Build a Better You Through Failure – #lascot15

I am presenting a talk on how to use ‘becoming comfortable with uncomfortableness’ as a growth strategy at Lean Agile Scotland 2015 in Edinburgh. I’ll add more to this for later, but this will work for now.

This is where you can find the slides, and this is the list of sources I used while developing the ideas over the years:

Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

Jules Evans, Philosophy for Life and other Dangerous Situations

Andy Hunt, Pragmatic Thinking and Learning

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

Kelly McGonigal, Maximum Willpower: How to Master the New Science of Self-Control

Steven Pressfield, Do the Work!

David Rock, Your Brain at Work

Julien Smith, The Flinch

Mark Williams and Danny Penman, Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world


Aberdeen CityLab!

In the spring Jo Holtan and I got talking about over lunch at the beach in Aberdeen.  Matt Lowell had told her about this idea as part of their CycleHack adventure since he’d moved to Vancouver. We thought this would be a good thing to do for our respective institutions: University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh. Some discussion got going in Edinburgh, and I ran with the idea in Aberdeen.

For my part I sounded other people out about the idea to see what they thought of this notion. The idea in a nutshell is this: students work with a team from the local city council to develop sustainable projects, which can be either continued by the city, or which are developed with support and help from a city partner, who then takes over the project. The goal is to have students develop their entrepreneurial and soft-skills in multidisciplinary teams over the academic term.

Everyone I spoke to at the university liked the idea. The next step was to sound out people I knew at the council to see what they thought about it. They also liked it, so I moved onto the next phase of gathering the academics together to see what we could do next. Everyone met each other and we found that we had someone from each college. Wow. That was impressive, and we decided to move forward and to quietly pilot this in the next academic year, and that I should continue discussions with Aberdeen City Council to see what we’d need to do to put it into place.

Over the summer I met with various ACC people and it was run up the  rungs to see who could approve this. it got to the Transformation team and stopped. They said “yes, let’s do this.” We met them at the right time as they were looking to bring in university students to help with innovation in the council. Their legal team also saw no problems with the idea either.

Discussions with potential students also went well and thought this would be a good optional course. They could get experience while also developing further skills in team work in a live client situation. Their main concerns were about teamwork, assessments and similar issues.

Marischal College

Our plan to bring this in under the radar haven proven elusive as we couldn’t find a way to do that using any of the current courses on offer a the university. This means we need to start this year with a voluntary scheme, which takes some of the pressure off to have everything ‘just right’, which is part of the reason we wanted to pilot the idea in the first place: so we could learn by doing to uncover the hidden issues of delivering the course.

Further discussions with others experienced in working with councils and governments told me this was also a good idea, which should be pursued too. They also said that we should not look for big, bold ideas either. Within councils things move slowly, so any change for the good, no matter how small is seen as a success. “Judge things by their standards, not by what you would hope to achieve” they said. From within the council they are starting from a different point, than you. I must remember this.

To that end we’ll hopefully be launching this new idea as ‘CityLab!’ in September with a group of volunteer students. To guide the students through the creative process we’ll introduce them to service design and human centered design approaches. And, ‘hey presto’ we’re back in the territory of Snook and Sarah Drummond’sdo tank‘ of delivering ideas back upstream to government. :)

I’m really excited about this and look forward to see where it goes. There is so much potential here.

CoCreACT! Facilitator Training in Hamburg

Since leaving Hamburg the last time in 2012 after my StrategicPlay training as a Lego Serious Play facilitator I have been meeting Katrin Elster each year at Play4Agile and always been impressed by her sessions, and the ideas we’ve talked about at meals and in the bar. For a while she’s talked about a ‘new’ training workshop, and I’ve always asked ‘when?’. Finally… finally, this year she agreed to set a date for me and a colleague, who I brought with to #p4a15 to come to this new ‘CoCreACT’ training workshop. Woohoo! This was exciting stuff. Katrin was going to be leading a small group of trainees through their paces in learning how to best facilitate creative problem solving sessions.

The programme for the three days didn’t say much, and if you didn’t know Katrin, you might think ‘meh, I know this stuff’. There’s expected topics on creative problem solving, and even the four d’s of design: discover, design, develop and deploy along with the double-diamond. You can find all of this in books, and probably on YouTube too, if that works better for you. You’d be wrong thinking that was all there was to one of Katrin’s training workshops.

As with my StrategicPlay training with Katrin I had read any and everything I could find about the process, and I had run a few LSP sessions too. Similarly, I’ve been using various creative problem solving approaches, organising and facilitating co-design sessions and Global Service Jam events alongside running sessions with students. All of this was familiar territory. I’d done my homework and the extra credit stuff on Simplex creative problem solving process too.

Despite this, I was willing to put my money down for training. I also and had faith that my colleague would be satisfied with the training too. She’d only met Katrin at #p4a15 and had participated in a few LSP sessions that I’d run. My faith in signing up for this workshop was based on this: I came away from the LSP training going WOW! She had put all of the bits I knew into perspective, and added more on top of this. Katrin is a master trainer, and knows how to make a training session feel like you’re effortlessly learning while working.

I trusted that this new ‘CoCreACT’ training would be of the same standard: that at the end of each day my head would hurt from all the new things I’d learned I’d done. I knew I’d be using a ‘learning by doing approach’ in a small, safe environment where I’d be challenged in a fun, supporting manner. Yes, I’d have to work, but I’d also have fun while working. I wasn’t disappointed.

CoCreACT day threeThe first day you learn the process and apply it to a problem of your own. You also explore your own preferences for how to solve problems so that you’re aware of blindspots you may have in the process, and thus don’t overlook them. the second day you work as a team on a few problems and see how this all works in a larger group. The last day participants are leading sections of the process. So you go from walking through the materials to running with them
by the end of your three days.

All of this training is done in a highly tactile, collaborative and supportive environment, which aids the learning process. There are worksheets to write on, Lego bricks scattered around for you to finger with while you’re listening; but you’re never sitting for too long in any case as you work through energisers and brainstorm ideas writing on hundreds of Post It notes while on your feet. Then there is all of the wonderful food and drink, cake and endless coffee or tea too. All of this combines to make for a stimulating learning experience where you comfortably grow into the role you wanted for yourself by the end of the workshop. You came to gain more facilitation experience, and that is what you’re practicing by the end.

During the training you’ve made more friends with your fellow participants too. There were six of us in this workshop. All but one had previously done the StrategicPlay LSP training with Katrin. My colleague, hadn’t done this. It didn’t slow her down or hinder her and she grew in confidence with the training too. By the end we six had spent days together and
shared many a coffee, croissants, lunch and drinks, and blended into a nice team. This is the same thing that happened the LSP training too. There, as here, I knew some participants, but we all got on well together and were friends by the end. The mix of the food, drink and the training plus Katrin’s coordination and training magic make it all happen.

So, go take part in Katrin’s CoCreACT training workshops. You will learn lots, even if you think you might know some of the materials. By attending you’ll gain the insights of someone who has worked out a process that blends many of the ideas and steps together into a well-structured whole so that you too can use this process later as second nature, and always wonder why you didn’t notice these little things that help make it all come together so much
easier and better than before.

And my colleague, was she happy with the time and money spent on this training? Did she still trust my judgement on these things? Prior to coming to Hamburg, at the end of Play4Agile she
said we must go to Play4Agile North America as that would be useful and help her development as a facilitator. Now she says that can wait. She wants to return to Hamburg for three days of StrategicPlay Lego Serious Play facilitation training. As I thought, she did enjoy the training and found it useful for her work.

Update: I’ve now used CoCreAct for an event and was very happy with the result.

Play4Agile 2015

In February I returned to Play4Agile 2015 in Germany. As always this was an excellent event where I could gain new ideas, discuss old ones and try out some new ideas of my own too. It was also special this time as I took someone with from Aberdeen. This made attendance different in a good way.

On Thursday before p4a15 started I attended a workshop with Deb Preuss on open space technology with several others. This was useful and helped me clarify how I’d been using this in the past and what I could do to provide a better experience for others when I’m facilitating events in the future.

The pre-conference Friday afternoon workshop on Improv this year was good fun as well as a useful experience to see how I can bring more improv to some of my classes as a way for people to warm up and move towards body storming aspects when developing and prototyping ideas. There were many demos during the session of the power of ‘yes, and..’ plus also how to better ‘accept your partner’s offer’ and what happens when you don’t follow these rules.

Play4agile_15 organising teamSaturday saw the usual excitement of the start with people lining up to offer a good variety of sessions. With the help of others I was able to have a session run on ‘Theatre of the Oppressed‘, which I missed last year, and wanted to better understand so that I might be able to use it too someday. We picked a scenario from someone and then worked through the possibilities to understand the options, which might’ve been available. Sarah, who led the improv session on Friday, also ran a session about improv techniques, which was very good too and built nicely on what she’d done on the Friday. There was also a good session on using the game Escape: the Curse of the Temple to highlight and help to analyse team interaction, and what happens when it falls apart.

Sunday saw me run a trial version of my crucial conversations game. This went ok, but was not as good as I hoped. Instead, I got lots of useful feedback about improvements, plus an important validation that the general idea was good and was worth pursuing further. As always, this is why we go to p4a; we can try ideas with a useful, supportive crowd of people. Afterwards I went to Ellen’s growth mindset game session based on Carol Dweck’s work, where she and Jens were exploring whether you could develop a game to help people understand the notion of growth mindsets. The conclusion was that this might be hard to achieve. Later, Ellen also ran a useful session on how to use Rory’s Storycubes for retrospectives.

I’m sure that I’ve forgotten some sessions and know I also had many conversations over meals with people – almost always sitting with different people each time – and late into the night at the bar with more people too. Because everyone is in the one location for everything you can always find people to chat to about work and ideas, or play a game with while chatting. This is ever so helpful. Lastly, of course, there were the sessions of werewolf, which are always fun and enlightening :)

As noted above, I had a colleague from the university with me. This meant I was looking after someone to make sure they knew what might be expected in this wonderful community and to point out people they shoud meet. This was good. The best part was seeing this person grow over our time there. By the end of p4a15 the person was more confident, open, and aware of what was still to be learned about the agile community. Plus, they had an even bigger thirst and understanding of the power that play brings to learning. I must try to bring more people to this in the future.

Crucial Conversation Card Game

A friend suggested reading Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High and I found the book very useful. It offers strategies to help with those difficult conversations that we all need to do now and then, which are ones we need to do, but which we know will be difficult. I also found it similar to the advice that’s found in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which despite the title, is more than a parenting book. Together the two books cover many useful strategies.

My goal was to set up a workshop so that people could ‘work the materials’ and leave with some useful skills to start them on their way. While I wanted to use this with my computing students so that they could deal with team members better, I also knew that I’d have good audience at Play4Agile 2015, so tried my prototype workshop there.

The workshop went ok. People liked the idea, and offered very useful feedback. This is beauty of unconferences: you can present your ideas, and know that you’ll get feedback you can use.

So, after modifying the materials, and the approach of the workshop, I tried it again today with students. I created a deck of cards with the ‘rules’ and ‘tools’ from Crucial Conversations and had a handout for them to take away too.

crucial_conversation_prototype_cardsI started with letting each table look over a deck of five cards, and discuss them in general for a bit. This meant they could talk in safety of their group. Then after five mintutes or so, I opened it up to the group for people to say which cards resonated with them the most, or other comments about the cards.

This was followed by trios of students with one using a card to guide their discussion with someone in a difficult scenario, while the  third person observed the situation. After 5 minutes they can stop and discuss how it went with the observer, offering their view too. We did this with four chosen scenarios and it all went well. I will definately try this again, and will also see about getting some better designed cards done too.

The card templates  can be printed and glued to playing cards or similar, and the handout offers the background and scenarios you can work through too. If you use them, then please let me know how they work for you.

Ruby and Rails development of Heroku sites

I’ve been working on a live project recently and found it necessary to see what was happening on the Heroku version as it was running differently from my development machine. Saying ‘it works on my machine’ doesn’t help the people trying to use the site, so I had to delve deeper and work out a routine to ensure I was both finding the problem, and also fixing it correctly.

Oh, it goes without saying, try to get Postgresql running on your dev machine.

The short answer is to use something like the following steps when developing sites to run on Heroku:

a) get code with tests working – be sure to use capybara as this will save you hours of time as you repeatedly run the tests. For this project I was spending about 30 seconds running through a number of tests on the site to see that pages loaded correctly, and forms did what they should do too. Running them by hand would’ve taken at least 15 minutes or longer each time, and I would be so board too.

b) pull down heroku db and add to postgres using pg:pull command which means you can pull down the postgresql database and install it into your locally running one and then swap out your ‘dev’ database to use this one and see what’s missing, or whatever.

c) add anything new there to file that loads your test, and/or live data into the database.

d) check all runs ok on dev with db from heroku

e) when ok, then load your data into test database

f) upload to heroku – including db data if necessary checking with heroku logs command as needed. This lets you see what fell over and wasn’t running as expected.

HEA STEM Workshop on Developing Student-Run Software Houses

In March 2014 I ran a workshop on developing student-run software houses for the HEA at London Metropolitan University in London. The day was broken into two halves with the morning devoted to short case studies with plenty of time for questions, and an afternoon of hands-on workshop starting with Strategic Play session using Lego Serious Play to let people think about their own situation followed by a wider focused World Cafe style approach to our main questions. This worked well for our twenty-five or so participants.

The seven short case studies meant we had at least one look at each of the four ‘live client interaction models’ I’ve identified at different universities. The ones in bold presented for us.

  • Model one focuses on the degree with a core live client module for all students (Durham, Lancaster, Sheffield Hallam and Aston)
  • Model two starts small when someone offers services to community supplied by students across discipline or university (Aberdeen, Greenwich, Worcester, Plymouth and Chester)
  • Model three is an umbrella where a commercial and entrepreneurial unit organises activities (Edge Hill, Hull, and Napier)
  • Model four is a commercial unit where a manager liaises with live clients and organises students as staff, or as freelance developers (London Met, Southampton Solent, Kent and Sheffield)

The afternoon sessions started with the warm up using StrategicPlay approaches using Lego Serious Play with each participant reflecting on their own situation by building models to share with others at their table reflecting these questions:

  • what is your biggest challenge to the next step of starting, or developing further, a student-run software house
  • add how will you have overcome this challenge in the next six months?

StrategicPlay session
The goal was to have people reflect on their situation and take in what they’d learned from the morning case studies and general discussion over lunch. The next step was to widen out the discussion using a World Cafe approach that addressed these four questions:

  • What might the ‘next level’ look like at your institutions?
  • What don’t you know that you wished you did know?
  • What is holding you back?
  • Where do we want to go?

We gathered the results on sticky notes on flip charts which have now been collated here.

What might the next level look like for our institution?

Sticky notes say:next level at your institution
HR/finance/IT/legal departments informed and engaged
IP and contracts
IT support?!
senior management support
investent in future
long-term planning, sustainability
visibility internally and externally
Plan B
more staff involved
greater engagement of staff
incentives for staff to engage
train students to do some work for staff autonomy

enhance first year lead in
opportunities to engage at every level capture results
opportunities both inside and outside curriculum
separate or linked?
graduate/industry mentors
external clients
curriculum keeping pace with industry
guessing the next gen.
maintenance/support ‘surviving the summer’
working around inertia

How might we achieve this?

how might we achieve thisSticky notes say:
motivate by linking to drivers – employability, income, student satisfaction
reward staff appropriately
enthusiastic staff members setup team – perhaps as their own loss of time initially
less talk, more action
academics working in collaboration with software specialists
find large org’s in local area that would support idea and business costs
get external partners
focus on lean and agile – reduces risk
specialised contracts
research orientated software solutions
make initiatives self-financing
institutional mandate to support this including legal, finance, etc
departments recognise value of this and willingly invest money
skip the university – set it up externally!
seek approval/support from relevant departments. exchange knowledge with similar schemes
students develop own ideas initially!

What’s holding us back?

what's holding us back?Sticky notes say:
support from university service teams, e.g finance, legal, etc
buy-in by key people
lack of sustained support from senior decision makers
sustainable future and proof planning
visibility for the university’s programmes
increased pressure on staff time. Limited staff resources
incentive misalignment (workload reluctance)
the contractual process ->timeliness
space: labs, group working areas
IT services
structure for this new initiative
industrial involvement (of the right type!)
assessment strategy
good infrastructure needed
(small?) numbers (of students), lack of vitality, feedback (about how we are doing), atmosphere
quality assurance
managing TA support
can we deliver what client’s want? within budget, timeline, etc?
module descriptor and latency issues
getting the right type of students and staff on board
varying skill base of students
how to get the first project out?
visibility for students (student motivation)
management: unreasonable expectations and promises

What don’t we know that we wish we knew?

What don't we know that we wish we knew?Sticky notes say:
how to engage less-able students safely in outreach-like activity
how do we group students?
engaging with mid-range students
is here an unaddressed market for ‘safe’ student activity? (i.e. not addressed by existing business)
how to identify bad projects (and clients)
how to identify good projects
how to combine live projects with rigorous assessment efficiently
use cv* to filter the type of students and not necessary be a cv
students do not get paid in many successful cases
how much trouble will I get into if i short-circuit university procedures?
things that active software developers know
future skills to demand
what barriers to entry prevent students joining software development teams
better lead and networking
costing and planning
a fair commercial contracts that is business, not ‘academic’
when IP is given away. Should source code be accessible by client, or just the final product?

Where do we wish to go?

where do we want to go?Sticky notes say:
Happy students (NSS)
flexible and adaptable students
develop confidence in students by giving them positive opportunities
generating good quality professional [students?]
generating successful students
good score DCHE (festinate of leavers in higher education)
enable students to develop skills that industry want
maintain links with former students
catching the next wave (wearables)
happy, satisfied customers
maintain connections with industry (be in their little black book)
will develop good reputation with industry
a successful cooperation with industry
assist local companies
able to adapt quickly to changes (in IT industry, HE, accreditation, etc)
grow talent pool in the UK
cross department links
ease of implementation of programmes
ease of assessment
have fun
efficient resourcing
showcase research
generate income
improve overall reputation
feedback in connection with modules and programmes
manage numbers realistically
depends upon obstacles in your way?

Pulling some of the thoughts together across these boards we see recurring themes:

  • Support from higher levels of the university, and coordination with other important departments like finance, legal and human resources as well as IT. In order to make this work smoothly each of these aspects needs to be addressed.
  • Support and recognition for the time and effort in managing these projects with students, and possibly some sort of incentive beyond this to encourage more staff to participate in these programmes too.
  • The difficulty in finding good students to participate, and levelling up those who are willing but lacking some skills to work on these types of projects.

So there is still more work to be done here, but we’ve made a start. There is also intention from the workshop participants to move ahead with this work. To start with the JISC mail list STUDENT-LIVE-CLIENT-WORK has now been created for those interested in talking about this more and keeping in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.

Lego Serious Play: the literature

There are a number of books and online resources available explaining the background, and philosophy of Lego Serious Play. These break down into a few categories: the history, the theory and the manuals. I’ve not found any manuals, however, which explain everything. This means that in order to move beyond the basic approaches outlined in the open source guide, it is necessary to be trained in LSP facilitation by one of the master trainers.

The background and science of LSP are available in a few online papers (open source), RasmussenHylton and Statler. These all point to sound reasons of why the process works from the psychological perspective and offer some basic case studies about why LSP works the way it does.

More in depth background to the processes and theory behind the approach can be found in these books:

Brown, Stuart. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul J P Tarcher/Penguin Putnam, 2009.
Gauntlett, David. Creative Explorations: New Approaches to Identity and Audiences Routledge, 2007.
Pinault, Lewis. The Play Zone: 6 Principle for Unleashing the Hidden Value of Your Company Haroer Business, 2004.
Rock, David. Your Brain at Work Collins Business, 2009.
Roos, Johan. Thinking from Within: A Hands-on Strategy Practice Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Roos and Rasmussen were some of the original people involved in setting up the LSP process, while Gauntlett helped draft the open source document for LSP. Rasmussen’s piece provides the context of LSP and a brief background to the theory. Pinault’s book discusses Roos and gives different perspectives on an LSP session with a UK retailer throughout the book.

Roos’s book explains the history of how the idea developed and has been tried with various approaches. However, don’t expect photos and discussion of the LSP process. Lego bricks are only mentioned once or twice in passing. Gauntlett’s book provides the theoretical background to the LSP approach. Together both Roos and Gauntlett explain clearly why this all works as nicely as it does.

Rock and Brown both provide useful theory about why play is important and how our brains work. Rock also explains the SCARF model, which is important in the StragegicPlay approach to using LSP. The ‘SCARF’ model addresses: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. The participants should understand their status in the game with the rules providing certainty of outcome. In addition, the players should have autonomy within the game scenario, and there should be relatedness between the players so that they are seen as friendly players, while the rules also provide a fair game to all participants.

Lego Serious Play session

Together all of these books provide an understanding of why the LSP process works, and some indication of how you can build a session around a topic. However, there is more to it all, which you need to gain from LSP facilitation training. This means going to one of master trainers approved by the Lego Foundation, which oversees the LSP materials. I was trained by  Katrin Elster at StrategicPlay (DE) in Hamburg and have since then also been in workshops with Jacquie Lloyd who runs StrategicPlay (CA). I can unreservedly recommend either of these trainers. Together they have a wealth of experience using these approaches many times a month over many years and will happily share the stories and experience during the training session. Go play, and learn with the best. 

Similar posts that may be of interest:

Thinking about Lego Serious Play and Simplex

StrategicPlay® Facilitation Training in Lego Serious Play