156 posts categorized "Leadership & Management"

January 27, 2015

When you innovate are you a puzzle builder or quilt maker?

When you don't 'get' something, when there's something you've not got that gets in the way of building your idea, do you put your hands up and wait until the next piece in your puzzle becomes available, or do you just make stuff happen with the resources you've got - are you a puzzle maker who struggles when a piece is missing or a quilt maker who makes the best out of what you have? Tina Seelig explains this wonderful metaphor further. My own book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, provides hundreds of tools and skillsets you can use and develop to make the most happen with what you have.

January 26, 2015

When is the point catastrophes can be avoided?


One simple delay doesn't a catastrophe make. But when work elsewhere affects your team's workflow, unknown to you, and new technologies don't quite fit within the system, you can very quickly pay the price. 

The trainspotter in me enjoyed reading John Bull's dissection of the Christmas travel woes incurred as a result of otherwise 'normal' festive engineering works. For those outside the UK and insulated from this local news, thousands of trains and tens of thousands of passengers experienced horrendous delays and cancellations at one of London's key railway stations as a result of engineering works running over.

Bull's post outlines a series of poor management and leadership decisions, mostly based on the challenge of predicting likely scenarios in the hours and days ahead. Leaders in every walk of life face similar prediction challenges.

But as I read this I wondered where my own red flag would have appeared. What about you?

Much of these issues are related to the "second horizon" of implementing a great idea. The toolsets and skillsets that help implement ideas quickly, such as the 'pre-mortem' to test for potential failure points, are detailed in my book: How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen.

January 04, 2015

When is failure a failure? Maria Joao Pires has an answer...

The 1st Movement of Mozart's D Minor Concerto is an obsession about feeling loneliness and despair. That is exactly as virtuoso pianist Maria Joao Pires must have felt as she realised that she had practiced the wrong concerto for a summer concert series.

This clip is a wonderful example of agile leadership. In the moment of panic, the conductor takes control, not with a baton or by stopping the orchestra, but with a beautiful embracing smile, and a jovial reassurance that she would manage.

Pires then takes the leadership role on, summoning her memory, her expertise, talent and prior learning, to tackle the new concerto she hadn't been prepared to play in the first place.

When we talk about failure in learning, it is vital that we talk about failure and what we learn from it. Failure for failure's sake is a tragedy. Pires had 'done her homework' and knew the other concerto (and probably many others) by heart, from experience. She had also done her homework in being able to 'make the show go on', regardless. But no doubt, she'll rehearse with the orchestra before future live performances, she'll make the time to have that preparatory phone call. Thankfully, her learning gives her the opportunity, post-performance, to try again and get it right.

Most learning in school, though, does not give time for failure to be learned from. Instead, even though half or more of the students in the classroom may have scope for improvement, teachers feel compelled to "move on", to "get on" to the next piece of content, or to get onto the test. Really, in an ideal world, the student makes the decision about when they are 'done', ready to move on to the next thing, and often they will know what that next thing is.

Where the teacher holds all the planning in their hands, though, when the teacher perceives curriculum and success criteria as teacher-destined documents, and not as documents to flesh out hand in hand with students, this 'ideal world' does not happen.

Make the first step of 2015 towards letting students really do their homework: give them the curricular and success criteria tools we've normally kept behind the teacher's desk, and work out with them how their projects, their ideas and their ambitions meet them halfway.

January 02, 2015

Inspiration is everywhere. Even in Galena, Kansas...

I love this tweet from a couple of years back by animation firm, Pixar:

Pixar inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere: A lonely old tow truck in Galena, Kansas caught our eye. You know the rest...

What were they talking about?


Now, I don't think I know anyone from Galena, Kansas, but I'm pretty sure that those kids in Spring Grove School don't believe, hand on heart, that inspiration is everywhere, as they set off into their new year, examinations, tests and keeping up with each other's Facebook boasts. That, after all, is what January in 2015 will mean for so many: an attempt to look forward to a positive future, but a reality check, around January 5th, that actually life will carry on as it always has done, always will do. 

Life-changing, world-changing or neighbourhood-changing inspiration is everywhere, though, and no more so than in places where things are not working.

On p.43 of my book I talk about the attitude real innovators have: they don't blog that "things in the system don't work, it's all broken!", and they don't ask facile questions such as "what does 21st century education look like?" and then not bother answering them. Instead, they spot the small details that get in the way and go about removing them, altering them or rebuilding them:

Most successful innovators in and outside education spend their time always seeking out what doesn't quite work, what doesn't satisfy the needs of the people it should do, what could be made incrementally better. They are not negative people; far from it, in fact, as they seek not to moan but make the world a better place, one incremental change at a time. Doing this means that they spend time – small snippets and extended periods, depending on what time they have available – looking at the world around them with a critical eye and an endless run of questions about why things are the way they are. They are not satisfied to leave an under-par situation – they want to make it better as soon as possible. 

  • What are things really like at the moment?
  • If we were to take a snapshot in time, where is our school, where are our learners?
  • What are people trying to achieve at the moment, and are they managing it?
  • What are the areas where people find they're held back, or encouraged to take their learning further?
  • How do we engage with parents, the school board, the wider community?
  • How do we know they're happy with it?
  • Where are the people who are happy with what we do?
  • Where are the people who we don't know are either satisfied or not?
  • What about the people who are not, at the moment, part of our school community? Why are they not?
  • What are they doing instead?

This is a non-exhaustive list of questions that might be of interest to any innovator, and to answer any or all of these questions would take a long time, but that active immersion into the way things are needs to happen all the time.

Immersion is just as it sounds: long, deep and sometimes painful. The swimming pool analogy isn't bad for explaining it:

If you were immersed in a swimming pool you'd have the water over your head. You would, over time, become short of breath. A real immersive experience would push that feeling just a little beyond what feels comfortable before, finally, at the last possible moment, coming up for breath. And, with every time you get immersed in the water, the longer you can bear it before coming up for breath. With more practice, you can swim while holding your breath, travelling while building resistance to the pressure. In a school, this is the equivalent of the Head Teacher and other leaders being capable of not only managing business-as-usual, but also having the mental bandwidth, the practice of longitudinal immersion, to see potential for ‘new innovation’ as it arises. In short, it's about taking time to reflect, not regularly but constantly, on how things might be made better.

This is, if you like, a manifesto for problem-finding in the way we manage, lead and create innovation in our schools, in the same way as I started pleading for problem-finding over and above problem-solving five years ago to this week. Problem-finding is what really shifts the school's thinking from 'stand and deliver' teacher centricity, and so, too, it can move innovation from the board room (far from the point where the innovation will make a difference) to the classroom and community:

So, instead of lofty resolutions for 2015, that we will all break by January 5th, in our hearts and minds at least, why not start seeking big innovation in the little details, by problem-finding, not idea-creating?

How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, available from NoTosh Publishing. Kindle and standard paperback due Summer 2015.

August 29, 2014

Out Now! How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make The Happen

How To Come Up With Great Ideas iTunes

Finally! How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen is out, in iBooks, at least. You can buy a copy now in your local store, and get your own ideas to fruition quicker and better, with your community in mind:





The book is available in every iTunes store globally. The beautiful, full-colour paperback is currently in printing in England, and will be heading out to pre-orders from September 9th, and available for general sale shortly thereafter (http://notosh.myshopify.com/products/how-to-come-up-with-great-ideas).

Thank you to all those who pre-ordered and waited patiently for it. I'm delighted that my first book is finally out there in people's hands, and cannot wait to hear back from readers on how they develop their innovative ideas.

Here's the blurb for those of you who've not yet dived in:

How can students, teachers and school leaders in the education world innovate, share and build on new ideas, taking them out of individual classrooms to have a wider impact? What could schools ever learn from luxury fashion houses, political campaigners, global tech, media and telecommunications companies, and the world's biggest businesses of tomorrow, the startups? 

You can achieve ambitious visions for learning through swift innovation by borrowing from the people who invent, create much from little, and refine their ideas with a swiftness few of those large corporations, Government or schools have seen.

Learn more through practical steps, workshop activities for your own teams in your learning environment, and plenty of real success stories, to help kick-start the innovation for you.

How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen can be purchased on the iTunes store as an iBook, and in paperback on http://www.notosh.com/books

July 27, 2014

Why not?, and the power of getting on with it


We are all artists. But not all of us should exhibit.

So says John Hegarty in "There Are No Rules", which I continue to dip into during my break in Tuscany. I laughed when I read this line, because, in my own drawing/sketches case, it's too true. We can all be creative, but not all creative produce is equally stop-you-in-your-tracks creative. The thing is, you don't know until you start to create, whether or not it's going to be worth exhibiting. You've just got to start. And this is why starting is so hard - we can be fearful that what we produce will not be worth exhibiting, so we don't even bother to start it off.

But when I'm on holiday, I don't care so much about what other people think. Most tourists display this characteristic, with their clothing choices perhaps, or their behaviour in the bars on the Southern Spanish coast. I display this characteristic in "having a go" at things I'm normally afraid of wasting time on: writing, drawing and sketching.

I tend to create more on holiday than I do during the working year, the audiences being smaller (Facebookers are also on holiday, the readership lower, the conferences closed for another season) and the canvas being less daunting. One of my favourite holidayish things to do is to draw on paper placemats before my meal arrives, using my daughters' coloured pencils to create whatever comes to mind. I've spent this week on honing my horses skills, learning how to draw them again (when I was 3, I could draw a good horse, jumping over a hedgerow).

During the working year, all of this would draw a simple question: "Why, Ewan?". But during holidays, no-one questions WHY I want to draw horses. On placemats.

It's the distinct lack of "why?", in fact, and the implied criticism that seems to come with those three letters, that relaxes me, helps me concentrate, helps me focus my efforts on one thing, and doing it best I can, and often a little bit better than that, in fact. No devil's advocate. No "have you thought about doing cats instead?". No "why?".

Just a "why not...?"

Cross-posted to the fabulous NoTosh Facebook wall.

You can pre-order my new book, to be released in August: How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually make Them Happen.

July 25, 2014

The most important thing you need to know about creativity


I am on holiday. It’s a rare beast and, at some point in every couple of weeks of Tuscan bliss, comes a sliver of two minutes where I might get a chance to write. To write anything. Something. My new book, finally due for release this August after five weeks of delays, redesign and reprinting to our satisfaction, started its life on my breakfast terrace while on holiday here in Donnini, about 45 minutes east of Florence. As with all writing, I was starting with a blank page.

This summer’s reading includes my advertising hero John Hegarty On Creativity: There Are No Rules, in which he gives 50 rules for being creative. The first one is called “The Blank Page”. His point: if you want to be creative then you’d better get creative. While all of us start with a literal blank page, none of us have a metaphorical blank page. The trick is finding out the thing you roughly want to write about (or paint, or draw, or sketch as stickmen, or film) and then, for goodness’ sake, get it started.

Having ideas is not about finding a creative muse on a Tuscan vineyard, although I can vouch for the fact that the view and copious Chianti Classico helps. Heck, add some Prosecco and wild things might leap off the page. Creativity, whether you’re writing a strategy or painting views, is about STARTING.

What will you start today?

My first book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen, is due for release this August (five weeks late ;-). You can pre-order your iBook or Paperback version on our site now. Kindle version to follow.

July 13, 2014

Launching a new Masters: Designing Spaces for Learning #inf536

When most people find out that they are in line to create a new physical or virtual environment for their school, few have really driven deep into what the research says, and how it might pan out in practice. And, with deadlines in place, and architects producing their "masterplans" based on what they have been able to squeeze out of school communities, the clock is ticking too fast in most cases to begin that learning journey in a timely fashion.

School principals, deputies, librarians and innovator educators can base multi-million dollar decisions on hearsay, gurus' say-so, and what the Joneses have done with their school. For the initial cohort of students on our inaugural Masters subject on Designing Spaces for Learning at CSU (Charles Sturt University), the story will be very different.

Today marks the opening of this special Masters course that I've been writing for the past eight months for CSU, along with my boss/mentor Judy O'Connell. I'm not an academic by nature, so it's been a learning experience for me to get into the lecturer mode, and work out how to turn a significant body of research into tangible activities that our Masters students can undertake to explore and discover for themselves how research might translate into new practices.

I have high hopes that these students will make some headway into moving the education community away from a few, high profile conferences, speakers and coffee table books on "cool" or "audacious" learning spaces, to new understandings borne of a wide body of research into space design, the processes we can use to co-design, and why we say we want the kind of learning we do.

Above is my introduction video welcoming students. It's a welcome to you, too, to dip into as much of the material that leaks out of this Masters as possible. Students will have private forums and blogs where they can work out prototypes of thinking they might not yet be prepared to share with the wider world, but there are public spaces where students are being encouraged over the next 16 weeks to share what their insights might be.

There is a Flickr group, and a Google+ group where most of their more polished thinking will eventually end up, linking to their individual blogs where we can. In addition, the Twitter hashtag #inf536 is beginning to get moving, too.

Join the fray where you can - and feel free to disagree with this initial provocation, armed with your research and practice, of course! Share examples of schools which have been built on research and practice that you know, and feel free to point out examples which did not work out as expected too.

June 23, 2014

#EduTECH 2014: Agile Leadership

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Five year plans are the last thing I'd be creating if I wanted to see innovation happen in a school. Most creative organisations we work with have something more akin to an innovation strategy based on audacious goals, with a skillset in one's team that helps each individual find their place in making those goals happen, one small step at a time. While the vision is agreed by the top of the organisation the means to get there are democratic, and based on creative process as much as individual creative prowess.

At Australia's EduTECH conference I was delighted to once more keynote the leadership of learning strand, with thousands of people coming along to get an update on some of NoTosh's thinking as it's developed this year. The theme was closely tied to my forthcoming book, a labour of love on agile leadership called How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen. It provides many of those practical stories of success from which we can learn, from the creative industries and from schools (some of which you'd classify as creative industries, too!).

I kicked off with the picture that had been most snapped last year: the F.A.I.L. "First Attempt In Learning" poster I captured in Meshendia Dampier's Rosendale Primary School classroom. Five year plans, you see, don't allow for a lot of failure, or departure from 'the script', regardless of how the world around you might change. What kinds of change?

  • It could be as simple as being better informed a couple of years down the line than you were when you wrote the strategy - we learn, and then look slightly embarrassed at our five year plans that now seem woefully naive or out of date. 
  • It could be seismic - when the Japanese earthquake hit, one of our favourite schools, American School in Japan, saw so many families question their stay in the country, that they realised that they would need to signficantly reinvent the offering to entice more families to stay in the country, for a great school as much as anything else (you can see some of their learning journey with design thinking in their Google+ posts).
  • It could be that others simply innovate faster than you, and your plan is holding you back. When we started TeachMeet in 2006, it was seen as innovative by the very organisations that it was designed to get around. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn't colonise it, make it their own - they were left standing while people just did it for themselves.

Agile Leadership is based on overcoming two obstacles to get to a new way of working. 

Agile Leadership.001

Contradictions arise when something you've held as true is challenged by new evidence or experience. The feeling of contradiction is hard to overcome, because it necessitates some further investigation to work out whether the status quo is correct, partially correct, or just plain wrong, now that we have this new evidence to hand. In school strategy this is problematic - very often, when working with a school, there is reticence and some fear at best, anger at worst, when we suggest that we should start writing a strategy by really getting deep into the way things actually are, warts and all. In the book, I provide a ton of skills and techniques that teams can use to gauge better where things are, such as interviews, sketches, ideas wallets and bug lists.

Tensions are moderately more workable, as they occur once a team has bought into the new information that has presented itself, realising that it contradicts the status quo, and now have the task of altering the course of a strategy to accommodate it. It's not an easy process - it's full of tensions and tension. You can imagine the joy of running a workshop in this part! Take for example, the fairly strong evidence that grading does not improve learning, but comments do. I showed a video example of educators at ASIJ who, after all, have had grading feature as a fairly core part of their work. What happened when they saw the evidence of grading being less advantageous than comments alone? Some of the teachers went to test it for themselves, to work through those tensions, and change their own 'strategy' of learning and teaching. The results might be positive, or less so, but with the experience in hand it's far easier to work through the tensions, and gain a new insight for the way things might be. For those who don't experiment, they're still stuck with their contradictions, unable to move forward and challenge the way it's always been done.

Surprises appear when we least expect them. As Hatchuel and Weil put it in their concept-knowledge theory, these are the "you don't know what you don't know" moments. Surprises like these come to you - you can't search for them as you don't know they exist. Having an open mind is how most of us see these surprises and seize them. But in a strategy, where a 'decision has been made', and the text itself is highly specific, surprises can be blocked out, placed in the shadows never to be seized and used to make learning better in the organisation.

Such surprises often appear when we centre our strategy on people, rather than things that need done. When we reframe a strategy around people we can start work out what each individual group in our community can do, when and where we see that action happening, how they'll do it and, vitally, why they'd care enough to give a damn to do it. This actor mapping process is hugely powerful as a technique to open up the mind to such surprises, but incredibly challenge for teams to use - most teams feel they need 45 minutes to have a go at the technique, take 90, and still want the rest of the morning to see it through. Thinking about strategy from a human perspective, rather than a leadership one (full of the related, irrelevant jargon) is a tough move.

Ultimately, agile leadership is about recognising that everyone in the 'orchestra' of school is a leader, provided the strategy has been scored in a way that enables everyone to know their part in making it happen. The metaphor with music is one I concluded with, based on this old conductors' post I wrote. But it is also how I had started, with this haunting, stressful moment as Maria Joao Pires realises that she has been practicing the wrong concerto for the concert (it is no mistake that Mozart's D Minor Concerto is an obsession about feeling loneliness and despair...). With it, I asked the audience who the leader actually was at different moments of the piece, what the role of knowledge might have been, and how the understanding and trust between leaders leads to inspiring action: 

You can pre-order or purchase your copy of How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, and see some of the practical means of overcoming these barriers to creative leadership. And, for something free and instant, you can get a useful cheat sheet of agile leadership strategies by signing up to the NoTosh mailing list.

June 11, 2014

Do people really want a struggle, or an easy day of PD?

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Sometimes I wish I just ran flashy blogging workshops for a living. The days would be easy, the money, too. I wouldn't have to think hard, and nor would the attendees. I'd have photos of smiling complacent teachers out for a jolly PD day.

But the satisfaction would be zero on both sides of the fence. As our buddy John Davitt puts it, life is not about finding the right SOFTware, it's about enjoying some STRUGGLEware. NoTosh spends a lot of its time in that struggle space, helping people really operate in that zone of proximal development and, on days like Monday, maybe even just a wee bit beyond that.

This week the English Head Teachers with whom I was working and I both had a well-deserved pint after a real struggle of a day, working through how their loosely joined trust could increase its positive influence, without necessarily losing that mutual feeling of trust that has evolved over a few years. Basically: control without being controlling, was the order of the day.

That's a notoriously hard balance to strike. In January, we had explored the reality of the here and now was deciphered and some potentially strong platforms on which this group of Heads could build in the future. This week's session tackled the most difficult element - how do you set out some pragmatic action that takes the group from the status quo to their ambitious future, and not just that, but do it without diktat from on high?

We got there. Just. Between my first signs of the season's hayfever (atchoum!), the heat of the day, the heat of the discussion and the complexity of the relationships that make this group of Heads special, we got there. Pragmatic next steps that will begin to take them to a more powerful, influential place, ready to make students' learning better, together.

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If you want to struggle with me on some of the most challenging leadership and innovation tasks that a learning organisation might go through, you can work through some of the exercises and activities in my soon-to-be-released book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen. It's available for pre-order now.

Or you can just look at other people having a struggle instead ;-):


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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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