Saturday, 31 October 2009

Crottin du Chavignol

We’ve just started the goat’s cheese we bought at Chaudoux earlier in the week – great!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Late call to Church

I’ve just returned from St Peter & St Paul, Gt Missenden after a rather exciting hour or so: a phone call at about 10:15 alerted me that there was a fire. When I arrived, the fire brigade were putting out a fire in a car which had been driven through the top gate. Presumably the car was stolen. The gate is beyond repair (but one of the firemen has offered to replace at a good rate!) but fortunately there’s no other damage. Those of you who know the Church, will know there’s a short length of drive between the top gate and the graveyard: the remains of the car are there – and there’s room to pass. The police are now in attendance, presumably looking for evidence.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Big Camp

We had three young members of the Church camping in our garden last night. They picked the coldest night of the year so far but I think they enjoyed themselves.

To see all the pictures click here.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Season of mists...

This was the view from the field in front of our house yesterday morning.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Two Cultures- are we any better?

I started re-reading CP Snow’s New Men a week or so ago and coincidentally there have been several comments in the press about his ‘Two Cultures’ lecture which was given 50 years ago. Snow’s premise was that the two cultures of Art and Science didn’t mix and that this division was a hindrance to solving the problems of the world. He also highlighted the lack of scientific understanding in the population generally – suggesting originally that few people would be able to quote the second law of thermodynamics whereas many could quote Shakespeare.

Are we any better? Let’s look at Snow’s later comparison (he admitted that thermodynamics may be rather advanced.) Could you give a simple explanation of mass, acceleration, antibiotics, cable-stayed bridges? What about Romeo and Juliet, The Mona Lisa, The Hobbit, African Queen? No googling!

There’s an article in today’s Times by William Waldegrave in which he claims that we can be more optimistic about bridging this gap. The comments on this article don’t seem to agree.

There was another related report on Today yesterday. An analysis of science students’ essays showed significantly more spelling and grammatical errors in UK students’ work than the essays from overseas students. So perhaps the budding scientists are still backward at the art of communicating in English. We could argue, of course, that communication skills are so fundamental that they should permeate all cultures. You can hear the Today item here.

I’ve been increasingly concerned about a different set of cultures – those of the public and private sector. We’ve seen attempts to impose the practices from the latter on the former with limited success. So are we seeing another division of the world? More of this later.

Postscript: I’ve just spotted two radio programs discussing the CP Snow lecture in the present context. I haven’t listened yet but I’ll try to do so soon.

Times Waldegrave article

BBC Two Cultures broadcasts

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Collaborative thinking

Rosie sent me a link to a blog she follows which contains an interesting comment on collaborative thinking. The author of the blog, Tim, has obviously been reading and thinking about engaging people in activities – or even how groups of people act when they are not obviously engaged. I’m not sure of the context in which Tim has been operating but I’ve been thinking about how to get the best out of volunteers – a problem we’re constantly faced with.

But I think collaborative thinking is broader than that: how can we better capture the intelligence of groups of people? I’m not sure that intelligence is the right word. How can we channel that intelligence (or whatever) into a benefit? Let’s examine Tim’s key themes:

NUMBERS are important: critical mass, yes, but the chance of channelling many people into a coherent direction diminishes with numbers. And the number of potential interactions increases rapidly: perhaps someone can comment on the mathematical formula which I’ve forgotten but the argument goes something like this: two people have one link, three have three, four have six, five people have fifteen links and so on. Networking and technology help, of course.

NETWORKING enhances collaboration: I don’t have a problem with this – sharing and discussing ideas with others usually results in expansion of ideas. Technology enhances this, too, although I haven’t seen much expansion of ideas on Facebook!

SELF-ORGANISATION is essential: I do have a problem with this, at least if some positive aim is envisaged. I agree that many aspects of how a group should operate can be left to the group, but some guidance needs to be given or agreed otherwise the direction will be unpredictable – and the group may go round in circles. When I was involved in managing complex business projects, we often stressed the need to have clear objectives which should not be confused with tasks or activities – what has to be achieved rather than what has to be done.

Learning takes place in CONVERSATION often resulting in individual action: I’m not sure what this means. Is it about learning or action? Do collaborative groups not take decisions often because it’s very difficult in this environment to do so? Group decision making is difficult, although I have witnessed something very surprising in Young Enterprise companies. These are groups of 10-20 students – 16-17 year-olds – who are running their own company. On several occasions I have watched as a fairly rowdy bunch of students will debate an important decision in seemingly chaotic manner – but after 5-10 minutes the group will come to a consensus with which they all agree (or which they all accept). The process by which they arrived at this is still a mystery to me!

We need a DUAL ECONOMY: I interpret this as relating the infrastructure to the loosely-coupled group. Tim says ‘collaboration makes failure cheap’ – in financial terms perhaps but in terms of motivation and continuation of any collaborative activity surely failure risks disillusion. I’ve been involved in failures in the organised world and we simply picked up the pieces and move on, but in a collaborative world I’m sure people would walk away.

TECHNOLOGY affects collaboration: yes! But can it be made to work? People have differing views of technology, differing skills and differing levels of willingness to participate. In one of my last assignments with IBM I ran an international team that was located across the world. We met every six weeks or so and we operated through e-mail and conference calls. But the most powerful tool was a messenger: we could see when our colleagues were at their desks and we could chat as if we were in the same office. I’ve used the term ‘next-desk thinking’ – behaving as though we were in the same room. We also had to develop other ways of operating remotely – body-language is very difficult to interpret on a telephone call! So technology can enhance collaboration but it can also be an inhibitor. There’s no substitute for talking face-to-face.

SPIRITUALITY should not be overlooked: I need more time to relate to this.

Perhaps I’m coming to all this from a very different background. I subscribe to a series of reports from a web site that claims to provide real world advice on how to make technology work in business. I’ve just been sent a link to an entry from a ‘leadership coach’ – from the US of course – giving nine tips to improve effectiveness as a leader. I don’t think they conflict with Tim’s points but they make interesting reading. There’s a link to the full set below but three of the tips struck me:

  • Go to other people’s offices for meetings –easier to get away than to get rid of visitors

  • Snooze – my sailing friend Ian is a very keen on this
  • Act like a lady – you need to read the explanation of this one!

Tim's blog entry

Tech Republic