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Colin Johnson’s blog


Archive for February, 2016

Hypnopompic Jokes Redux (1)

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

A joke that came to me as I was waking up a little while ago; it was hilarious at the time, doesn’t seem so now: “There was a kid taking part in the school nativity play who was so bad at acting that they decided that he would play himself. So there was Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus, the shepherds, the three wise men, a donkey, a shark, an octopus, and a spotty kid from Sheffield.”

Highs and Lows

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

The highs and lows of work. Spent 2 hours in a meeting on Monday discussing items that were flagged on the agenda as “not for discussion”. Then spent 4 hours yesterday working with students on our new Computational Creativity module, they were really engaged with the material and willing to engage in discussion and had clearly read the papers in detail before the class—proper “flipped classroom” stuff. I wonder what today will bring?

There’s no F in Strategy (and usually doesn’t need to be)

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

A while ago I read a little article whilst doing a management course that was very influential on me (I’ll find the reference and add it here soon). It argued that the process of building a team—in the strict sense a group of people who could really work closely and robustly together on a complex problem—was difficult, time-consuming and emotionally fraught, and that actually, for most business processes, there isn’t really any need to build a team as such. Instead, just a decently managed group of people with a well-defined goal was all that was needed for most activities. Indeed, this goes further; because of the stress and strain needed to build a well-functioning team in the strong sense of the word, it is really unproductive to do this, and risks fomenting a “team-building fatigue” in people.

I’m wondering if the same is true for the idea of strategy. Strategy is a really important idea in organisations, and the idea of strategic change is really important when a real transformation needs to be made. But, I worry that the constant demands to produce “strategies” of all sorts, at all levels of organisations, runs the danger of causing “strategy fatigue” too. We have to produce School strategies, Faculty strategies, University strategies, all divided un-neatly into research, undergraduate, and postgraduate, and then personal research Strategies, and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all strategies. Really, we ought to be keeping the word and concepts around “strategy” for when it really matters; describing some pissant objective to increase the proportion of one category of students from 14.1% to 15% isn’t a strategy, it’s almost a rounding error. We really need to retain the term—and the activity—for when it really matters.

Get Yerself an Edderkation

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

An news item from my former school’s website:

This is a reminder to parents of Year 11 students that the Year  11 Commnedation Eveming due to take place tonight has been postponed (ref letter sent home last wek).

Bourgeois Yuppie Quinoa

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

One of the linguistic tics that has remained with me, as someone from a basically working-class background is the addition of a self-deprecating adjective like “poncey” or “yuppie” to anything vaguely middle class. Despite having lived a basically middle-class lifestyle since going off to university as a teenager, I still feel the need to describe anything containing quinoa as “my poncey salad” and similar remarks.

I think this started at university. A colleague started referring to filter coffee as “bourgeois coffee” and the name has stuck, at least in the back of my mind, ever since. Similarly, another light-hearted fellow student’s description of the mineral-water-with-lemon that I used to get sometimes from the local shop as “your yuppie water” remains to this day. There is still, in the back of my mind, the idea that Real Men drink instant coffee and tap water, and that fripperies like cafetieres are odd inconsistencies.

I think this a reliable tell for people who have moved from a broadly working-class background to a middle-class one.

Dreamtime Recipes (1)

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

I am a worse cook in my dreams than I am in real life. A few of nights ago I had a dream where I was a cook in a school canteen, and one of the meals I was preparing was macaroni and cheese, topped with hair clippings from the barber’s shop next door, and hair from the beard of a goat “to enhance the crunchyness” as someone else in the dream said. Ugh!

TIFU (1)

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

There is a wonderful subreddit called Dear Reddit, Today I Fucked Up… in which people post (usually fairly lighthearted) accounts of how they erred during the current day, beginning with the abbreviation “TIFU”. Here is my post there from today.

TIFU by starting to ask someone the question ‘So, where are you from?’, realising as I opened my mouth that it often sounds a little bit racist (with its implication of ‘So, where are you from *really*?’), deciding to draw attention to the fact that I know that it’s a stupid and clichéd question by putting it in air quotes, then didn’t really start moving my fingers until the last word of the question, which made it look like I was saying ‘So, where are you “from”?’ which made the question even worse.