I’ve worked in both schools and universities. In the former the ‘barrier’ to innovation is usually said to be time. In the latter it’s usually seen as the trials and tribulations of getting funding.
Whilst I agree that teachers work crazy hours and that both schools and universities are generally underfunded, I can’t help but think that the real reason institutional innovation is stifled is because of permission-seeking.
We all know that the worst kind of censorship is self-censorship – the fear that your actions might bring displeasure or punishment. People, I’m sad to say, don’t tend to give themselves the permission to innovate.
It might be slightly controversial to say so, but it’s easy to ask for time and money in an attempt to ensure a project is a success. And it’s also easy to say that something’s ‘not possible given current resources’. But time and money do not in and of themselves lead to successful projects.
What I think people are hankering after when they ask for money or time for innovation projects is approval. Might I suggest that truly innovative projects are unlikely to get such approval?
Some projects need huge levels of buy-in and support and funding and scoping. Most don’t.
Whenever I come across a longer article via Twitter, Zite, Feedly, Google+ or the other places that I browse headlines, I add it to my Pocket account. The advantage of doing this is not only that I can read those articles at my leisure (such as when I’m on a train journey) but also that the app formats them in a way that’s actually readable.
A while ago I added an article entitled Time Wars to my Pocket account. It’s by ‘leading radical blogger and professor Mark Fisher’ and is about the neo-liberal assault on time. I found it fascinating. You should go and read it.
In the UK at the moment we have the situation where the government has declared war on public sector pay and pensions. It’s dressed up to look like something different, of course, but even a quick peek behind the curtains reveals how ministers manipulate the levers in a futile attempt to make taxpayer-funded institutions cost the government less.
Unfortunately, the ideology of the Conservative government (let’s face it, the Liberals aren’t doing much despite their coalition) is predicated upon a lazy idea of the market as the solution to every problem facing society. Climate change? Carbon trading! NHS costs rising? Bring in private providers! Educational ‘standards’ not improving fast enough? De-regulate everything!
The logic of Capital is everywhere. One very prominent and obvious effect of this is the increasingly casualised and temporary jobs on offer. Who has a permanent job with a guaranteed final salary pension these days? Which of us spend more than five years with the same employer? Where are the ‘good’ jobs (the ones that my Grandmother talks about) for graduates?
At the most simple level, precarity is one consequence of the “post-Fordist” restructuring of work that began in the late 1970s: the turn away from fixed, permanent jobs to ways of working that are increasingly casualised. Yet even those within relatively stable forms of employment are not immune from precocity. Many workers now have to periodically revalidate their status via systems of “continuous professional development”; almost all work, no matter how menial, involves self-surveillance systems in which the worker is required to assess their own performance. Pay is increasingly correlated to output, albeit an output that is no longer easily measurable in material terms.
Of course, there are massive benefits to the casualisation of labour. For example, I now work variable hours from home as part of a team that spans at least five timezones. I get to choose when to take my holidays. My performance is based upon my output rather than the number of hours I spend at my desk.
But, there’s a creeping performative element to all of this. When you can work any time of the day, it’s tempting to work more, not less – especially when you’re dealing with things you’re interested in. I’m fortunate in that I work for Mozilla, whose politics and communitarian approach correlate strongly with my own. But if I didn’t work for a non-profit (or a forward-thinking organisation such as Valve) then I think I’d be looking over my shoulder all the time. Self-regulation and censorship, as George Orwell showed in 1984 is regulation and censorship of the worst kind.
The casualisation of labour is great for those working in what is loosely (and imprecisely) defined as ‘the knowledge economy’. Give me a laptop and an internet connection and I can work anywhere. Others, however, depend upon being physically co-located with others to earn their money. Whilst the uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with casualisation is great for those working in the knowledge economy, it’s a definite downside to those who can’t decide where and when they’re going to work. In fact, all they get is the downside, the uncertainty.
Uncertainty is a negative side effect that some of us are willing to live with because of the positives on the flip side of the coin. But that flip side largely doesn’t exist for those who rely on physical co-location to do their jobs. I’m thinking teachers. I’m thinking doctors and nurses and hospital staff. I’m thinking pretty much every job in the public sector. These aren’t occupations that we should be looking to casualise: we should be making people in these positions feel more secure, not less:
The neoliberal attacks on public services, welfare programmes and trade unions mean that we are increasingly living in a world deprived of security or solidarity. The consequence of the normalisation of uncertainty is a permanent state of low-level panic. Fear, which attaches to particular objects, is replaced by a more generalised anxiety, a constant twitching, an inability to settle.
Everything that can be outsourced to the market in our brave new Big Society is packaged up and sold to the highest bidder. Witness the G4S Olympic security debacle, for example. At the same time, training and career development is also outsourced to the market. Instead of taxpayer-funded institutions such as hospitals and schools developing and keeping experienced, knowledgeable staff we’re increasingly faced with uncertain, temporary workers representing third-party organisations. Any ‘innovation’ within such organisations by necessity has to be top-down, as the mechanisms for grassroots innovation are stymied by HR practices:
The reality, however, is that innovation requires certain forms of stability. The disintegration of social democracy has had a dampening, rather than a dynamic, effect on culture in highly neoliberalized countries such as the UK. Frederic Jameson’s claims that late capitalist culture would be given over to pastiche and retrospection have turned out to be extraordinarily prophetic.
I’m not arguing for full communism now. Nor am I advocating a King Canute-style position against the incoming tide. What I am questioning, however, is whether the logic of Capital and private enterprise should be applied to the institutions of our state. Some things, after all, are public goods.
I’ll end where Mark Fisher’s article starts, commenting only that we live in an increasingly polarised society where the haves get to choose what the have-nots get to do with their time:
Time rather than money is the currency in the recent science fiction film In Time. At the age of 25, the citizens in the future world the film depicts are given only a year more to live. To survive any longer, they must earn extra time. The decadent rich have centuries of empty time available to fritter away, while the poor are always only days or hours away from death.
I’ve spent literally hours of my life doing something manually because to automate it cost money. I’ve spent years frustrated by cumbersome hardware and software because I could get it cheaper than that which delights and is intuitive to use.
But I took a stand.
I really value my time these days. In fact, if it came down to an auction, I’d be the highest bidder – no doubt about it. The realisation dawned just over a year ago that I just wasn’t valuing my time high enough.
Why spend twenty minutes online searching for somewhere to buy an item a pound cheaper? Are you working for £3/hour?
Why do you put up with substandard products when you use them every day?
Isn’t it worth investing in something that will lead to you being less frustrated?
My wife’s sick of me saying this by now, but I firmly believe that you should spend your money on the things that you use most often. For me that’s a bed, our shower, my computer, my mobile phone, and so on. You should also spend money on things that inspire and delight you. It all comes down to one of the quotes I shared recently that I aim to live by:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. (William Morris)
But more than that. Allocate your time and money on things that are important. It reaps dividends both in terms of productivity and happiness. 🙂
It’s entirely possible to make a massive effort and write that lengthy report in a weekend, pull an all-nighter to get that code committed or spend all your holidays with those lesson plans. Of course it is.
But that’s not being productive. That’s panic-working. Being productive is all about the everyday routine. ‘Hack’ that and not only will you consistently get more done but you’ll also avoid negative knock-on effects on your health and energy levels.
I changed job last week. In fact, it was more than a change of job: it was a change in so many respects that it was almost a complete break with what had gone before. I’ve at least changed:
My method of transport to work (car –> train)
The hours I work (now on flexi-time)
My working environment (classroom –> office-based)
As a result, I’ve had to re-think my whole system of productivity. In fact, given that it takes a while to get into a routine, I’m still iterating it. Such things take time to tweak.
1. Write down the top five things that you need to fit in to either every day or at least most days. If you’ve never done this before you may need to brainstorm 20 or so things and then narrow them down. For me it’s (in order of importance):
Spend time with my family
Work on my Ed.D. thesis
Write daily blog posts
Research things that interest me
2. Think about time constraints when doing these things. For example, it’s impossible for me to spend time with my family whilst I’m at work in my current position, so I need to make sure that I’m available to spend time with my son, Ben, from when I return home until his bedtime. It’s also important to think about things that have to be done in ‘chunks’ (like exercise) as opposed to things that can be disaggregated (such as writing blog posts).
I’ve decided that I the best time for me to exercise is in the morning. It makes me feel better, enhances my productivity, and fits in better with with my working day. I’m also spending 30 minutes each way on the train each day. Unlike driving, this is time I can spend doing things (although even when I was driving I’d be listening to relevant podcasts). So, whilst I don’t want to lug my Macbook Pro to and from work each day, I have found a way I can work on my thesis by reading journal articles on my iPhone.
3. Finally, consider changing your sleeping habits. This, I think, can have the greatest effect on your productivity. I’m not a huge believer in people stating they’re a ‘morning’ or ‘night’ person, but if it were true I’d be in the former camp. Getting up and going to bed half an hour earlier can have a huge effect on your productivity. Find out what’s the best time for you. At the moment I’m thinking of shifting from 6am to 5.30am to get some blog post writing done! 🙂
Productivity is a very personal thing. But it’s important to reflect constantly on what you’re doing and why. It’s not about spending every single moment of your day working, but it is about organizing it so everything in your life points in a direction you’ve consciously chosen.
I remember fondly my first ‘proper’ watch: a digital Casio black-and-blue affair with a stopwatch. It was awesome. When I got older and a bit more style-conscious I requested a Seiko Kinetic for my 18th birthday. The Kinetic range had just come out and seduced me into thinking I’d never need to replace the battery in it. They were right, I didn’t. Instead, within two years the whole drive mechanism needed changing at a price not far away from the original purchase price of the whole watch. You never buy version one of anything, trust me. For my 21st birthday I received (at my request) another Seiko that looked very similar but used a good old battery. That’s the one I’ve still got but, as of January 1st, 2010, no longer wear.
I was at university when I got that watch, in my third and final year. During that year I had a lecturer for one of my Philosophy modules who would whip out his Sony Ericsson T68i every so often to look at the screen whilst he was lecturing. At the time I thought this was incredibly rude: how dare he be checking to see if he had any text messages whilst lecturing?! 😮
Later I became the proud owner of a T68i. It dawned on me that my lecturer didn’t wear a watch and, because the phone has the time in big, bold numbers as a screensaver, he had been merely checking what time it was so he didn’t run over. I forgave him post-hoc. 😉
I’m always a bit worried about getting RSI, and so began to take my watch off automatically upon sitting down at my Macbook Pro after I noticing that taking my watch off whilst using it made my right wrist ache less.* But then I started to think… When I’m using my Macbook the time is displayed at the top-right of the screen; when I’ve got my iPhone on me (pretty much always) it displays the time on the lockscreen. Why am I wearing a watch at all?
The nail in the coffin for my watch, now cutting a forlorn figure on the kitchen table, was an article in WIRED magazine (to which I now subscribe). It too laughed at watches as an anachronism. Why on earth, it asked, when the time is all around us – including on personal devices that we carry everywhere – do we insist on wearing something that can only single-task? That was it, I decided I’d be watch-less in 2010.
Since then, I’ve found how liberating not knowing exactly what time it is can be. Yes, it’s necessary sometimes (when teaching, for example) but when in and around the house it certainly leads to more Flow experiences. And that’s a good thing. 😀
How about you? What else do we do or wear that could be considered anachronistic in this day-and-age?
* Yes, I (used to) wear my watch on my right wrist. No, I’m not left-handed. And no, I don’t know why I (used to) do this. I just always have done. :-s
Image modified under CC license from an original by spike55151
I’ve started doing this over the past few months anyway, but it’s time to formalise it. In fact, some have taken the idea and applied it to a whole day (Analog Sundays). I’m not going to be that inflexible and groundbreaking, but it’s a start.
A quick scan through my Delicious links bore no fruit, but I’ve read within the last year two posts that had an impact on me. The first said that using a mobile phone before bed can affect teenagers’ sleep patterns. I did a little more digging and it would seem that using any type of screen within an hour of falling asleep can be detrimental.
At the other end of the day, I read on one of the productivity blogs I subscribe to that checking email first thing is a bad idea. Why? You immediately start the day off on someone else’s terms. That made me think, and I now have a coffee/breakfast/spend time with Ben/go for a run before I check email these days. It makes for much more laid-back mornings and allows clarity of thought.
So there we go: no checking of email until an hour after waking, and no screens in the hour before sleeping. Simple! 😀
I’m worried about dying. No, not in terms of my mortal flesh and immortal soul; I’m worried about what will happen to my data when I die. :-p
That may sound a little, shall we say, geeky, so let me explain. There’s two ways you can ‘live for ever’ in this world. The first is to become so famous that people talk about you until the end of time. As that’s difficult for most of us, the second way is more likely. All you’ve got to do with the second way is to pass on your genes (and your surname) to your offspring. I’m doing well with the latter: my son Benjamin Belshaw was born 20 months ago and will, I hope, continue the illustrious Belshaw line. With the first method, however, I’m still struggling.
My problem is this:
Most of my ideas are in the form of writing in the digital landscape (i.e. on this blog or others on the Internet)
Books and other printed matter in the physical realm are a lot more ‘permanent’ at present that writing in the digital realm.
When I die dougbelshaw.com will cease to exist.
Ergo, unless my ideas are so amazing that they become ubiquitous during my lifetime, they will have little impact after my death.
So I’m left with a problem. Should I start writing a book? Is all I’m writing here ultimately futile? Should I be creating static HTML pages so archive.org can index them?
I’m becoming increasingly aware of the importance of schools as social fabric. Some cynics might call it my becoming more institutionalised, but I would disagree. There’s a reason why we can’t just break with what has gone before and radically alter schooling – witness the French and Russian revolutions, with radical changes such as 10-day weeks, equality of students and teachers, and attacks on the church.
No, I’m now a firm believer in evolution over revolution. That doesn’t mean that I’m happy to leave the profession at the end of my career pretty much in the state I found it. Not at all. Just because I’m focusing on evolution doesn’t mean it can’t be a speedy process. :-p
The reason for my change of heart is my family. Before I was a father I could afford to spend hours in the evening planning radically different lessons, putting together projects and writing proposals that would aid the rapid change of the focus of my school. Now, it’s my family I want to spend time with. Whilst teaching will never be ‘just a job’ to me, I very much more sharply demarcate time spent working towards education-related ends and that set aside for my family. Perhaps that’s why, on a poster which reproduces 19th century ‘rules for teachers’ in our staff room (put up for humorous effect) it says that women who marry will be dismissed instantly. Perhaps we need a profession of driven, single people?
But I think not. We need diversity in the profession. We need young people to come into contact with as many different types of people from different backgrounds as possible. Teachers, although they necessarily come from a smaller pool than that which reflects the world’s population, can still give students a taste of different perspectives. Instead, what we should be doing – which has been called for time and again – is give teachers more time and smaller class sizes so they can really make a difference. I’ve said this many times over the last few weeks, but it’s only since my Year 11s have left that I’ve had time to cope and keep up with the multitude of tasks I’m expected to perform in my daily life as a teacher. Given that ‘changing the educational landscape’ comes over and above that, there’s been some things that have suffered this year. Marking, especially of classwork, springs to mind immediately! 😮
So, to return to the beginning of this post, schools need to change. We all know that. But we need to bring along all stakeholders with us, not just leave them behind. To some extent this involves ‘digital literacy’ (the subject of my thesis), but mainly it involves demonstrating by example how we can do things differently. And to do that, we need time. I, for one, am going to be looking to the future when allocating my education-related time next academic year… 😀