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The learning experince is fantastic. I feel like a junior doctor on call 24/7 in an A&E. Not because the pressures is anything like as great, but because it has me engaged and totally 'in the flow'.

In the flow chart annotated

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Using Dreams is Problematic

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Using dreams is problematic; you have to get up in the middle of the night. When the dream tells you something you have to run with it. If you don’t wake up, and stay awake to replay and interpret then the dream is lost. Try it someday.

In this dream … each day I go to a place of work, a movie set, workshop or community. Each day the route I drive becomes a little more familiar. Then I notice that rather than doubling back at the roundabout at the end of a long road on the edge of town to be able to get into this ‘place of work’ - a sharp, almost U turn from the side of the road that instead, if the traffic is clear I can hold back and when the road is clear go straight in to the entrance without the extra detour. After which things change. They open up in two ways.

I take my son to work (if it is work, it is more like a campsite) and I notice the incredible landscape on the horizon - it is like one of those kitsch Ben Ross paintings with a mountain top, with ridges and snow. (I never see or hear my son - I just know he is there). 

I say to my son that I should take him up there one day (as If I had ever ventured there). In an instant we have travelled the 15 miles onto the mountain. Another moment and the car is gone and I am on that ridge, suffering from vertigo and not enjoying it one bit. I try to remain chipper and offer false confidence to my son despite my coming to a deep break in the ridge which is full of soft snow.

I am stuck. I am barely able to cling to the precipitous edge. I am as reluctant to go back as I am to go forward. I need to get into the snow to get across the gap, but in all likelihood the snow will be soft and one of two things will happen: I will sink deep into the snow, or snow will collapse and spew me out over the mountain. Neither outcome is good. I wake. I dwell on it. If I get up for an hour and read I will forget it.

I relax back into it, just to take in the narrative of the dream. I find myself reflecting on my current circumstances - as you do, dreams are always routed in your real world. Is this chasm on the ridge full of snow the way I see the challenge of PGCE? Is it even the metaphorical chasm that comes in any development of an innovation?  How should I work with it?

First off , write it down. It is 4.04am. I am up. I woke from the dream about 45 minutes ago.

Then reflect on how I feel and why so often my dreams end on mountains and with snow. It is usually a wish unfulfilled, a challenge to great.

I reflect on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ‘In the flow’ (only because his name appeared amongst others as I went through my OU Blog yesterday looking for inspiration for ideas from education (and corporate training).

What if, as seeking to get into the flow I overstretch myself, that having bumped along in a generally upwards trajectory, getting bored, finding a new challenge, I now find I have taken on too much - that I have taken too great a leap?

And how often has this been my undoing as my ADHD brain reaches for, then turns out the light of enthusiasm?

What if … I work to get over the chasm? I don’t make any move that will in all likelihood lead to death (even the virtual, dream variety). Currently I can not go forward or back - my son may have been with me on the way up, but he has wisely left me behind. I am on my own.

What if … it was just a dream?

Mihalyi Czsicksentmihalyi got me on the mountain, but Everett Rogers will get me over the chasm. You see I’ve been thinking of his ‘Diffusions of Innovations’ too. 

Diffusion of Innovation Theory suggests there is an S-curve of progression through a new idea’s development, take up, and becoming established. Famously it defines people as innovators, early adopters, late adopters and laggards.

I don’t like the word ‘laggard’ by the way. I don’t see the value of using pejorative terms for people simply because they are averse to change. Why shouldn’t my step-father, retired before the home computer consider getting any kind of device that will get him on the Internet? Why shouldn’t my equally ancient father-in-law not feel, well into his 90s, that any digital innovation that can make his life easier is something to adopt early and wholeheartedly? 

Importantly, and this is stretching my interpretation of a dream quite literally, diffusion of innovation theory developed to incorporate a chasm that would hinder an innovation's progress onto the break-away upwards slopes to adoption and success. 

Later diagrams of diffusion of innovation theory, a theory that developed in the early 50s and gained the chasm in the 70s or 80s (or later) show what to my mind could be this very break in the ridge that is preventing me from progressing onto the slopes that will take me to the top. 

My interpretation makes sense to me because there are two things on my mind: the growing fear, like an actor’s nerves before the first dress rehearsal, that I am not ready to get up in front of colleagues to do a ‘micro-teach’ (part of the week 6 requirements for the PGCE on which I have embarked) and the need to put my thinking on innovations in FE/HE education into a commercial proposition. 

The micro-teach will resolve itself with scripting, visualisation and practice. I know what I want, how I’d like the experience to play out and the outcome; I just have to put in the hours of preparation. Time for reading, looking back on notes is over. I can’t know the subject any less or more. I need to create a set of Rolodex cards (or just use Slides to create them digitally). [I order 100 Rolodex cards from an Office Supply shop). 

Likewise, the commercial proposal needs to become words on a blank sheet of paper, not just ideas in my head.

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Using Kolb's experiential learning cycle to assess a creative workshop I gave in 2012 as part of the long gone, though brilliant module 'Creativity, Innovation and Change'

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 4 May 2014, 09:17


Fig. 1. Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ reversioned.

I did something …

This is my take on Kolb’s ‘Experiential Learning Cycle’ which I will use to explore what I ‘did’. I ran a creative problem solving workshop. The motivation for attendees was to pick up some creative problem solving techniques, to solve a problem we had with using social media and to do some team building. The objective for me was to crack this problem and to introduce a more creative and collaborative approach to problem solving.

Fig. 2. Coach to Olympians running a workshop - part class, part ‘pool side’

I couldn’t help but draw on experience as a Club Swimming Coach planning programmes of swimming for a squad swimmers and as the ‘workforce development’ running training programmes for our club’s teachers and coaches. Planning and preparation when you are putting athletes in the pool several times a week over months is vital. On a smaller scale this workshop required a schedule, to the minute, with some contingency, allowing you to build in flexibility for both content and timings.


Fig. 3. Planned to the minute - my creative problem solving workshop

The plan was for five to six creative problem solving techniques to be used, top and tailed by, using terms from swimming, a ‘warm up’ and a ‘warm down’. The modus operandi of the Residential School had been to introduce, experience and play with as many creative problem solving techniques as possible.

Fig. 4. As a prop, food and aid memoir a bunch of bananas has multiple uses

‘Bunch of Bananas’ is a creative problem solving technique that suggests that you include in the group a ‘plant’ - a person over whom other’s will slip, like the proverbial banana. My take on this was to introduce two outsiders - a Russian academic who would bring a different take on things and the a mathematician and senior programmer.

Fig. 5. ‘Mother-in-law, Samurai, Tiger’ is a great warm up.

We did a warm up called  ‘Mother-in-law, Samurai, Tiger’. This is the team equivalent of ‘Paper, Scissors, Stone’ where two teams face each other and on the count of three, having agreed what their response would as a team, they either 'Tut-tut’ and wag their finger like a mother-in-law, 'growl' and get their claws out like a Tiger, or shout 'ha!' while posing like a Samurai warrior brandishing his sword. This is the ‘warm down’ to stick with the swimming coaching metaphor was to have participants get into the ‘streamlined’ position that swimmers adopt - essentially a stretching exercise.

Fig. 6. Human Sculpture and Timeline are useful ways to have people look at and feel a problem in a different way and from a different angle.

In between we did a mixture of physical and mental activities, including Human Sculpture where one person becomes the sculptor and uses everyone else to form a tableau or sculpture that expresses their talk on the problem. Another was timeline where you imagine looking at the problem from the perspective of the past and future.

Now, stand back  …

Standing back I’d say that running a workshop for colleagues has advantages and disadvantages. How would a director or line manager feel about their views being exposed like this. On the other hand if well managed it becomes a team building exercise too.

The challenge is to know what risks to take and how to build in flexibility, not just in timing, but in the kind of activities. This requires that despite the plan you are alert to signals that suggest an activity should be developed or dropped. Workshops and seminars I take have a common element - there is ‘hands on’ activity.The goal is that at the end of the session people feel confident that they could do these things themselves. I’m less comfortable about teaching where the communication is one way - me talking and them taking notes. I value encouraging self-discover and people being on their feet, interacting and having fun.

The workshop was experiential

It was collaborative and iterative, it was problem-based learning that used communication skills.

How did you feel about that ?  

Fig. 7. How we like to be ‘in the flow’ rather either bored or stressed from being too challenged. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1975) Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level.

I felt ‘in the flow’ for most of the time, suitably challenged and never bored. Though anxious and surprised when a colleague gave me a drubbing the day after feeling that they had been tricked into attending. This came as a surprise, the other surprise was how away from their desk and computers the apparently introverted could become so animated and responsive.

I felt like a party planner. I was hosting an event. The atmosphere of controlled enthusiasm would be down to me. I would be, to use a French expression, the ‘animateur’ or ‘realisateur’ - the one who would make this happen and bring it to life.

Fig. 8. For all the playful activities, we are still reliant on Post It Notes and flip charts

Now what ?

On this occasion we delivered a couple of distinct responses to the problem. People reflected on the experienced and felt it was both enjoyable and of practical value. The request was not that others would host such an exercise, but that I would do more. I was subsequently booked to run a few more workshops on specific topics with different groups in the faculty. The question that we couldn’t resolve was whether were  a ‘creative organisation’ ? My own conclusion being that we quite palpably were not.


Ackoff, R.L. (1979) The Art of Problem-Solving, New York: Wiley

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-87589-261-2

Experiential learning theory. (Available from http://www2.glos.ac.uk/gdn/gibbs/ch2.htm. Accessed 22FEB14)

Gundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd ed, Van Norstrand Reinhold. Te hniques 4.01, 4.06, 4.57

Henry, J and the course team (2006, 2010) 'Creativity, Cognition and Development" Book 1 B822 Creativity, Innovation and Change.

Henry, J (2010) ‘Set Breakers’ Henry (P. 96)

Kolb, D.A. 1984 Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

McCaskey, M.B. (1988) ‘The challenge of managing ambiguity’, in Pondy, L.R, Boland, R.J and Thomas, H (eds) Managing Ambiguity and Change, new York, pp 2-11

Henry, J & Martin J (2010) Book 2 Managing Problems Creatively

Schon, A.A. (1983) The Reflective Practioner: How Professionals think in Action, London: Temple Smith

Tassoul, M, & Buijs, J ( 2007, )'Clustering: An Essential Step from Diverging to Converging', Creativity & Innovation Management, 16, 1, pp. 16-26, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 22 February 2014.

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