Maps, possibilities

In last week’s post whilst talking (writing) about the development of new learning and community spaces at the University of Salford, I teased out the notion of possibility inherent in these spaces and promised (to those few noble souls who have the tenacity and perseverance to follow this blog in a manner that is habitual, rather than accidental) that I would, in some way, pick up further thoughts around possibility in a future post. Well, as they say, the future is here. So yeah; possibility.

I used a phrase in last week’s post to which, unfortunately and regrettably, I can’t lay claim. ‘Possibility rendered as present’ was a phrase I came across whilst undertaking my PhD. It was coined by Dorinda Hulton ( a lovely person who supervised my doctorate for a while) in writing about aspects of the practices of Joseph Chaikin. I think it’s a wonderfully succinct capturing of (some of) the tensions inherent in the idea of possibility. And that got me thinking about maps.

I love maps. There’s a framed OS map of the immediate Shire in our hall, customised with our postcode at the centre. I particularly love those associated with walking, or the great outdoors. They are a signal of promise to me – the call of a day, or days, spent outdoors navigating and exploring and (more often than not) getting lost, is irresistibly whispered by a map. Before a walk with the dog occurs (Willow-Pants the Brave – see photos below) part of the beautiful experience is the pre-actualised imaginative act of the day ahead – pulled forward with the aid of a map. Those early morning moments spent with quiet coffee, projecting oneself mentally into the spaces and views that lie unfolded in 1:25000 detail on the kitchen table; tracing lines of what the day might hold along the routes, gradient makers and compass bearings… possibility.

Having now lived in Buxton for five or so years and visited and walked around the area for much longer than that, I also now have many intersecting mental maps of the Peak District; places like the Goyt Valley, Shuttlingsloe Tor, Wildboarclough, Kinder Scout, Shining Tor, the Dragon’s Back, Errwood and Fernilee are all markers, synaptically etched with an array of traces and pictures linking them all together. The personal paths between these points are well-worn friends – each retracing lets the groove on the record sink deeper, cumulative action causing the route to become more ingrained. At the same time the memory is refreshed and the new and undiscovered is, without fail, stumbled across each time the path is encountered, such that many of my favourite paths are now profoundly peaceful multi-layered memories sitting across all seasons. I’ve encountered them in wind, hail, rail, snow and shine and I know them in the dark with my eyes closed.

Despite this certainty which comes from just knowing where one is, I mentioned getting lost back there – that’s important. Whilst I freely acknowledge that, amongst our friends, my capacity to point out useful shortcuts, or alternative routes, is a trait which has often added several miles and a good couple of hours to that which has been planned, I think its all relative. There’s lost, lost and then Lost. I’ve been in all three states; lost (a little off-track) lost (knew roughly where I was, but stayed out unexpectedly overnight) and Lost (didn’t know where I was for two days – this last Lost happened in Malaysia during a travelling spell some years ago. I maintain that, as I know which country and region I was in, it still wasn’t really, really Lost. I’ll admit the opinion of others on this viewpoint has differed). My point here is that I do think getting slightly lost (find your own level of tolerance, folks) is genuinely a Very Good Thing. The unexpected is always, always found, personal resourcefulness inevitably comes to the fore in some form or other and the experience usually results in a learning curve of sorts.

And so how does one reconcile the love of maps with a desire and recognition that the uncertain and unpredictable adds something? How does one draw together that which is documented as definite, objective landscape, with the desire for the unexpected?

Answer; possibility – Its all in there, colliding within that one gorgeous word.

I love maps precisely because, for me, they do not paint a picture of certainty; a tracked out, manageable route from A to B. Instead, maps are indications of a terrain to be explored. They are not an artefact on which to cling – they’re something to use as a starting point – a springboard into what might be. And the possibility held within them, sitting quietly as they lie patiently on the table before being folded and taken on a walk, is only really realised as being present when one uses them to become drawn into encountering the unexpected, or getting a little bit lost.

And, (pointing this whole entry towards life at the University of Salford for a moment – stay with me folks) if one were to transpose the idea of a map as configured here onto the idea of a module outline, I think I’d say the same thing. In a changing regulatory environment, the necessity of CMA compliance and a rise in a marketised consumerism which has underneath it the certainty that comes with transaction, I think the worst disservice we could do to our students is to give them a map indicating a reductive fully prescribed route of learning certainty from A to B. Clarity of direction; of course, but certainty? Absolutely not. As guides on the journey, treading alongside our students on transformative learning paths that contain something much deeper than a reductive transactionalism, I would hope that the map points out familiar markers. But I also hope for vast blank areas in the map – swathes of the unknown, or unpredictable, or unforeseen, just beckoning to be filled in; possibility rendered as present and unmapped arenas of safe-danger within an outline of a landscape which are there to help our students get just a little bit lost.

See you next week.

Possibility and space

I had a blog entry in mind for this week, but that idea has been shimmied carefully into my back pocket. It’ll probably make an appearance next week (ooh the suspense…) as I can see, in my mind, how it might link to this week’s thoughts. Bear in mind, oh loyal reader (both of you – hello Mum) my mind does not travel in straight lines, so the link, at present so clear to me, might be tangential at best and akin to obtuse logic at worst. However, if you’re still with me a week from now (I promise you the benefits do occasionally outweigh the disadvantages) and are wondering about the link between this entry and the one intended, I think its all down to the notion of possibility.

I like the concept of possibility – it has so many facets and inherent tensions – what will be, what might be and what could be. In the world of my naturally optimistic mind, possibility also carries with it a tentative sense of hope, but also for me, a sense (demand) of personal agency in ensuring that which is hoped for becomes…. Becomes… well, just becomes, really. Which also points to the other aspect of possibility which I find hugely attractive – it’s forward looking; for better or for worse, its all about the future. Today actions are simply writing the basis for tomorrow’s adventure. As an educationalist, I find the possibility of possibility possibly the most exciting thing there is about my work – helping people build future selves – what a phenomenal, awe inspiring and terrifying responsibility and gift…

I suspect more thoughts on the characteristics of possibility as a concept will emerge over the next few entries…

So what happened this week, and what might I be writing about next week which carry the idea of possibility? Well, you’ll have to wait till next week for next week’s topic (such is life, folks – this isn’t a Netflix box set binge session y’know) but this week it was all about space. Two spaces, actually; encountered across campus from each other within in minutes of each other.

The first space was our new multi-faith centre. I was privileged to be invited to formally open the building. It’s a huge achievement and a clear example of what happens when staff and students from across the university collaborate and work together to produce something really quite special.

 

The centre brings together a team of Chaplains from various faiths represented on campus and co-locates them all together under one roof – sector leading – I’ve already been told that we’re the envy of immediate neighbours, and colleagues from further afield are coming to see the model we’ve (co)created. The building is also much more than just a place for religious observance – it has meeting facilities and spaces for quiet contemplation. Walking round during the opening I was struck by how calm the place was and what significant opportunity it gave for dialogue, discussion and debate – a collegiate meeting place for ideas – isn’t that what a university should be fostering? More than this, its also open to the wider Salford community – tea and coffee is on hand at any time. It’s a forward thinking example of a porous campus offering, building bridges (not walls) between the different and diverse constituencies which help make our university the vibrant, internationalised and yet locally embedded, home that it is.

The second space (chronologically speaking) was the Allerton Beehive. Funky just ain’t the word, and ‘Beehive’ somehow grabs the essence of the space. It’s a new learning environment for all students situated near the café in Allerton. Again, this is a really forward thinking space. It offers the possibility of collaboration and messiness. It has several rooms, quiet little areas, comfy seating and group work spaces which can be booked out by students. With networked rooms, shift-able furniture and walls that double up as floor to ceiling doodle/ note pads (the invite to scribble on the walls is explicit) it’s a beautiful example of a disruptive, creative learning environment which fosters active and collaborative learning – and the development of a skillset absolutely aligned to real world work and our ICZs. The students have loved it – the graffiti on the walls already echo out a very positive reception.

And now you’re thinking, but… possibility…. Spaces… c’mon – tie it together… (alright, alright…)

The exciting thing about the development of these spaces is not the actual facilities themselves, but the actions, thinking, behaviours, conversations and meetings that they enable – for me it’s the sense of the possibility which sits in the spaces, which wasn’t there before, but now is… These spaces are catalysts for positive developments. Exactly what developments, I don’t know and moreover, couldn’t possibly predict, but I know that these spaces will foster things that I can’t even imagine. In that way they will become more than the sum of their parts – the possibility for positive growth and development, be in it in the collaborative shenanigans of the beehive, or in the meeting of ideas in the multi-faith centre, is huge and will help shape numerous futures and that’s why I’m drawn by the spaces – to me they are possibilities rendered as present – how exciting. I’m looking forward to the adventures they create…

See you next week.

Elections and co-production

This past week has seen the University of Salford Students’ Union run the voting process for their annual elections. Kicking off with gusto in January, the election process has slowly built up to this week, with the week itself ending at 5pm on a Friday with the live streamed and twitter saturated announcement of the winning candidates – four sabbatical officers and a union president. Check out their blog on the results here.

Its been an exciting campaign which, pleasingly, has had a record number of candidates step up to the plate – we even had a candidate put forward from across the seas – hailing from a programme of study in Malaysia. It’s great to see this level of engagement, which has also been mirrored in a record voter turn out, beating the record of last year, which was a significant jump in engagement from the year before – a positive engagement trend emerges, something that, as PVC Student Experience, I’m delighted to see. The USSU team have surpassed themselves and earned rest and wine (those would be my choices) in equal measure this weekend…

And so we now have a new sabbatical team waiting in the wings to step into office in the summer. I’m looking forward to working with them.

I think we (both the colleagues at the Union and those at the University) have moved our relationship forward leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. Whilst there’s always more to do, the dynamic between the two entities gives me cause for excitement because I see it becoming at once more focused and yet messier – essentially, I see it moving more and more into co-productive space. It’s a space/ way of working that really chimes well with the development of our Industrial Collaboration Zones. These zones, like the relationship with the USSU, work best when all parties involved in an idea or project bring their relevant expertise and perspectives to the table in order to build and develop something greater than the sum of its constituent parts. The process is always messier and inevitably takes more conversations, more iteration and more to-ing and fro-ing, but what comes out at the end of things is a product or position which is co-owned by all involved. And it works – it really works – one only has to look at our recent library development, (I blogged about it here) to see the value of co-creative thinking and practice.

There’s also something about pro-active personal responsibility within the act of co-creation – again I’m delighted to be working with the USSU as we further develop this expectation of our students and constituents, so that even before they arrive at the front door, there is a clear, shared understanding of what it means to be learner at UoS – what students can expect from the university and the USSU, and what the University and the USSU expects from them. Co-creators or co-producers in any project are jointly responsible for the outcome – there is no room for the passive participant or the passenger here – all co-creators who are recipients and owners of the outcome have to be able to proudly say – ‘I did some of that, and its bigger and better than had I tried on my own’. In a learning sphere (I mean learning in the widest sense here) this means the student taking up the position not of a spectator but of the Boalian ‘spect-actor’ – a proactive agent, actively required to play with the other agents in the production and play with the script to change it, to alter and improve the outcome; to shape the narrative or journey as it unfolds for the better, with ripples of impact spreading beyond the framework of the performance event itself – this engagement fosters a far more exciting, rewarding (and sometimes unpredictable) learning journey in which knowledge is not a commodity – something one comes to university to get or receive, but rather it becomes an experience – something one has, something living and breathing…

So that’s why I’m excited so see a great election come to fittingly fizzing fruition on Friday, (the end of that thought was irrationally pleasing) with increased engagement and passion demonstrated throughout the campaign and the voting period. And now we’re already heading headlong into the next academic cycle with the USSU and the new team (actually, the new president is a sabbatical officer from the year before this one). With the ICZs firmly at the forefront of thinking, we’ll be working together with our students to be the ‘hearts and lungs’ of an excellent, holistic student learning experience – without either organ, things just wouldn’t work, and each organ is dependent on the other to function properly. The possibilities within this genuine co-creation of coproduction are truly exciting as the USSU brings perspectives, positions and and expertise to the table we, as a University, simply can’t grasp by ourselves (and visa versa) – it’s a symbiotic partnership and I can’t wait to push it further.

See you next week.

 

 

 

Resilience – messy reality, and knowing and not knowing

So I performed the Waiting Room this week. It was put on at the New Adelphi Theatre on campus last Thursday. I previously blogged about the production here. I think the production went OK. But it certainly (for me anyway) didn’t go to entirely to plan. (First photo below is from the performance itself, courtesy of AJ Handley-Rowe, aka @AmyJayBird, third is from Dr Kirsty Fairclough aka @DrFairclough)

It started with a full day – meetings starting at 8:30 am, as per usual and then ploughing straight through without pausing until 4:30pm, at which time I was supposed to then do a quick dress rehearsal, to allow some downtime before the actual performance at 7 pm. A somewhat hectic day. However, meetings did as meetings do – over run, which meant a delay getting into the theatre which meant everything was a little pushed for time. We got there, but from the perspective of a personal routine before a performance, it was a little tight. This slight wobble in the smooth machinery of pre-prep was also compounded by me knowing that a number of friends, relatives and colleagues were travelling from far, wide and near to be in the audience – 20 minutes from curtain up I found myself wondering if they’d made it, or wondering if… just generally wondering. Suffice to say the lead up to the performance was not as I’d wish it to be in an ideal world.

However, the play went fine – several colleagues who had seen it before commented that this telling was better than the last, and I received a number of very kind comments from staff and students alike – all good.

But immediately after the performance, I wasn’t really happy. Several sections had not turned out well in my internal estimation and, through a discombobulation of the relationship between brain and tongue/ vocal chords, I’d performed unintended linguistic acrobatics with some of the lines. (It’s a good job the playwright is a friend and is not of the precious persuasion when it comes to carefully worded performative text…)

Perhaps partially as a result of the personal pre-show day, what I see here (amongst many other things, mind…) is a loosening of my personal control on the performance (as an aside its interesting that the Waiting Room essentially chronicles the disintegration of control for Thomas, the central character), which resulted in a somewhat different performative experience than I had intended. Not generally better/ worse, just different.  At several points in the performance I found myself exploring different facets that have not popped up before, or perhaps imbuing a section of text with a different quality. Importantly, in the moment of doing, I wasn’t entirely sure why. Sometimes the doing-it-a-different-way resulted from internal mistakes, or the fact that, by dint of said mistakes, I was holding onto the performance by only the most slender of threads – It was a creative, teetering state of (if I’m being totally honest here) not really knowing or consciously steering things along, but rather being steered by the character and the play itself – essentially getting out of my head and relinquishing control to what will be….

This creative state, in this instance partially caused by the collision of a packed day with the performative necessaries, is not entirely comfortable. However, having experienced it numerous times before in performance, its very positive. It is a state where not knowing, but intuiting with a certain amount of experiential intelligence is essential. In the example of a scripted play, there’s the facts, and the given circumstances of the character, but then the rest is perhaps a process of knowingly stumbling in roughly the right direction, nudging oneself in each performance this way and that depending on directorial (or other) feedback.

It strikes me that this creative journey or experience; essentially a journey of guided exploration, fosters a certain aspect of resilience – it’s not the whole picture of personal resilience by a long shot, but its certainly some of it – being comfortable with being uncomfortable in not entirely knowing, as one (hopefully) meanders in the right direction. And its valuable – very valuable – even the experience of heading (again, hopefully temporarily) down an unprofitable path of investigation is, in itself, a valuable learning experience – anyone who has completed a large piece of investigative work will have had those moments where a thread has been diligently pulled at only to result in the jumper to which it was attached disappearing as the thread runs out – there’s nothing to be found. (During my PhD there were many 3am library sessions in which I drowned in the muddy waters of what turned out to be useless (to me) cul-de-sacs and dead ends.)

My point, oh ever-patient reader, is that having the sheer unpredictability of a live situation pull the proverbial rug out from under my feet, and that not knowing, not having the certainty of outcome, not having a comfortable path to resolution and result, not being able to knead the dough and know, know the bread will rise as expected, is a brilliant opportunity to build personal resilience – and such opportunities, (each of which carries the beautiful possibility of productive failure) can be found everywhere.

The problem is (you knew this was coming, didn’t you…) dominant modes (not all by any means) of assessment in compulsory and higher education are risk-averse and deny this real time experiential discovery and tussle with control for the learner. The very fabric of the structures sitting around education are designed to deliver an outcome, biased towards the safe acquisition of disciplinary knowledge; ‘upon successful completion of this module you will be able to/ will have demonstrated….’ through which, valuable ‘soft’ skills and abilities (resilience amongst them) are also assimilated, but not always acknowledged. I don’t for one moment deny the need for pupils and students the world over to develop disciplinary (and more importantly interdisciplinary) knowledge, but in the real world, (that bit beyond the classroom which doesn’t use the cipher of marks/ grades to attribute value – remember?) knowledge in application is messy, and it goes a little pear-shaped simply because of the number of variables at play in any one time in the real world.

So how about, where opportunity arises, we reconsider knowledge outcomes and develop a re-emphasis towards messy learning, some of which isn’t necessarily entirely predictable in advance (heretical, I realise). So if the Waiting Room were to be a modular vehicle, and, with the benefit of hindsight…

By the end of the performance run of Waiting Room, you will have;

  • Learnt to control panic/ find creative solutions when presenting in public and the path forward isn’t entirely clear;
  • Learned to work productively with the unexpected;
  • Become increasingly comfortable with being uncomfortable in a live industry setting;
  • Recovered from minor failure in a live industry setting;
  • Delivered to broad expectation, despite any unexpected/ minor failure
  • Relied on a co-created combination of criteria to ascertain levels of personal/ professional success, including personal perception of performance and end user feedback;
  • Not received any marks or grades.

 

See you next week.

Expansions and contractions in Ramallah

So I’ve been in Ramallah this week. It’s been brilliant, hectic fun in which rehearsed flexibility has been key. I’ve been here with the British Council, on the first visit of a programme which seeks to develop and embed entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial thinking into the practice of Palestinian universities, such that the graduates of these universities could then operate with entre/ intrapreneurial mindsets and capabilities. It’s a really interesting programme and has stemmed from my visit to Bethlehem and Ramallah in May last year – I blogged about it here.

What was an initial visit to present a paper I co-authored with Helen Marshall, our Vice Chancellor has, by means of a couple of workshops and many conversations with the British Council, turned into a genuinely exciting programme of work, in which projects aligned to the endeavour of developing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial teaching and learning are being shaped by an inter-institutional team from the UK. This last point in itself is exciting – its great to be collaborating with colleagues from other universities – its particularly rewarding since we’re all from the same mission group (University Alliance); the development of resilient graduates through distinctive real world learning is, I think, part of the special character of our mission group – its certainly there in bundles at Salford.

Anyhow, on this visit we’ve been working with colleagues from seven Palestinian universities to kick off their projects and position our full programme as a large piece of action-research in itself – watch this space for further details on that front…

However, whilst the formal content of the three full days we’ve been here has been fun at full tilt in itself, I actually want to pull out a brief moment outside those workshoppy spaces and places; it came after the first day of workshops, on the evening of our second day here…

It’s the first time I’ve worked with Dr Joan Lockyer from Coventry University, and Dr Gillian Jack (or amusingly, and pleasingly briefly, Dr Jack Gillian, as the first version of her airline ticket read – cue 15 minutes of being exceptionally nice to lovely BA staff at stupid o clock in the morning) from the University of South Wales. We’ve all reflected on how well and how quickly we have meshed as a team – in early instances of team teaching I have found it a rarity to be comfortable enough with material and unfamiliar colleagues to be able to happily ditch well-laid plans and the rosy cosy comfort blanket of rehearsed text, and play, improvise and shift things around as the need arises. However, we’ve done just this, and the outcome has been all the more robust for doing so.

Anyway, at the end of the first day of workshops, there was a palpable and shared sense of ‘that went pretty well – we’re onto something here – I think its going to be a good outcome’ between us. A slightly tentative breath out, but not all the way, not just yet. Given that we’d been indoors all day, and were riding on the kind of high one has when walking into sunshine after a concentrated indoor task, we decided to take a walk up the road from the hotel and into the winding Ramallah streets and the Souk.

It was an ambling walk during a hazy dusk, wandering where the pathways took us, round countless street vendors selling corn, and spices and sandals and strawberries – mountains of strawberries, and sneakers and hot tea and coffee and strange vegetables stacked house high on carts and boxes and all of this visual and olfactory feast was cloaked in a cacophony of car horns, and shouted wares and unfamiliar music and chatter and in the background, the droning song-speak of mosques as the call to prayer floated out chants and guiding hands called a hundred thousand times over; incantations which grounded the whole scene in a tradition which blended with the thump from stereo speakers in the street.

Here’s a little video which captures some of it…

https://www.flickr.com/photos/samgrogan/shares/9u457P

You can see a full slide show of the trundle here.

Afterwards, we had dinner in our hotel and then put the world to rights over a glass of wine (that last bit implies the singular, rather than the plural – I’d be sandpapering actual truths into a more respectable form if I let that stand; there was wine and it was definitely in more than one glass.)

The conversation between Gill, Joan and myself was broad, deep and thoroughly enjoyable, seamlessly flowing (like said beverages) across subjects as diverse as Kantian thinking, hermeneutics, phenomenology, to politics, to genetics and inter generational genetic memory, to solipsism, deterministic thinking, to embodied knowing and consciousness, to play theory and social constructivism, to soft networks and organisational structures. Sadly, we didn’t manage to get to the X-factor, but there’s a limit, y’know? We did, over several scribbled napkins, also capture the essence of an idea about a potential shared venture of a book – even managing to arrive, after some time, at a working structure and tasks forward.

It was very good wine.

My reflection on all of this – the intense day, the seemingly aimless wandering (which was just as much about being mentally led by the sights and sounds of the souk, as the physical activity of the pootle) and the highly enjoyable and, as it turns out, productive conversation over dinner, is that, I don’t think the remarkable dinner conversation could have happened with out the contraction of the day, and then the release of the walk – both episodes contributed to the final chapter of the day and were foundational in its architecture. Again, similarly to my post last week, it’s partially about a subjective experience of time – contractions and expansions giving rise to different body-mind states, each of which offers opportunity. Another reminder to myself to recognise, search out and nurture the gifts which are always, always there.

Finally, this blog entry actually has multiple purposes – firstly, it’s a piece of personal reflective writing on experience which is to be shared with our Palestinian colleagues – to those readers – I hope its useful. And secondly, this is my documentation of my day for the 365 days of experience being captured at the University of Salford as part of the story of our 50th year. It’s not been a bad day at all…

See you next week.

Time?

In most of the posts in this blog, a fair idea of what the post is going to be about emerges quite early in the week. The seed of a post turns around slowly in my head, as it is pushed this way or that by further reading and a little digging. This creative act of committing and organising these thoughts into legible ones and zeros is akin to sculpting something with a semi-formed pre-existing notion of what that something might be, chiseling away all the erroneous words and sentences until the thing being developed is what’s left.

But then, just occasionally, I feel I can internally perceive ‘something’ which needs to be written about, but, paradoxically, at the time of sitting down to write, I can’t quite even see it – I know it’s there; sitting behind preoccupations, or lurking with intent behind some sort of mental curtain, but it hasn’t quite even made it to the level of thought shaped by words – its like a pre-linguistic itch that needs (in a fleeting reference to Ted Hughes) to be linguistically ‘dug’ out and actually formed by this act of wordery. Given that words are predominately the medium of choice in these blogs, this makes things a little difficult. In these instances I’m exploring with the blog; sifting, uncloaking, attempting to systematise, (the unwieldy name of this blog was not an accident) but, as I delicately try to excavate the imaginative pre-linguistic sense of things and translate into shareable prose, I’m also aware that I’m unsure of the tools at my disposal. I’m like a butcher holding the scalpel of a surgeon, about to dive into a complex procedure – the very tools with which I seek to give form to the thing may destroy it by accident. Worse, there’s the highly probable realisation on the horizon that the internal phenomenology has been diluted; weakened through transposition, like a concerto reduced to a single melody line.

This blog entry, (you patient readers, you) is one of those entries. The second kind. Sentences here are started as exploratory forays into a landscape that I can’t quite grab, a picture that won’t quite be created to/for me. As I’m writing, I think – I think it has something to do with a personal perception of time, or specifically, pace. Or, more specifically, different paces and tempos (tempi? I don’t know). Or, travelling even further down the same route, multi-directional personal paces and tempo, which together are simultaneously accelerating/ being compressed.

I’m not intending to simply describe being busy and being pulled in a number of different directions here – this is commonplace in our 24/7, interconnected blended existences of speedy hyper-convenience. This is something more and different. The feeling is more fundamental, more creepingly and permanently transformative, like a sense of being subtly and continuously re-programmed in a certain way, or having neural networks shift in shape, never to slide back. Again, personal multidirectional pace seems a big part of this mental proprioception of self; its like a series of internal concurrent streams, racing and overlapping, even feeding each other at times – Cumulative pace and exponential acceleration.

I grab a chronologically ordered mental snapshot of my last 48 hours; Full day of meetings and visitors at Salford University – we sure are living in exciting times – packing for time away – business trip to Palestine, (passport-check) sorting out the house as my wife is out; a train ride into Manchester for a friend’s birthday meal, towing cases; the meal – boisterous burgers in a fast moving restaurant in Piccadilly Gardens, before heading to Breakout (24 minutes of quick-fire lateral thinking and group-based problem-solving run) leaving this early for the Piccadilly to Euston train, followed by stroke of midnight tube and taxi to touch pillow before an early taxi back to Terminal 5 check in and here I am now in flight, getting ready to magically bounce two hours ahead of myself as my feet hit the destination. In amongst these activities there are punctuating pauses; the moment with my friend in a coffee shop before the burgers (I went bun-less and had sweet potato fries), where the window frame composed a brief interlude of Saturday afternoon people-watching by the library in central Manchester and I marvelled at the complexity of it all in the micro and the macro, and then right now, tumbling out these sentences at 39,000 feet and thinking about action learning sets for the coming two days in Ramallah.

And inevitably I find that the picture is still fuzzy and the words have only begun to point towards the image of the idea. I can feel it still there, behind the curtains, smiling quietly.

See you next week.

Downsizing

If I were to be generous and kind to myself, I’d call myself a campfire guitarist. If I were to be honest, I’d say I have a sporadic ability to coerce 6 strings into a chord on an occasional basis and accompany them here and there with something that sounds like singing/ cat strangling/ dentistry without anaesthetic.

Anyhow, this past time has given me much pleasure over the years. As a self-taught guitarist I can, with judicious use of a capo and a fair bit of winging it, ease myself into pretty much most tunes and hold my own.

We regularly have large gatherings at our house, generally centered around a combination of food, music and games – I have a wonderfully creative group of friends and, more often than not, said gatherings will result in a number of instruments and voices gathered round the piano in our dining room as we communally slaughter an unrehearsed set of shared songs, all of which are bent out of shape and squeezed into easy chords and simple melodies. It’s good fun. Occasionally we’ve recorded ourselves, convinced in a wine-tinted rosy state of oblivion that we sound okay, only to then play back the hasty recording the next morning and weep, whilst we silently vow to never give up the day jobs.

Anyway, the guitar has always been my instrument of choice and the entry point into these melodic, free flowing conversations. Whilst my brother and I were brought up on saxophone (my parents were patient and must have also had highly disciplinary selective hearing) and despite the horn section being louder (my bruvver is now a very successful musician) the guitar appealed, not just because it was slightly cool, but also it was social and portable. During the semi-nomadic period one experiences after university, but before settling down a little, I was lucky to travel a lot – my guitar always came with me and I’ve made some great friends through sharing music – often actually round a campfire.

However, just this last week, I’ve downsized. The number of frets has lessened, as has the number of strings. I’ve discovered the joy of a concert ukulele. And I love it. What a beautifully cheeky little instrument it is. 4 strings instead of 6 and a whole new array of chord shapes to learn. At the outing, it seems to be easy to pick up. I bought my uke a week ago and it’s already given me a whole lot more pleasure than the price tag offered – It’s like a little musical adventure. The thing I enjoy so much is that somehow (and I’m really not exactly sure how) it seems easier to pick up and play – as if less ‘faff’ were involved. And the sound is wonderful – when the character of the instrument is placed against the songs I favour, it manages to be a voice of contrasts – light and deep, playful and resonant, quirky and quietly solemn.

More than anything in these first days of picking up a new instrument, I’ve been surprised at the transferability of personal knowledge. It’s a bit like Latin; the core knowledge allows one to fairly easily develop translational aptitude in a variety of derivative/ relational linguistic contexts– in the construction of chords on the fretboard of the uke, I find my fingers have a readiness to assume new positions without too much bother. This has already led to much fun – Just yesterday I was playing along with friends.

This experience has, in turn, got me thinking again about transferable knowledge. More and more, it seems that it’s the underlying principles and skills which are of most value to an individual’s adaptability and success – in this case me playing uke with friends as opposed to guitar. Of course, there is a knowledge base at play, but I do think that, increasingly success is less about the knowledge itself, and more about the extent to which one can identify and understand the underlying principles and then creatively re-apply them. It aint whatcha do, its the way thatcha do it, so to speak.

These thoughts become even more interesting when one considers such underlying principles in the gearing of the learning endeavour in order to deliver sustainable success for the learner. Even more interesting when considering this on an institutional scale.

See you next week.