December 2010


Even this close up, it’s hard to tell what 2011 will bring. Snow, muttering, death and taxes are probably safe bets, and no doubt a few more Wikileaks to raise either eyebrows or hackles. The Chinese will celebrate the Year of The Metal Rabbit: if you’ve got more time on your hands than needed to read your tea-leaves, why not read up on how life might pan out for Weak Wood Rats (Worst) or Strong Fire Pigs (Best). Alternatively, start by accepting our thanks for being one of those who’ve already completed the Learning Transfer 2010 Survey, the UK’s first national survey of transfer and application practice in learning and development. If you haven’t, you still have until the end of the year – and you don’t want to start the New Year on the naughty step, now do you?

If you’ve read our post from earlier this week, 2011 – there’s a big future ahead to grow into, you’ll know that there are some changes ahead at ASK and some new things on the horizon, as well as a proud continuation of our passionate concern to improve the transfer and application of learning. One of 2011’s new things will be the release of the initial findings of the Learning Transfer 2010 Survey, and an opportunity for us all not only to know more but also to do things differently as a result.

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We’re in a time of year for traditions. Once we get through a mountain of turkey, brussel sprouts (a triumph of tradition over flavour if ever I tasted one), crackers and Disney movies, we’ll be up to our armpits in wistful reflection and dewy-eyed optimism. (With luck, our new jumpers will be absorbent.) Given the option, I tend to go for being up to my eyelids in apple martinis (or, with my mother-in-law’s encouragement, a good old-fashioned G&T), but I snookered myself last night browsing an old hard-drive and stumbling across something I wrote for ASK about the advent of the Internet way back in 1997. Having since working in web development and social media, it was touching to see that things I value about technology today where things I valued then – opportunities for discourse, sharing of knowledge and ideas, creation of communities: blimey, 50 and still idealistic.

Those of you who know me well enough to know my hair style (to use words more loosely than normal) will no doubt crack a smile at a lovely entry called ‘Bearded Hippies’ at the ever charming blog, Indexed. Like Alasdair Campbell, I try to avoid ‘doing God’ and I suspect Marx is beyond even the most optimistic resurrection, given the Keynesians seem to have missed an open goal over the last couple of years, but  – once you get past the knowing shock of someone mentioning Marx and Jesus on the same index card  – its mention of sharing is pretty much on the money, zeitgeist-wise. Compulsory or voluntary, sharing – breaking if not bread then ideas together – is an idea whose time has come round again, like fashion or a sushi-bar conveyor belt.

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Smiling DoorThis is a book that’s been mentioned in passing a number of times in this blog, as my copy has been picked up and read, abandoned for more pressing tasks, returned to and had more pages turned over and more scribbles added. Its author might be proud of this: the idea that good things happen not as bolts of lightning or sudden epiphanies in a bath tub but rather when things are mulled over and ruminated on over a period of time is one of the central themes of a thought-provoking book. It’s also testament to a good read: many are the books that have been put aside (even lightly so, in Dorothy Parker’s immortal words) never to be picked up again. Indeed, it’s proof of its own point in a literal sense too: acknowledged by its author as the conclusion of a series of books that include The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks (ok, but a plod) and The Invention of Air: An experiment, a journey, a new country and the amazing force of scientific discovery (sorry, didn’t finish it), it is the best book of the three, having benefited from its author having more time to think through and explore his own thoughts. Given its centrality to market-based economies, innovation is an important theme: rather like Matthew Syed’s Bounce (read our review), Johnson’s task is partly to debunk what he sees as a myth – in this case, that innovation is something that comes to us in a blinding flash, a dream or some kind of divine spark.

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As a company that works dedicatedly to help individuals and organisations to address their inappropriate or ineffective behaviours, we can see the humour in one witty New Year quote – “Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits” . But whether we applaud that kind of ‘new start’ depends on whether they’re continuing their old habits or finally doing something about them. We enjoy the festivity and camaraderie of New Year as much as anyone, but we appreciate it as a transition too.

The transition from 2010 to 2011 is also period of transition at ASK. From 1 January 2011, Anton Franckeiss becomes Managing Director, having been UK Practice Director for the past two years, as founder and current MD Robert Terry takes up a new post as Executive Chairman, in which he will lead our growing portfolio of research and development work.

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Not slacking but frowningMaybe it’s a national tradition of a long hours culture, maybe it’s our seemingly ingrained dislike of ‘shirkers’, but ‘part-timers’ is one of the more damning verdicts I’ve heard casually passed in many of the organisations I’ve worked in. But will changes in our working culture make that far less of a put-down and much more a case of ‘Just saying …’? The Daily Telegraph, reporting on the latest ONS figures last week, revealed that the total number of us in part-time work increased by 26,000 to reach 7.96m – more than a quarter of the working population. And it is estimated that 1.16m of those are people actively seeking full-time work but ‘settling’ for something less (the highest figure for people in this category since records started in 1992). As Ian Brinley of The Work Foundation commented at the start of 2010:

The overall stability is deceptive in terms of the hours of work on offer. The number of people in full-time work is still going down, offset by more part-time jobs. The competition for such jobs is intense. There are now one million people working part-time who really want full-time work – up nearly 40 per cent compared with the same three months a year ago.”

These are striking figures that have been subjected to much commentary in terms of the economy and our national prospects. But apart from the financial impact – part-time workers naturally earn less, and are statistically also twice as likely to receive less than the minimum wage – there has been little commentary on other. more subtle impacts.

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Nearly 2011 already? Gosh, doesn’t time fly. We can’t stop it coming, but what on Earth will it mean for us when it gets here? Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or is it just a train heading our way? I don’t hold enormous faith in crystal balls under even frivolous circumstances, but I’m game for some stabs in the dark about issues that might vex, engage or amuse over the coming 12 months.

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Well, having been a student myself for the last three years, I can tell you that the students have always been revolting – anyone who risked entering my kitchen in the first year can attest to this.

As if being a graduate in 2010 couldn’t get any worse, we now have the dubious pleasure of being implicated by association with the student fees protesters. Whether or not we agree with the cuts or disagree is immaterial. The fact is: we are young, we were at university, and so in all likelihood we are now devising new and inventive ways to scale the Cenotaph or thinking of what we’re going to write on the sandwich board that we will inevitably turn up for work wearing. Brilliant…

But for the sake of impartiality, I’m going to avoid getting bogged down in an inevitably dull discussion of the cuts or the protesters or their incredibly disrespectful (woops!) actions last week. I’m not interested in the ‘whats’ and the ‘whys’ of the protests, but rather, the ‘hows’. In particular, the way that the students have used social media to generate, galvanise and mobilise support, and what organisations can learn from this.

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