Unschooling and the Self-unemployed #unschool13

I spent a day last week at #unschool13 an unconference called by  Simon Gough to “explore learning outside school together”.  I qualified both as a parent of two young people who’ve had unconventional school experiences and as a witness to the learning powers of unconferences and gatherings like Everything Unplugged and of course #tuttle.

All were welcome and the right people were the ones who came.  It was a really interesting and at times challenging experience.  Just when I thought I was used to the uncertainty of the unconference format (after all, even the most wacky groups have a limited range of social interactions and odd ideas) we go and try doing one … with kids!  I appreciated it being small enough to remain one conversation for most of the day.

The thing that struck me most was the similarity between the conversations we were having about unschooling families engaging with schools and education authorities; and those we have at other times about self-unemployed people engaging with corporate entities.

In both conversations, the people know that they’re doing something useful and valuable in working in a different way.  Both sets of people believe that others would enjoy and prosper from following their way of life if they knew that it was an option.

The conversation went round in a few circles.  Substitute the word “school” with “corporate” and you’ll see what I mean: “What should our relationship with schools be ?  Should we be going in and using their facilities?  What value might schools get from having us visit and work there?  How do we do what we know is right and at the same time make enough money to pay our bills?  If we don’t engage with schools but form groups of families to learn specialist things together, then aren’t we just becoming a school?”

So it got me thinking about what social aspects of my self-unemployed life map across.  I don’t know, you tell me.

#tuttle-like meetups – I think that most home-schoolers do this kind of thing, getting together in a coffee shop and annoying the staff by sitting there all day.

#jelly and co-working – I’m not sure how much this happens, the equivalent would be people working on their own learning but having others nearby to help out, perhaps now and then co-operating on joint-learning projects.  I think it would be interesting to create a C4CC-like space for unschoolers, but would that just be like a Summerhill-y kind of school?

unconferences – of course these start to bridge the gap between the employed and the self-unemployed – it would be good to see some young(er) people at unconferences in some other role than prodigy or  hack-cannon-fodder.  I’d also be interested to see an unconference that just was under-eighteens only.

consulting – the things we’re learning by being outside the system *are* valuable to those inside, but it’s sometimes difficult to quantify that value and to set up a contractual arrangement to exchange value that suits both parties well enough.  I think we started to get there, especially with the first round of the Tuttle Consulting work.  It’s more about knowledge-sharing perhaps.

 

 

Some things about Govcamp #ukgc13

The #ukgc13 ukulele boys caught in action by @nettienoodles - Steady Eddie @pseudograph & Soggy Bottom @lloyddavisHaven’t really got my head on straight since #ukgc13 on Saturday, so many lovely people, so much happened, moved forward, settled into a comfortable space.  So here’s my list of blurbages:

0.  I miss posterous because it really made it easy to getting people blogging after an event – the follow-up posts have been fewer this year and I’m sure it’s something to do with not being able to just grab a space and do it even for people without a regular blog.

1. Spam twitterbots are ruining the use of Twitter as a backchannel for events in real-time.  As a record afterwards it’s OK but something must be done if we want real-time conversation around a hashtag.

2.  The conversations could have been edgier for my liking.  I worry that there aren’t enough “let’s kill this sacred cow” sessions being pitched, not enough argument, fighting, death threats, throwing of furniture, etc.

3. I think this is partly related to the fact that many people in this community started out as rebels and now they find themselves mainstream.  It’s a difficult shift to handle and each individual reacts in their own way.  If you have a keen eye for what’s not right, and are ready for resistance, it gets really difficult when people keep saying “yes, you’re right, let’s get on with it”.  It’s a nice problem to have, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

4.  I want more slots on the grid so that the keen people can chat away while the rest of us have dedicated space for napping and playing ukulele together.

5.  I really should leave the gags to Dave Briggs, he does a smashing job, I end up going down embarrassing rabbit-holes.

6. I’m glad I recapped on the principles of open space at the beginning.  It’s easy for us to slip into thinking that some of the rituals and traditions we’ve accumulated over the years have to be part of the process, they don’t, we should always be questioning whether they serve us, today.

7.  I missed having Paul Clarke and Jeremy Gould around.

8.  I’m really glad to see service-specific camps springing up, I’ve been to a #librarycamp and #bluelightcamp.  I’m looking forward to #housingcamp.  I’ve also been talking to people recently about running unconference/open space for individual organisations as a means to stakeholder engagement or for organisational learning.

9. Please don’t make me choose between Chicken Curry and Bangers and Mash for lunch.

10.  This will be remembered as “the one where Lloyd played his ukulele to an audience of stuffed rats while a man danced  the Charleston.”

TwitterBot-ageddon

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been at #commscamp13 and #ukgc13 – at each there where plenty of people at the event and away from it who were tweeting using the hashtags – this sort of backchannel has become an important part of the event experience since the early days when people started appearing in conference halls with internet devices, a way to say “hello, I’m here” and “I just spoke to X – she’s amazing!” or “what Y just said reminded me of http://…” etc.  it also lets people “outside the room” join in to an extent.

On both of these recent occasions the channel has been disrupted by an invasion of spambots, to the point that the stream became unusable temporarily for those actually interested in the topic.

These bots latch onto the trending hashtag, saying something inane like “I can’t believe this!” plus a spammy link and flood the stream.

I know nothing about the creation of twitterbots, but I assume the accounts are programmatically created and they sit listening for trending hashtags and then throw themselves into the stream with the hope that from the large number of people taking part, there’ll be one or two who end up clicking on the link or even (yikes!) following the bot themselves.  Today I’ve seen them swarming around the #uksnow hashtag, the other day, when the trumpeter Kenny Ball died, his name was mentioned in spambot tweets.  It’s ridiculous.

At both the events recently, I’ve witnessed the bot tweets have died out over time, during the day, but it’s not clear whether this is simply because the tag became unusable and so stopped trending from non-bot-traffic or because Twitter noticed and did something (but see point 1. below) or because people following the stream reported the bots quickly.  I’m guessing it’s a combination.

So we’re all asking, “What can we do?”

0) Use another platform for the backchannel.  hmm…  any suggestions that have the ease of use and userbase of Twitter?

1) Get Twitter to sort it out.  Good luck with that one.  I’m sceptical of the idea that Twitter are actually able to do anything – the bots are all over the #sxsw stream right now for example.  Surely, if Twitter could kill this sort of thing easily, they would be doing it routinely on the tag associated with the biggest social media event of the year. Twitter also have shown themselves to be repeatedly clueless about what’s really happening on their network.

2) Build better filters – as Twitter increase the amount of metadata associated with tweets, perhaps there’ll be ways of identifying the little monsters quickly and removing them from searches.

3) Start a bot war – fight bots with bots. The most tempting, it’s kind of like point 1, but we do it rather than leave it to Twitter, but who’s the we that’s going to do this?  And like any war, it might remove the present symptoms, but does it just lead to retaliation and escalation?

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got right now.

 

What @amandapalmer reminded me about street performing #AFP #llobo

The only people who can possibly not have seen or heard about Amanda Palmer‘s TED Talk from last week yet are those who resist words of wisdom on principle, or perhaps those poor bastards who restrict their internet time to “serious stuff”.

If you’re in one of those categories and you read this blog, a) I’d be surprised and b) get over to her site and have a look, go on.  It firmly places AFP and her hubby as the goto motivators for creative people of the here and now – “Make Good Art …and… Let People Pay You For It!” 

Anyhow, the first time I heard her talk about her experience as the eight-foot bride and how that informed her relationship to her “audience” now, what I said on twitter in response was “thank you for reminding me that being a street performer is more than OK, it’s a job”

It’s a job, it’s part of my work.  It’s part of my overall contribution to the happiness of my community, and I’m rewarded in many more ways than the pile of coins in my uke case.

I’ve been meaning to write something for a long time (actually it occurs to me every time I go out to play) about what busking has taught me about my business.  But I couldn’t find a decent frame for it – it kept coming out as a translation from what I knew to be true to the sort of language that “business people” understand (yikes!) and too much was being lost in translation.

So here’s what it’s really been like for me.  You do your own translation.

My first sober, adult experience of busking was on the tube.  It’s not the same as the street, but I had a licence for a year and it gave me a good grounding in just standing there with my ukulele, showing up, playing, singing, getting tipped, getting ignored, getting occasionally and very mildly abused.  I also got to meet a few other buskers at the swap-over time, made some friends, was able to talk about the common nuisances of being a tube-busker.  And I heard a story over and over that made me uncomfortable.  It was that people are horrible, they hate buskers, they don’t want us there, they think we’re beggars, they’re mean and ungrateful and we give much more than they reward.   Which wasn’t really my experience, I’d already clocked that the best way to get through a two-hour session playing at, say, Bond St, where you’re in a tunnel between the platform and the escalator hall, so everybody’s always zipping past, is to lock-on to people and smile and give your performance to them, give your all to that one person right now and when they’ve gone, let them go.  And yeah, some of them are grumpy and embarrassed and ignore you or tell you to “Shut up!” or “Get a Job!” but then when I had a job and I was always on the way somewhere else and I saw someone spending their time doing what they love, I probably was a bit grumpy too.  The other thing is, you’re in the middle of one of the busiest transport networks in the world – people don’t go there for entertainment, they go there to get somewhere else, quickly.

Still, the money was rubbish.  And I kept trying to find some correlation between what I was doing and what ended up in the pot.  And there wasn’t any really, one day certain songs would “work”, the next day the same songs would bomb.  Some days I’d get an endless stream of 10p and coppers, others, nobody would give anything except for one guy who tossed in £5.  I kept telling myself to give up trying to work it out, but then when I was there on the pitch and my stomach was rumbling and I’d already laid out for a tube ticket and I somehow had to fix it so that I could make them get that money out of their pocket and into my uke case.  But that never worked.  I gave up my tube licence mainly because of the way the scheme was managed, but also it was just too hit and miss as a means of income.

And so I left it.  I stopped busking for a couple of years.  And in the meantime I did other things, I put into practice lots of ideas I had about organising without organisations, I tried out crowdfunding for projects and I couchsurfed and I went coast-to-coast across the USA twice with the help of my online social network.  And then I went completely homeless and hobo-style and spent a year on the road going where you and the digital world took me and paid me and fed me and gave me (some very nice) rooves over my head.

And while I was on the road that year, I picked up the busking habit again.  I’d found in the USA that carrying my uke around everywhere was a great social opener, so why not put it to use when I was on my own?

And this time it was different.  I was different.  I had a different attitude.  I can’t pretend that I instantly transformed, I still had a rumbling tum and empty pockets much of the time and I *was* doing it for the money, but I was less attached to making it happen, making them get their money out, making them put it in the pot.  Something just clicked, on the street, in a way that I hadn’t felt in the tube, that the amount in the pot was none of my business until I got to the end of the set.  And how it got there was none of my business either.  My job was to entertain these people to the best of my ability and trust that I would be rewarded.  It took some practice, I’d often drift off into control-mode again, but I kept pulling myself back, like a meditation, to remembering that my job there is to collect smiles – to get as much eye-contact and human connection as possible in the few moments from when they approached to when the passed.  And I regularly make about twice as much as I ever did on the tube.

I also have way more fun and if there is any key factor that correlates with how much money is there at the end, it’s how much fun I had.  I’ve learned too to just let people give.  Some people want to give me food and drink – when I started out, I’d decline, politely, letting them know that I can’t eat cookies, for example.  Now, I take it all with a smile and thanks and pass on the stuff my digestive system can’t cope with to the guys and gals who are sitting out on the street who don’t have a ukulele or a talent for singing.

So what I’m really grateful for, Amanda, is the reminder that my job is not what I think it is.  My job isn’t to rake in the dosh.  My job is to collect smiles, human connections, hugs, and  to generate conversation, laughter at or laughter with and to ignore the hecklers. No matter what it is that I’m doing, those are the metrics that count.

I’ve become comfortable lately saying “I don’t do *anything* full-time”.  And I certainly couldn’t busk full-time, my fingers and voice wouldn’t hack it.  But I like to get out there from time to time and I’m looking at ways of doing street-like performance that gets the intimacy but doesn’t require me to freeze. And so I try also to carry the spirit of my street performance into all the work I do, give my best and let people give back what they want to.   

Thanks, see you on the street.

Help Me See “The Mind of Evil” #llobo

Andy Mabbett pointed this out this morning.  My resemblance to the late Roger Delgado seems to get creepier as I get older.  I’d love to go to this but it’s up in Birmingham and I’m in London.  

Does anybody have a lloyd-shaped hole in what they’re doing around the weekend of 30th that would help me justify a trip up?  Perhaps at the end of the week before, given that the Friday is Good Friday.  For the uninitiated, most lloyd-shaped holes include working with groups of 2 to 200 (or more!) to have amazing conversations and get amazing things done and/or ukulele-accompanied warbling and/or talking about creating value through social media/networking/technology/conversation and many other things besides.

The ideal solution would include a fee, accommodation & travel expenses and of course I’d love it if you’d come with me to see Dr Who and The Master lock horns on Saturday afternoon!

On Channels and Combinations #ukgc13 #commscamp13 #tuttle

Sitting in groups of traditional marketers or comms people I often groan.  The most likely trigger is hearing words like: “Social media is just another channel”

Yes, you can see social media as a channel, but if you treat it like the other “channels” that you’ve had in the past (TV, radio, press) you’re missing out on the secret magic.

What’s importantly different about social media is that they encourage many-to-many connections rather than one-to-one or one-to-many connections.  The counting that goes on is all 1:1 or 1:M – how many followers do you have, how many people saw this tweet/ad/page/article/video.  But what really counts, what really makes a difference is relationship, including the relationships that you foster with your media but aren’t part of yourself.   This is social object territory – make stuff that other people use to connect with each other.  Most traditional comms efforts are still focused on creating a relationship between the creator and their audience whereas the real value for the community as a whole is the potential for connection between members of the audience and that’s what the internet and social media unlock.

This is the magic of unconferences and #tuttle-like meetings too.  They are designed to create connections between participants rather than building a dependent relationship between participants and the organiser.  Traditional conferences want you to sit and listen and know how brilliant the organisers are so that you will buy subscriptions to their publication or pony up to come to the next event.  They grudgingly give you more networking time because you are connected people who understand the value of having many, diverse, connections and you understand the power of conversation.  But there’s a payoff in this for organisers – they want you to have just enough networking time to have your conversation-hunger satisfied, but not so much that you start to think that you can do without them and omniscience.

At an unconference or #tuttle though the whole point is about making connections and building relationships.  Most newbies, when you ask them, think that they’re coming for information, but by the end, most know (even if they can’t articulate it) that what they  really got was the benefit of conversation with fellow human beings and the potential for new actions that arise from the new connection.

Just quickly a bit of maths – In any group, the number of potential pairings is n(n-1)/2

(check it if  you’re not used to this sort of numberwork – If I’m in a room  containing n people, I can make n-1 pairs with others and there are n of us who can all do that. My pairing with, say, @danslee is the same as @danslee’s pairing with me, so divide by two)

At #commscamp13 there were 135 people – in traditional terms this would be quite a small gathering because we’d only be able to get our message to 135 people.  But by focusing on connections and the relationships that result from that, we get (135 x 134)/2 = 9,045 – nine thousand potential connections being nurtured feels a lot more valuable than 135  people receiving the message through the channel, doesn’t it? Is it surprising that from those nine thousand pairs some amazing conversations happened?  And that’s not even taking into account the three-way or four-way conversations that could have happened too.

That’s  why I spend my time creating spaces where people can connect without being told what to talk about or when to talk and when to listen.

 

On Red Pills and Anarchists in the Boardroom #morelikepeople #commscamp13 #ukgc13

I’m going to ask you to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign, but this time it’s not one of mine.

Having spent some time at a couple of unconferences this week, both of which focused in on the experiences of professionals working in public service (Commscamp for Communications folk, LibCampLdn for library peeps) and preparing (mentally) for next weekend’s mammoth, all-encompassing, UKGovCamp, I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern emerging.

Sessions held at both events this week contained a theme that can be boiled down to: “How do we as professionals who’ve seen the light of digital revolution, survive and thrive in corporate bureaucracies that refuse to change?”

I think it’s allied to what Emer Coleman has written about this week in her valediction to government saying “When you take the red pill everything looks like The Matrix”

I often say that my own “red pill” moment was in the board room of the Audit Commission, with Euan in 2002 but I’d seen others before that who seemed to be able to fly, do things incredibly quickly or smash through walls at will without hurting themselves – there was something going on here, but I didn’t know what it was, did I, Mr Jones?

But what is it really?

Isn’t it “just” that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy? By which I mean, isn’t it that connection through the network is destroying the control and decision-making structures and putting tremendous pressure on organisations to stop pretending that they’re machines and start being more like people?

About a year ago Liam Barrington-Bush, (a regular at #tuttle who started out as Steve Lawson‘s mate whose employers might buy coffee one week, but quickly emerged as a red-pill man through and through) interviewed me about the early days and what I’d been trying to do.  He was going to go off to Mexico to write up a book on how social media and social movements can help your organisation to be more like people.

Well he went and he wrote it and he sent me the draft of his chapter that talks about me and #tuttle.

One of the things he wrote that had me cheering was this:

“When we don’t have specific aims, we are freer to be ourselves. When we are freer to be ourselves, we can let our minds wander. Tuttle – like so many naturally occurring conversations in our lives – demonstrates what can emerge when we make the effort to release ourselves from the responsibility of aims, goals, and targets.”

Now, the rest of the book is about other folk much more exciting and interesting than me.  Liam is fundraising to publish the book himself – I’m right behind his decision to do this and to keep as much control over the content as possible.  It’s really important that truly independent voices like Liam’s are heard without going through the filter of a publishing house, no matter how well-meaning.

So I encourage you to pop some cash in the pot.  You know that every little helps, but especially if you can contribute on behalf of an organisation, some of the higher-priced perks that involve conversation with Liam himself would be top-value.