#LTHEchat reflections: metrics of success vs. stories of succeeding

img_4487This post is inspired by taking part in a recent #LTHEchat tweet chat. If you haven’t yet discovered this excellent chat and have an interest in learning & teaching, go and explore their website before reading this. The topic of the chat was ‘what motivates us to use digital tools for learning and teaching’ and while the conversation was thought provoking the exchange that set my mind on a different tangent was the tweets pictured here with David Hopkins (@hopkinsdavid). Incidentally, if you haven’t already done so, this is a good time to discover the ‘Really Useful Edtech Handbook‘ David has edited.

But now, back to my thought tangent. We tweeted about how reflection is useful and how reflecting on and sharing when things don’t go well is important. David then suggested that we can sometimes learn more from things that went wrong than what worked because we reflect more. And that got me thinking, because I reflect on why things worked or didn’t work all the time and and my working life is filled with ghantt charts, project plans and risk assessments that are all designed to help me understand and shape processes and why they work or otherwise. But I don’t think I reflect more on things that don’t work, because often I cannot afford for something to go really wrong – there aren’t a lot of spaces in my work where it is safe to fail. I am in a leadership position where a big failure can have serious consequences and my job is to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Instead, I think most about the things that went right for all the wrong reasons. And that is what this post is about.

It’s a bit like the ‘known knowns’, the ‘known unknowns’ and so forth. There are things that go to plan and succeed, those that go to plan but fail, things that don’t go as planned and fail and then there are things that don’t go as planned but still succeed. You can easily imagine a pie chart that would show how all activities or projects can fall into these categories. If my plan is a good one it probably has enough flexibility built in to ensure that it can adapt to changes or unforeseen circumstances and still succeed. But it also happens that we arrive at the desired outcome, be that a successful project, resource or lesson, despite things going wrong. For example, if you end up having fewer people to work on something than expected, you might identify non-essential tasks and eliminate them. Or when faced with a problem someone might come up with an innovative solution. Or you might be able to reach your goal in a way that’s more efficient. The key for me is not in following the plan, but to reflect on the reasons why it had to change and to learn from them for next time.

Yet, there is a difficulty when you succeed despite things going wrong I find, because when you report on success your audience will not question it in the same way as they would failure. Whether it’s a colleague, a customer or an Executive Board – successful outcomes are  noted and sometimes recognised, but also they can be taken for granted. When something works out we are quick to move on to the next thing, the bigger project… without really understanding why something has succeeded. Often the metrics of success do not reflect what it took to really deliver a successful course or new technology. The measures we set out are often reflective of impact, engagement, income… not usually of the number of times things had to change, how often plans amended or approaches adjusted. In very few instances do you wish to highlight to your audience all the things that went on behind the scenes to make what they are looking at possible. The final presentation, event or report is usually a sanitised version of what we went through, lessons learnt showing what we did right rather than wrong.

I am generalising to a degree, but I do think it’s valuable to consider how we can learn from what succeeds and what doesn’t in a manner that is not as focused on outcomes. Openly sharing practice takes a lot of confidence and determination. Openly sharing the stories behind success AND failures even more so. Taking part in communities like the LTHEchat or indeed those organised by Members of ALT, the organisation I work for, can help with that I find. There is strength in numbers and reflecting on our experiences together can make it easier to share the more personal, less polished stories of we have in common.

 

Open CPD, Visual Thinkery, art school: my week made me think

This post is inspired by two things I did this week: first, taking part in Wednesday’s @LTHEchat on the topic of Open CPD with Chris Rowell and second, reading my weekly delivery of Visual Thinkery in Saturday’s newsletter. Both are highly enjoyable, interesting and rewarding so if you haven’t already I strongly recommend you take a look.

CC-BY-ND @bryanMMathers http://bryanmmathers.com/
CC-BY-ND @bryanMMathers http://bryanmmathers.com/

Both of these activities made me think about being online and what I do when I am online. Is it part of a process, a place or a platform? How do I do what I do and why? It’s useful to step back at times and take a look at what I do and the reasons behind it.
In my case a lot of how I work and think was shaped during my years at art school. For six years fine art and specifically making sculptures was what I spent most of my time doing. It was where I first developed a creative process, learnt to do research, gained critical thinking skills and so forth. In practical terms being in a sculptor’s workshop is not at all like being online: it’s all about physical materials, sensual perception, working with your hands and a lot of messiness. Making something has its own pace, too. Some days go by fast and productive, on others nothing happens and sometimes you spent all your time doing something that turns out to be a disaster. In my last year at art school I learnt how to carve marble. Or rather I attempted to.

Marble
Marble…. largely unchanged

I learnt the technique – but then discovered how LONG it would take to actually carve something. I ended up making a single mosaic over two terms and had a small block of marble still sitting on my table largely unchanged. While I don’t make a lot of things anymore the skills and processes I learnt serve me well in my work now, especially online.
One thing I learnt was to be comfortable sharing a process, rather than a result. Like many people, I think of most of what I do as a process and some of the formal output is just a by product. It’s necessary, but it’s not the main aim. Similarly, place is important. Whether it’s physical or virtual doesn’t really matter, it’s equally important to me. Both in the chat, when we talked about making time for CPD and creating safe spaces in which to share/experiment/fail, and in the drawing Bryan included in the newsletter (which I have included also in this post), I thought about having control over your own places and spaces. It might be a desk or a domain, an office or an open course, a train compartment or a tweet chat. Different places for different times and activities depending on what you want to do. What’s important is to make use of it effectively. A sculptor’s studio is usually a growing collection of inspiration, sketchbooks, materials, models and more. It’s a place which you can use to think, talk, create – but it doesn’t dictate what you do.
In a university setting I shared the space with others, had my tutorials in it or gave presentations. My place became the platform from which I launched my handiwork into the realm of critical evaluation by others. My work became my platform later on, when it sat on the floor of a gallery or in a portfolio. In many ways what I do now is the same. This blog for example acts both as a workshop and a platform, it’s about process and being part of a community of peers.
The Visual Thinkery newsletter and the tweet chat alike made me reflect on how I use technology, how I engage in online activities and spaces. Am I doing it on my own terms? Or am I letting technology dictate the pace and mode of interaction?  Is being connected overriding other aspects? Jaron Lanier’s you are not a gadget comes to to mind here and on that note I think I have found some inspiration for the week ahead.