Sunday, 28 July 2019

Dying of the Light

I'm pretty unsentimental about pets.

I didn't grow up with them around and didn't actually own any until just before Mandy and I got married in 1985. Two cats, sisters, acquired from my soon-to-be-Brother-in-Law. Deferred children, right?

They moved with us from London to Hove in 1990. We had our children and they grew up with cats around. Inevitably one cat disappeared one Bonfire Night and the other got old and had to be put down a few years later.

We got two more cats. Natasha and Sam got to choose and name them - Rocky and Pepper.

In 2014, the very weekend that Mandy and I decided we wanted to move and put our house onto the market, Rocky disappeared. We just thought he'd gone walkabout. Turned out he got run down and killed locally and his remains picked up and disposed of by the Council (no collar, no chip).

Pepper moved with us to Worthing in 2014. And she got old. In the Autumn of last year, at the age of 16, she developed symptoms which were identified as hyperthyrodism. Long story short, we were persuaded to go for the "99% success rate" cure of radiation therapy.

She was the 1%.

Within two weeks of the treatment, Pepper died in my arms, struggling for breath, as Sam and I were getting ready to take her to the emergency vets.

I've lost friends and close family. I've been to many funerals; more so now as I get older. I thought I'd kinda got the death/loss thing squared. I hadn't. I hadn't been there at the moment of their passing.

This time, I watched the light in Pepper's eyes disappear as she gave up whatever the fight was she was having and she became still. She'd gone. Whatever suffering she'd been experiencing had stopped. So had she. Although 'just' a family pet, I was profoundly moved to witness such a fundamental transition from life to death.

We had Pepper cremated and, this afternoon, we mixed her ashes with garden soil and compost and planted a rose bush with and for her in the garden.

I'm pretty unsentimental about pets.

I miss her.

Saturday, 20 July 2019


I was 13 when two humans landed on The Moon 50 years ago today. 

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash
We were on holiday in Stonehaven on the Scottish East Coast. What I remember of that momentous event is that - to my undying puzzlement and regret - my brother Malcolm and I went - or were put to - bed, and slept through the whole thing! 

Even now, I can’t understand that. I was old enough to express an interest and to ask to stay up. Did I really not understand the significance of the event? Did my parents not get it? Did I/we ask to stay up? Or did we just not have a TV in the holiday home? I honestly can't remember.

As an older teenager and adult I’ve always had an interest in space and astronomy, so in the same week that I watched a partial eclipse of The Moon through binoculars at my kitchen window, this week’s commemorative programmes and films have been a joy. 

I’m experiencing the wonder and awe of it this time round with a heightened awareness, combined with a lingering sense of regret for my younger self missing it the first time.

Hope I get to stay up for the next one...!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Remotely Possible

Photo by me
I've just listened to David James (@DavidInLearning) & Perry Timms (@PerryTimms) on the excellent 'Learning & Development Podcast', discussing Remote Working and was particularly struck by their conversation on Remote Leadership; what are the opportunities and challenges for the permanently or mostly remote worker to develop and/or demonstrate leadership when other colleagues or team members are either centralised or are, indeed, remote workers themselves? Can a leader lead others from a remote location? Can L&D support the development of remote workers and leaders inclusively and effectively?

This got me thinking, because for the last ten years of my corporate working life (which I moved on from nearly four years ago) I was being managed, was managing and was part of different distributed teams. As such I experienced many of the highs and lows that David and Perry discussed. 

In a UK-wide organisation, with regional offices and locations across the country, I started out as a one-man department, living on the South Coast of the UK, but reporting to a Director in Scotland, and was initially based in the South West. I drove down on a Monday and back on a Friday. I travelled quite a lot. Then an office opened up in London and I became a commuter. I made the case for and got the budget for a small team, which I recruited, but who were based at their home locations in Wales and Manchester. Although they were working from local offices, they were remote from me and each other. 

Given that our remit was to upskill staff in IT and digital tools country-wide, we used those tools extensively ourselves. My instant chat was always on. My Blackberry was always at my side. My email hummed. We had weekly conference calls and daily IMs, sometimes just to check in and say hello. Every couple of months, either we would travel to a central location for a catch-up or I would travel to them individually to check in and review performance, plan their development etc.

Then we got hold of the corporate Webex account. We never looked back. Our conference calls and one-to-ones became less hassle, cheaper and more effective. We reduced our travel and carbon impacts to the only necessary and in so doing made sure that we got the maximum value out of any face-to-face meetings. We introduced virtual classrooms into our corporate learning mix via a need to socialise a new data protection strategy (pre-GDPR) and train up new DP Managers and on-the-ground officers. Group Legal liked it so much they asked to be trained up themselves and took over and further developed their own DP training offerings. We moved on. Others in the org liked this approach and we were inundated with people wanting to learn how to host their own meetings and learning events with remote colleagues via Webex.

Meanwhile, I was still flying up to Scotland to attend Senior Management Meetings. Occasionally, I'd get an email from my Director demanding to know where we were on such-and-such, usually sent late in the evening and waiting for me, like an unexploded bomb, in the morning. There never was an organisational policy or strategic direction about remote working. So we proceeded until apprehended - which, paradoxically, never happened. And the team grew; again, all remote from me and from each other.

Sometimes tho', I failed. I'd get an email from one of my team wondering where I'd gone, if they'd done something to upset me, why hadn't I been in touch since last week? Or my IM would be received as terse or impatient. Sometimes it was. Sometimes I'd forget to just pick up the phone because I was too busy. Because I was dealing with other stuff. Like Managers do. The positive point tho' was that the team felt able to call me out on it. Sometimes messages got diluted or misinterpreted. Sometimes, it turned out I didn't know everyone as well as I thought I did, nor they me. Ironically, it usually took a face-to-face chat to resolve any misunderstandings. But the work got done and the wheels kept turning.

Ultimately, this approach to team remote working and my management therof proved itself over four years ago when I was suddenly taken ill and admitted to hospital for heart bypass surgery. In my absence, my team stepped up, got on with the work in hand, indeed, took on more - and more innovative - work in my absence.

In conclusion then, thinking about David and Perry's podcast discussion and the questions raised, my view and experience is that remote working, remote leadership and remote learning are all different carriageways of the same two-way street. They can be empowering and effective if thought about and managed empathically from a top-down AND a bottom-up perspective. Office-based and remotely working colleagues, managers and aspiring managers have to take responsibility for their own and their teams' effectiveness when not everyone is in the same room. Trust is a key element in making this work, transparency, inclusion, commitment and yes, courage, as opposed to command and control and digital presenteeism, with the focus on individual, team and organisational performance and business results, should be the watchwords here.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019


"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life."

It's b*ll*cks, isn't it?


#HT @AndrewJacobsLnD 'Brevity Matters'

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Socially Challenged

Yesterday, I had the privilege to speak at the Elearning Fusion 2019 Conference in Warsaw, Poland (#ELF19). This was my first 'international' speaking engagement, the invitation to which came 'out of the blue' when the creator and organiser, Marta Machalska, contacted me via LinkedIn some months ago and extended the invitation to speak. I was delighted to have been asked to speak at what was clearly a premium event.

I had a good look at previous years' Elearning Fusion Conferences on the Internet, and I was pleased to see several well- and some personally-known speakers at their earlier conferences. So I got my biography info and subject abstract in as quickly as I could

As a potential speaker, I found Marta and her team's communication to be prompt, unambiguous and effective. They confirmed all details, including flights and hotel arrangements promptly and I was reassured that I was in good hands.

And then suddenly, the time was upon us. In the week or so beforehand, I started promoting the conference and my session on social media - on Twitter and LinkedIn. I connected with my Session Chair and we messaged each other. I delivered my Presentation and story (about using social media to support social and collaborative learning) to the organisers via DropBox before the big day and, as I said several times beforehand, rehearsed, rehearsed and rehearsed.

And I'm glad I did.

Because I'd made one or two assumptions, based on looking at the previous years' events. I had planned a short practical exercise using Sticky or Post-It Notes, so that I could show a quick YouTube video and then reveal that it was a ploy on my part to demonstrate using social media for Social and collaborative Learning. This was dependent on the delegates sitting at desks or tables, as was the case at the previous ELF events.  I had also assumed that the previous session speaker would run to time. Neither proved to be the case on the day.

No tables! Delegates were sitting theatre-style, in rows. And my session, the one before lunch, got squeezed by over-runs by the other two (Two? Only supposed to be one!) speakers.

Thankfully, because I had rehearsed often enough, I was able to flex. I binned the practical, told them about it and showed the video anyway. I pressed on, trimmed some of my stories, still managed to ask a couple of questions, set my challenge to everyone and managed to finish only two minutes over time myself. No-one's hunger for lunch overcame their hunger to learn, and everyone stayed to the end of the session.

So, to the challenge I set my participants. I asked how many of them blogged. Several hands went up. I asked how many of those made blogging part of their learning practice and encouraged others in their own learning communities to blog and share. Fewer hands. How many video blogged (or 'Vlogged'). Not many at all.

I suggested that we could build our own skills whilst showing leadership and 'walking the talk', by blogging, vlogging, tweeting or posting updates about our experiences at Elearning Fusion 19; what we had learned, what we were taking away and what we would be introducing into our practice.

I had previously invited people in my Personal Learning Network (PLN) to share their 'social media for social & collaborative learning' stories. My challenge to the rooms was to do the same. I suggested using the conference hashtag #ELF19 and the hashtag for my challenge, #ELFusionSoMe.

This blog is my first effort at that. I'll be very interested to see who and what else shows up!

Friday, 15 March 2019


"Naked Drag Queens Pink and White" by Natasha Gavin

This morning's (Fri 15th March '19) #LDinsight chat on Twitter was a Doozey!

The facilitator (much kudos to them) disrupted the usual text chat format with an invitation for us to respond to the question "What do you think about the use of video for learning solutions?" USING VIDEO to reply.

I confess to being completely thrown by the challenge. I'd only been up for 15 minutes. I was still in my dressing gown. I had major bed hair. I had only had one cup of tea FFS! Suddenly, there was no hiding place. 

I had choices to make: Run away; Do/say nothing, just lurk and learn; Respond in the customary tweet format; or Person up, pause, prepare and do some kind of video response. I had no idea what to do.  

As I was considering my options, people began posting videos. How could they do that so quickly? How could they seem so considered, calm , well-dressed and made up already? I got very flustered. I drank some more tea.

Having used #Periscope earlier in the week at a Sussex CIPD Branch Meeting (, I decided to do a quick Periscope video, using a print by my daughter (see above) as the visual interest and just voice-overing my initial thoughts. I faffed about with my mini-tripod, set up the title - and immediately started broadcasting the rustle and sleeves of my dressing gown! 

(Lesson 1: Ensure your kit is already set up and steady ready for you to commence recording/broadcasting your video).

Stopped, deleted video and settled myself. (Text from @MandyRG: "I've just seen a video of your dressing gown! Did you mean that to go out live?")

Started again. Phone cam steady, all quiet. Hit the broadcast button. Voice like sandpaper (see 'Tea' above). Half-formed thoughts, clearly unscripted (but I can do 20 minutes when the fridge door light comes on, so not too much of a problem). Doing OK. Cat decides she's hungry and being ignored; joins in, loudly. Throws me a bit. Press on. Cat persistent. Apologise for cat. Press on. Manage to finish my piece, reasonably coherently (

(Lesson 2: There's a difference between Live and recorded! As I tweeted, "...spontaneity's OK in some cases (reflection etc) but planning and rehearsal essential if aiming for some kind of information/knowledge sharing impact". I would have had a much tighter script and been much better rehearsed with sufficient notice and preparation. In a recorded video, you can build in time and space for editing and refining content.)

Back to the #LDinsight tweetchat. So many videos and so much great comment and insight from the #PLN. Hope I haven't let myself down with my own contribution and that it's had some relevance to the discussion. Some nice feedback, likes and a couple of retweets. That'll do me.

(Lesson 3: Video is just another tool in our kitbag, both as producer/facilitator and as consumer of learning. We need to have a reasonable familiarity with its potential and some competence in its production and consumption.)

Some final thoughts: Context is really important here. Is video the right tool for the job in hand? Is it adding any value to the message/impact you are trying to share or achieve? Have you made it accessible and inclusive for everyone (captioning etc)? 

And a final question (Personal Bias Alert), do we really need to see more full-screen, self-satisfied, beaming faces about to launch into their 'shtick', in our timelines?

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Fictional Intelligence

At the Learning Technologies Conference last week, there was a lot of discussion both in conference sessions and in the general social chat, about AI, Artificial Intelligence, in HR, L&D and OD. It's a maturing 'science', with an increasingly well-understood potential and some well-demonstrated examples. However, this post is not about that.

Image: Patricia Hebert
This post is about how science fiction (SF) is ahead of this particular game, and has been for far longer than we've been angsting about it. 

And the good news is that, contrary to traditional expectations of various dystopian futures (well, not entirely), the premise is that humanity has a huge part still to play - not necessarily in its/our classical form perhaps, but in working with and, in some cases, as part of the collaborative whole. OK, in many cases, we may not have been altogether willing participants initially (and that's more about some humans' inhumanity to some other humans, than anything else), but it's our basic humanity which acts as the conscience and the ultimate arbiter of how 'the machines'/AI work/will work.

In his keynote talk on Day 2 of the conference, Daniel Susskind (@danielsusskind) shared John Searle's Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal from February 2011, after IBM's Watson computer beat two human competitors in the TV game show 'Jeopardy' - "Watson Doesn't Know It Won on 'Jeopardy!'" ( His premise is that Watson doesn't think, it computes. By extension therefore, we could say that Watson doesn't care that it won Jeopardy.

But we care. And because we care, we can moderate, influence and thereby work with 'the machines'. We just have to learn to appreciate the value and insight they can bring to our work, so that we can learn to humanise the outcomes and realise the benefits.

To finish, just to say our reading doesn't always have to be entirely business or professionally focused for us to be able to draw out some analogous insights. Sometimes, it can just be for our own entertainment. If you'd like to escape into some recent great SF I've read which kinda supports my earlier points, whilst also being rattling good reads (Warning: Some war/violence, some human/animal hybrids, some human/machine over-familiarity), I can recommend the following (all available on Amazon): 

"Autonomous" - Annalee Newitz
"Dogs of War" - Adrian Tchaikovsky
"Ghosts of Tomorrow" - Michael R. Fletcher

Any other Fictional Intelligence recommendations please?