Sunday, 15 December 2013

My first Coursera experience

"Congratulations! You have passed the course “Social Network Analysis" and received a Statement of Accomplishment."…. so ends my first, though most probably not last, experience of attending a course delivered via Coursera.

Given my role in IBM, personal interest in trying new technologies, and enthusiasm for learning new things, it was only a matter of time before I enrolled on one of the emerging group of virtual courses.

Coursera seemed a good place to start and so some months back I browsed the catalog of upcoming courses, found an interesting one that would give me an introduction to the analysis of social networks, and signed up.

Delivered by Lada Adamic from the University of Michigan the course was 8 weeks long.  Each week we watched a series of videos that Lada had recorded where she would take us through some lecture materials and then set us homework to submit and complete.   Homework often revolved around using a modelling tool (such as Gephi or NetLogo) to explore models that she had prepared and then answering multiple choice question based on what network behaviours the model allowed us to observe.  Total time commitment probably averaged out around 2.5 hours a week.

There is clearly a limit to the amount that you can cover in 8 short sessions but I please to report that I very definitely emerge from this experience with a better understanding of Social Networks than I had at the start.   Only problem is that now I want to go and learn more :-) We got a fascinating glimpse into how some of the network modelling approaches could be applied to things as diverse as drug development, recipies, and industry cartels, as well as the more expected Facebook style social networks.

One of the early pieces of homework was to analyse our own Facebook networks so here is a view of what mine looks like.  The vertices/dots are people and the lines show links.  The people included in the graphic are my Facebook friends, the links shown are the links they have to each other. I am not included as one of the dots - this is about the links my contacts have amongst themselves independent of me.  Displayed this way you can start to see how my network has a variety of clusters in it.  As you might expect the other IBMers that I am linked to have a tendency to know each other as well.  Likewise my family members tend to similarly link to each other but much less likely to connect back into the IBM part of my network.

Friday, 25 October 2013

With power comes responsibility - Kim B Clark Fellowship at Said Business School

Some notes and reflections from my visit to Oxford for the launch event of the Kim B Clark Fellowship in Responsible Leadership at Saїd Business School, Oxford University on Saturday 7 September.

At this event Professor Tufano (Dean of Said Business School) welcomed four speakers to share their thoughts..

 - Kim B. Clark, in whose honour the Fellowship is named, President of Brigham Young University, Idaho, and formerly Dean, Harvard Business School.
- Clayton Christensen, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; Visiting Professor, Saïd Business School; the first recipient of the Kim B. Clark Fellowship.
- Kim S. Cameron, Professor of Management and Organisations, Ross School of Business.
- Charles Conn, Warden, Rhodes House, University of Oxford.

The talk was recorded and is available on the SBS YouTube Channel here

If you don't have a couple of hours free to watch the recording here are some of they key points I took away from it...

Clayton Christensen was the first speaker.  He encouraged that people be taught how to think and stressed the importance of theories. Often theories get a bad press with people more interested in taking action.  However, like it or not, our chosen course of action will be based on some belief that we hold on how things should work.  Equipping leaders with good theories and an understanding of what circumstances they would work in would help to improve the decisions that they take.

Next up we had Kim Cameron who started by looking at some dimension of "Responsible".  Could be in the sense of reliable, dependable, someone who follows through.  Could also be responsible for something, in charge of assets, or people.  Can also be about doing the right thing, creating goodness and this is the angle that he focused on with regard to responsible leadership.  Introduced idea of virtuousness and how there are some things that are globally agreed in humankind such as being kind rather than abusive,  better to be helpful than not.

I liked his idea of a "deviance continuum" - one one end we have negative abberant behaviour, in the middle we have normal behaviour and on the right positive deviance.  Organisations exist to reduce deviance - we organise ourselves to reduce chaotic aberrant behaviour.   In many contexts our focus is on reducing the negative abberance.  eg medical research into resolving medical problems versus how we could go from healthy to spectacular.  Responsible leaders are those that enrich life, they focus on the best of the human condition - ie virtuousness. At 40 mins through the video he discusses some examples of how responsible leadership can have positive business outcomes in terms of hard numbers as well as things like morale.

Charles Conn shared some interesting thoughts on Rhodes who had big ideas, big ideals, was greatly admired and had some very positive impacts.   Would not however be seen as a responsible leader.  Good ends we could agree with but means of achieving them were often less than positive.  For a responsible leader it's not just the ends that matter - it's the means as well.  He closed with a discussion of the clothing company Patagonia and their fanatical pursuit to be responsible and do no unnecessary harm.

Peter Tufano talked about 3 levels that relate to responsible leadership - Individual, Organisaton, Broader system.   We can get people sensitised to issues and may even get them to say they will take a particular course of action but often we fall short of our good intentions.  One question we need to reflect on then is how do you create an organisation that encourages more responsible behaviour versus a system that does the opposite.  Quoted Ignatius and his warning on the route from riches to honours to pride as a way to failure ... how often though might people view following this path instead as success?

The final speaker was Kim B Clark.  Listening to him it was clear why this fellowship is named in his honour. He is introduced around 1hr 15mins into the video - if you were to pick one person to listen to on the replay start with him.  He noted that "Leadership is always and everywhere a moral act" - every leader takes the life of others in their hands and will affect it though their actions.  Responsible leadership isn't just about the heart it's also about the mind, need to be able to motivate others, be decisive etc.  What we need in our leaders is a responsible heart and a powerful mind - tough minded but not hard hearted.

If you are interested in seeing what someone else took from the event I found this write up on the Deseret News website

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Leading from the Frontier - 5th Oxford Africa Business Conference

Catching up on some blogging backlog.... back on the 18th May I attended a  day conference on Africa at the Said Business School in Oxford.  I've attended many events there over the years and this one was up to the usual high standards.

Here are a few notes and thoughts that I captured during the day.

One theme that came up a few times during the day was how we need to be careful not to think of Africa as a single entity but rather as a set of distinct countries.  One session looked at Africa as 3 distinct regions
  • North Africa, seen a lot of political change in the recent years, growing stability.  
  • Tropics - where most growth is currently happening and seeing emergence of significant sized middle class.  
  • Southern Africa - seeing the slowest growth and also has the smaller population size.
Other sessions stressed how Africa is made up of over 50 separate countries.  This provides a great deal of variety and also a lot of challenge as separate licences, agreements are needed in each.  Especially troublesome if you are trying to provide a service across national boundaries.

There is a need for development of physical infrastructure as well as regional cooperation.

The President of Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, addressed the meeting after lunch.  He talked about changes in Rwanda, I was struck most by the number of references to the importance of investment in the people to grow their capabilities and how that then leads to growth and increased success for the country.

In a session on Sustaining Social Impact there was some interesting discussion on the roles of charities and philanthropic money in helping to support growth.  Importance of working in partnership with other organisations so that you create new markets or ideas but don't distort the existing markets.   One interesting idea was a group that provided support for early stage entrepreneurs.  They worked with the local banks so when then had someone apply for a loan but their business wasn't at the point where they could invest they would refer them on to the program.  Having received the support to help develop their business ideas the entrepreneurs would then return to the financial institution hopefully in better shape to receive and capitalise on a loan.

Liked the comment that most companies fail - question we need to ask is what value did they create while they existed - and that value could be learning gain in some form.

We were also shown the rather wonderful video for Radi-Aid  which is designed to make use reflect on our perceptions of Africa.  As they say on the site imagine if everyone in Africa saw the video and this was their only source of information on Norway - what would they think about the country?

I attended the conference because I knew little of African Business and thought this would be a good way to find out more.  Certainly feel I ended the day a little wiser.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Walking the Clarendon Way

A couple of weeks ago on 2nd June we walked the Clarendon Way as part of the annual fundraising event organised by a local children's Hospice Naomi House

The walk starts at Winchester Cathedral and ends 26 miles later at Salisbury Cathedral.  Thankfully we had some great weather that day with plenty of sunshine but also a breeze so it wasn't too hot.  Really impressed by the organisation of the whole day with plenty of marshall points offering bottles of water and a cheery word.

We'd done so training before the day but the longest walk we'd done as part of that was 18 miles so weren't sure how 26 would go.  In the event it went well, though undoubtedly a little sore and tired when we stopped at the end we suffered no major issues.   One of the biggest challenges was getting moving again after we'd spent 40 mins on the coach back to Winchester - the steps to get out are very steep when you've seized up a bit :-)

We started just after 8am so I thought I'd take a series of photos every hour to chart our progress through the day....

8am and ready for the start ....Ready for the start

9am Olivers Battery 9am - Olivers Battery

10am West Wood 10am West wood

11am countryside 11am

Noon and some very welcome nourishment to help us on the last few miles to Broughton some welcome noon time nourishment
1pm At Broughton and enjoying the delicious pre-ordered lunch. 1pm lunchtime

2pm - more lovely countryside passes by 2pm countryside

3pm Crossing fields 3pm crossing the fields

4pm Getting steadily closer - but I'm sure one of the marshals a few miles back said "It's downhill all the way now..." 4pm - getting closer

4:30pm OK - not on the hour but an important moment as we first see the spire of Salisbury Cathedral in the not too far distance... 4:30 - first glimpse of the spire

5pm Almost there, on the streets of Salisbury.... 5pm on the streets of Salisbury

If you're in Hampshire/Wiltshire and looking for a challenge in aid of a good cause then I can heartily commend the Naomi House Clarendon Way to you.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Hampshire Secondary Governors' Conference

This year's conference, attended by around 100 governors from Hampshire schools, was titled "Secondary Governance and Accountability: Shaping the Future".

I attended hoping for the chance to talk with other governors and to hear some interesting talks that would help to trigger ideas that I could take back in my role as a parent governor.  I wasn't disappointed.

First up we had the Deputy Director of Education and Inclusion, John Clarke, who talked about the relative performance of children in Hampshire schools compared to national averages.  Particular focus on looking at the progression made from Key stage 2 levels through to key stage 4 attainment and how children who qualify for free school meals attain compared with those who don't.

He recommended a couple of interesting sounding books which have been added to my ever growing wish list on Amazon - the main wish being to find the time to read more of the wonderful books out there.....

Mention was made of studies that look at what actually makes a difference to helping students learn.  Up at the top is ensuring that they get useful feedback.  Issues of uniform were at the other end.  Interesting challenge of how you best meet the needs of the children whilst convincing their parents that this is what you are doing.  How to handle potential gap between what people think matters and doing what actually matters is a tricky one.

He finished with a thoughtful list of how the skills that will be needed for a "21st Century Creative Explorer" compares with those more suited to a "19th Century Clerk".  I've heard it said before that one of the challenges for education is that we are preparing students to take on jobs, many of which have yet to be conceived.  Makes it important that schools turn out children who can not only acquit themselves well in the exams they take but also are equipped to take their place in a fast changing world.

We broke for coffee before our next speaker John Dunford.  He retired from his role as General Secretary of the Association of School and College leaders a couple of years ago.  More interestingly from my perspective was his time as head teacher of Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, his tenure there having included some of my time there as a pupil.   It actually turned out that he had 2 ex pupils in the audience - by a wonderful coincidence I had unwittingly ended up sitting 2 seats away from the elder sister of one of my school friends !

His wide ranging and engaging talk stressed the importance of Values, Innovation and Partnership - with school leaders and governors collaborating to drive success in their school.

The theme of freedom popped up a few times and the difference between "freedom from" and "freedom to".  It is all too easy to focus on the things that you can't control, the edicts and regulations, and spend your energy wishing them away.  How much better to embracing the considerable autonomy that does exist.  Fundamentally, we need to take ownership of the situation we are in and focus on what can be done rather than what can't.

I particularly liked his "warp and weft" model where as well as looking at the knowledge being gained you also consider the dimensions of skills & personal qualities.  How is the method being used to grow the knowledge also assisting in the development of skills and personal qualities.  Something I can take back to work as well as my governor role.

Lunch was good if a slightly odd combination of salad, sandwiches and hot food.  It was followed by a tasty fruit fool dessert whose description as "seasonal" did leave me wondering what would be in it given it was February.  Lunch also provided the opportunity to catch up with another governor at the event who also happens to be the person I replaced as Chair of the Andover Deanery Finance Committee last year.

Our final speaker was Sue Hackman, Chief Advisor on School Standards.    She also picked up on the theme of pupil progress and the gap in attainment between those getting free school meals and those who aren't.  Most of her time though was given over to a lively, anecdote rich, tour of various ideas that have been tried in schools and shown to work.  It was a talk delivered with real passion and rich with ideas.  I particularly liked her discussion on "tracking and tacking" stressing as it did not only the importance of knowing what progress individual pupils are making but the willingness to do something about it.  It's no good doing lots of data analysis to identify an underperforming group of students if you aren't prepared to do the "tacking" as well to change approach and try something else and hopefully make things better.

Overall it was a day filled with lots of thoughts and ideas and well worth the time invested to attend.  If I had to summarise it down to one theme it would be the importance of aspiration and the toxic effect of preconceived notions of what someone can achieve.  In the midst of all the data on "expected levels of progress" we need to take care that this doesn't become a limiting view on what heights a student could actually reach.

Now the challenge of working with my fellow governors to see what ideas we can take and apply to our own context begins....