Boxing Clever…

At the University of Salford we are investing heavily in people development. It sounds a blindingly obvious thing to say, but systems, processes and infrastructure aren’t innately intelligent and don’t tend to do stuff – its people that do stuff. Consequently as we start to put our new Vision on the ground and make it happen, we’re making sure that we’ve got people who are able to embrace and use the thrust of the Vision to continually embed positive change and growth in how we do what we do.

One such event that contributed towards the realisation of this landscape happened this last week. The session – Leading Change for a High Performance Culture was run by a company called Bridge. The whole day session was focused on beginning to embed a leadership culture across the organisation and is going to be run in various guises with colleagues across the university who are working at various levels. Importantly, this isn’t just aimed at ‘leaders’, but recognises that fostering what are commonly seen as leadership qualities in colleagues across the university will be beneficial for all. Consequently, the session positioned everyone as a leader in their own right; whether leading a single module, a service area, an academic team or a workflow, the inherent encouragement is towards a recognition of the personal power, responsibility and autonomy to affect positive change.

One aspect of the day I found particularly interesting in the context of the wider musings of this blog was the idea of a set of assumptions, thought patterns and consequent behaviours through which one essentially shuts oneself down, and conversely, the assumptions, thought patterns and behaviours that encourage open dialogue. The session gave this binary the terminology of ‘being in the box/ being out the box.’

The session was helpful because it provided additions to the lexicon that I’m trying to establish/ identify around co-creative behaviours. It’s giving (more) language to this train of thought, and helps in establishing an institutional behavioural terminology.

In thinking about ‘in the box/ out the box’ in relation to the notion of playfulness I explored in the last post, a state of ‘in the box’ does not permit playfulness; the potential for a meaningful dialogue with the world disappears as we focus in on our own internal, (more of than not negative) self-narrative – one that continually confirms our position and reinforces itself through a continuous cycle of agreement. However, the allure of that internal space is so seductive… Its easier to control, there are very few variables and we reign supreme over whatever is unpacked in there, as there is no one else to present a different point of view. Decision making is swifter – no need for consultation, collaboration, debate – just get on with things and go it alone. How easy! How simple! What an attractively clear-cut and dependable oasis of isolationism in an increasingly unstable, uncertain external landscape.

But when it is unpicked and really considered from the perspective of personal reward, meaningful, nurturing engagement, a useful sense of ones purposeful place in the world and an understanding of the contribution one might make to the grand scheme of things, it just ain’t fun.

Yes, being ‘out the box’ is more troublesome, it takes more focused effort and energy as one resists the voice of inner sirens luring us onto the rocky doubting shores of the inside, and yes, its messier. Interaction and remaining open to suggestion is, by definition, messy, unpredictable and exposes our vulnerabilities, requiring compromise, cooperation and a constant determination to develop ones behaviour to invite a good outcome.

But paradoxically, knowing we have the choice, the free will to choose ‘out’ rather than ‘in’ gives an inordinate amount of autonomy and power. Why? – because if one realises that there is always a choice, its almost impossible to lose… What might we do if we knew we couldn’t fail?

And, to draw it back to the wider topic of this blog (stay with me folks) it’s in the messy spaces that serendipity, that playful jouissance exists. The possibility of the unexpected occurring can never arise whilst ‘in the box’; there simply isn’t the wiggle room. If we are to encourage serendipity and work towards systematising it and recognising its place as a useful, consciously employed, creative driving force in the culture and behaviours of a large organisation such as UoS, then it seems to me that the fundamental place to begin, is locally; with our own ‘in the box’ internal narrative.

So, are you in or out? Your choice, your move.

See you next week.


Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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