unimaginative approaches to Open Badges I’ve seen recently. I’ll may need some funding for that, however…

In terms of upcoming speaking engagements, I was supposed to be in South Africa this week speaking about badges and blockchain at the Groningen Declaration conference. However, having withdrawn from the BadgeChain group I felt that my presence there would have been somewhat disingenuous. Instead, I’m planning to use my Badge Summit keynote next month in Aurora, Colorado to ask some hard questions about all of this.

So, if you think I can help you and your organisation, get in touch! I respond to emails sent to [email protected] within 24 hours, and I have a discounted rate for charities, non-profits, and educational institutions.

Images CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers (originally developed for the Community Alignment model)

Doug is a very creative, motivated and talented individual, who inspires others around him to think from different angles and to challenge constructively. — Patrick Bellis (Deputy Director, Jisc group customer services)

Always quick with a witty riposte—usually in animated gif form—or willing to dive into a philosophical conversation, Doug excels at his work. — Carla Casilli (Consultant & former Mozilla colleague)

Doug’s deep expertise in digital technologies for learning, productivity, change and teamwork together with his ability to coach and challenge, has really helped us develop as an education organisation. — Sarah Horrocks (Director, London CLC)

3 reasons you need a critical friend


If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my adult life, it’s that you can be considered a good conversationalist merely by being a good listener. That’s the thing: people want to be heard, to tell their story, to let what’s inside them out.

That’s great, but there’s at least one stage further than that: being good at asking questions. Socrates was great at it. This ‘Socratic approach’ not only stimulates debate, but thought and reflection. Knowing someone who can challenge you in a thoughtful, kind, and meaningful way is a hugely valuable resource on which to draw.

I’ve been prompted into writing about this as I’ve recently taken on what is now my fifth client for whom I am a ‘critical friend’. In none of these cases have I sought out this work, but instead have been approached by each client as someone who they think can help them. This could be a short term thing or, more often, is longer-term, and organised in a more ad-hoc, semi-structured way.

Thinking through what kind of things I talk about with my clients, there’s three broad areas where I’ve been able to help.

1. Motivation and encouragement

We’ve all been there: we know what we need to do in our professional lives, but we just can’t seem to traction. I’ve worked with those who would describe themselves as self-starters, yet have found value in helping me give shape to their plans.

Working with Doug is both a real pleasure and a kick up the backside! (Zoe Ross)

Doug is a very creative, motivated and talented individual, who inspires others around him to think from different angles and to challenge constructively. (Patrick Bellis)

2. Insight and analysis

Sometimes what you need is a person you trust to provide some objectivity on particular problems or struggles you’re having. These could be monumental professional struggles, or they could be #firstworldproblems. Either way, through discussion a way forward usually develops – either at the time, or reflecting on the conversation, by email.

Working with Doug has been one of the highlights of my career. His insights make anything I’m working on better. (Laura Hilliger)

The thing that Doug provided for me, above all, was insight. Through his incisive questioning and our subsequent discussions, Doug was able to help me to discover for myself, the very best way forward for my business and for me personally. He’s incredibly easy to work with and a thoroughly nice guy to boot. I’d highly recommend using his strengths to get the best out of yours. (Greg Perry)

3. Connection and inspiration

It’s easy to think that you’re slaving away, ploughing your own lonely furrow. In fact, there’s many people around the world with similar hopes and dreams as you. Learning from and/or connecting with them can be exciting, liberating, and confirm that what you’re doing is worthwhile.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Doug as a consultant, trainer, coach and all round wise and inspiring critical friend. (Sarah Horrocks)

As a freelancer, I am often alone with my own work. Being able to spend time talking things through with Doug was not only practical, but a catalyst for developing my ideas to help others. (Eylan Ezekiel)

Next steps

As I mentioned above, this is the first time I’ve offered this as a discrete (and discreet, if necessary!) service. I’m keen to help people, spending time to aid them in realising their hopes and dreams.

If you think I can help you, please do get in touch. The first 30 minutes we spend together is free, and I can tailor follow-up sessions to suit you, your time, and your budget. I reply to every email within 24 hours.

Email: [email protected]

Note: some of the above quotations are taken from clients, and some from others who have been kind enough to recommend me on LinkedIn.

Thanks to Eylan Ezekiel for feedback on this post, and John Johnston for drastically reducing the filesize of the gif!

The Next Chapter

The week just gone was my last as a paid contributor to the Mozilla Foundation. I wrote about that here. It’s been a while coming — I set up Dynamic Skillset on 23rd December last year and had set myself the target of becoming fully independent by this September. In terms of planning, my brain still works in terms of academic years…

Happily, a couple of organisations almost bit my arm off when I approached them about doing some consultancy work. I’ve chosen to work with City & Guilds for five months (in the first instance) helping them with various things— including Open Badges. I’m really looking forward to catalysing meaningful change within organisations.

Although it’s perhaps not appropriate to name here all the people who have helped me over the past few months, you know who you are. I definitely couldn’t have taken this step without them. From encouragement before Christmas when I was considering a change, to practical advice on setting up as a limited company, I feel extremely fortunate to be connected to such a generous network. Thank you all.

As ever, I’ll be working as openly as possible and pushing others to do likewise. I’ve never been particularly driven by financial gain: it’s doing interesting and important stuff with awesome people that’s important to me. Life’s too short to spend doing things just for the sake of money.

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”
— Thomas Edison

Please do get in touch if you think I can help your organisation. I’m particularly interested in stuff around digital/web/new literacies, Open Badges, alternative accreditation, open education — you know the kind of things I do.

Remember: I’ve only got so much capacity, especially until September, so let me know sooner rather than later!

"change the world or go home"