Why I Wasn’t In Bournemouth

“This is odd, I’m nervous. It’s been long time since I went to a conference where my main feeling is trepidation.” Such were my thoughts as my train trundled towards Roffey Park for the second annual conference of the fledgling OD Network Europe. Why trepidation? I recognised just three names on the list of 130 participants; only one was from a university. It’s a long time since I was so thoroughly among strangers. I also have a scientist’s aversion to the tortuous and woolly language of some of the ODN abstracts and articles. Well, that’s good. I’m an introvert who came here to broaden my horizons and get out of my comfort zone. Notice what you’re feeling, it’s all about the whole self, right? I was going to blog comparatively about this and next week’s UHR conference, but this stuff is so bursting out of me that I have to catch it now, as I trundle back again.

 Roffey was itself a comfort zone, as usual, but boy were my horizons broadened. In a good, scary way. Immediately evident were the networks that already exist, often rooted in the various expensive and committing qualification programmes people had been through.  But of course we’re a warm, humanistic community, so it’s hard to be friendless for long. The range and depth of experience and knowledge in the room were breathtaking, and I got a sense that many were grounding their practice more explicitly in the underpinning scholarship than I do. It was like happily pursuing a profession – geologist, say – having done an A level, then finding yourself in a room full of geologists with degrees.


Among the wide-ranging sessions a recurring theme was the emergence of a “next generation” OD frame, taking in complexity, connectedness and non-linear systems. In keeping with the conference theme of “collaborating and innovating in social systems,” there were highly resonant tales of successes and challenges in dialogic, co-creative approaches. One session that used art to tease out our own development journeys gave me two major “ker-zzzingg” moments that I hadn’t expected (like a-ha moments but more fizzy). An “innovation” sampler was the loudest, funniest, happiest workshop group I’ve ever been in, but also deeply educational. Mots du jour included “constructive deviance” and “rhizomatic,” but beware: “engagement” has joined “empowerment” in the bucket of jargon terms to make knowing, ironic jokes about.


Someone commented that there was a sense of excitement, potential and experimentation, which they found absent from the slightly grandee-dependent meetings of the larger US parent network. This momentum is being tapped by a set of action-research clusters that we formed in the final session, hubbed by Roffey but aimed at turning ourselves into a community of researchers in the support of practice.

 It’s proposed to take this European network to the mainland next year. Will I be going? Oh, emphatically yes, even if it means (gulp) missing ODHEG again. The world is wide, and I seem to have found my learning edge.

 (Twitterati can check out @ODNEurope, #ODNE2014)



My first month as an iPaddler

Why would anyone get an iPad for work?  They just allow high-tech doodling, rudely doing things other than focus on the meeting you’re in.

The tide turned for me when a colleague from e-learning gave a presentation to a regional forum, “My Favourite 10 Apps.”  As someone who proudly has only 4 purchased apps on his phone (or used to), I would once have shuddered. But Nitin was talking about work: “Here’s what I use that makes my working life easier and better than when I carried spiral-bound notebooks everywhere (until surprisingly recently, for a learning technologist).” So having ummed and ahhed for a while I placed the order, resolving to jump in with both feet, waist deep. What have I learned in the month since then?

Lesson 1. iPads aren’t designed for corporate environments, and vice versa. My University doesn’t officially support Apple products but iPads are so much easier to use than other tablets that most people are getting them, including the Executive Committee. But the infrastructure and knowledge are building slowly. Note-taking and document reading apps are essential but it’s taken weeks to home in on the ones other people are using here, chosen among hundreds on the app store. Unlike MS Office, there’s no default suite of software that is the best choice for the corporate all-rounder, so you need to be ready to learn on your own. And then tutor your HR Director who has been issued with an iPad for Executive papers, but doesn’t know where to start. I suggested that perhaps giving devices to so many senior managers might have been accompanied by a training plan, to which a Dean replied: “There is; it’s called “ask Kevin.”  Kevin is the DVC and a bit of an expert iPaddler, apparently.

Lesson 2. Taking notes is no problem. I’ve utterly abandoned my spiral-bound notebooks for most meetings, and as Nitin promised, being forced to type makes the notes more precise and concise, you spend more time thinking and listening. My touch-screen typing has speeded up considerably, but I might still get a folding keyboard case. I’m obviously not as visual as I thought I was, as I haven’t really tried the scribbling apps, but I daresay that’ll come, although probably with a stylus rather than a finger end. And my notes are synced to the cloud, ready to be sifted, sorted, filed and cut-and-pasted into other documents back at base.

Lesson 3. There’s a whole new community out there. I’ve been to several conferences and the iPaddlers lean across and ask what you’re using, and show you their favourites. It’s a terrific ice-breaker in a hall of strangers. “You simply must use iThoughts, it’s brilliant, look…” And just when you thought you’d found an app that does what you want, along comes one that does it better. (Much like strangers……)

Lesson 4. Tablets aren’t laptops. (Well du-uh.)  My best analogy is that so far for me it’s a supercharged document folder, with papers, notepad, pens, diary etc., all in one place and – here’s the neat bit – you can reach into it and fetch the things you’ve forgotten to carry across campus that day. But you won’t be creating any amazingly formatted word documents. Nor will you be taking something on a data stick or plugging it into a projector to show that powerpoint or video. You can, however, connect to people and things across the world, which my trusty Change Academy folder doesn’t do so well.

Lesson 5. Fingers are icky. The iPad 3 that I’ve got has an astonishingly clear high-definition screen, really amazing. But boy does it show the greasy finger marks. Or maybe it’s just me.

Lesson 6. Nobody looks good on Facetime.

Lesson 7. Change Academy document folders are really handy for carrying iPads around.

So I think I’m converted, and don’t really see the point of fighting it. What’s the key advantage, the real deal-breaker? So far it’s the steadily diminishing piles of paper that accumulate in my room and, when I come to sort and file, mostly get recycled because I know there’s an electronic version somewhere. For 400 quid you’d expect something more profound, but the longest journey starts with the first gesture-sensitive interface, as they will one day say.

And finally, Steve Jobs, I hear, willed that his ashes be scattered on his iPad, his iPhone and his iMac. He wanted to be left to his own devices.