Category Archives: Book Review

Ed Catmull: Creativity Inc

Book review: Creativity Inc

I’m a huge fan of Pixar films like Toy Story, Wall-E, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles, so I wanted to read this as a way to see in and understand how films I like get made. What I found instead was an amazing insight into a creative business culture where a top-down management is eschewed in favour of openness and sharing. Working in a fairly creative environment myself (maybe not the traditional creative work but us LTs do need the ability to be creative and flexible) this book just shouted “you need this” at me.

“Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation Studios―into the story meetings, the postmortems, and the ‘Braintrust’ sessions where art is born. It is, at heart, a book about how to build and sustain a creative culture―but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, ‘an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible’.” – Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

The story of Pixar is linked to both the people in it and behind it as well as the business culture of making films. Let’s get the big name out of the way early … Steve Jobs. There is no question of his involvement and drive with the pre Toy Story Pixar led to the heights it has found for itself, but it seems far less straight forward than that. Jobs is well known as over-bearing and controlling, which is at odds with this creative and inclusive ‘community’ at Pixar. You could argue both ways about Jobs’ approach with Pixar, as does the book, as to whether this ultimately benefited Pixar or not, what is clear is that it did help forge a strong sense of community, creativity, and inclusivity among the Pixar teams (at all levels).

“Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.” – LeadershipNow

As someone who considers himself to be ‘slightly’ creative – in that I have ideas but not necessarily the talent or technical expertise to do it myself – this book helped focus the general ideas I’ve had for many years, and it’s helped me to understand my place in an organisational structure far better.

It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.” – LeadershipNow

Part of my role now includes managing a team of (currently) four highly creative, very talented individuals. I have taken a deliberate hands-off approach to (micro-)managing them, their work, and their methods. This has, I hoped, given each them room to breathe, to try new things or new tools or new approaches, and to take ownership of what they do and how they do it. My aim has been to give them the opportunities to find and expand their interests, talents, and to hopefully bring new approaches or techniques to the rest of the team, so they can grow individually and as a team.

Catmull’s book has helped me realise that this approach is not only effective, but can also be played out on a much larger, institutional scale. Large organisations do not change overnight, nor should they, but I do feel there is scope for this creative approach to management of risk vs responsibility.

There are so many stories within Catmull’s book that screamed “online learning” or “project management” that I can’t list them all. Needless to say that, as a Learning Technologist / eLearning Consultant, this book is a must read IMHO! Go get a copy, then come back and tell me what you think!!

“Every creative person can draft into service those around them who exhibit the right mixture of intelligence, insight, and grace.” – Inside The Pixar Braintrust

As further reading to Catmull’s book, and the creative way of managing yourself or a team, this article is well worth a read too: ‘Think like Pixar: 7 lessons from the studio’s creative culture

Image source: David Hopkins

Eliot Peper - Cumulus

Book review: Cumulus

This is one of those books that is firmly set in the science fiction genre, but striking similarities can be made to current events and current trends … with a little imagination.

First, the book. Written by Eliot Peper it’s set a number of years in the future, in Oakland CA,  it shows a world where one tech company is clearly ahead in the market, in all markets in fact. It has the mobile phone, data, cloud computing, autonomous cars, street architecture, etc. all wrapped up. There is nothing Cumulus is not in to, or leading on, or acquiring in order for it to expand and lead. Every aspect of [our] lives are connected and, ultimately, controlled by Cumulus … a world of “persistent surveillance”.

Cumulus takes place in a near-future Bay Area ravaged by economic inequality and persistent surveillance. It’s a dark, gritty, fast-paced story packed with political intrigue, world-changing technology, and questionable salvation.”

Spoiler alert – I will talk from here about details of the book and some of the story to it’s end. If you’d rather read the book (good for you!) please come back.

Cumulus can follow you from the moment you wake up (what you want to watch on the smart display in the bathroom) to getting dressed, to the café, to the office and when to order the lift and to which floor, and even unlock the door and boot up the computer (and mask the dividing screens). Even at work the smart displays (walls) can show whatever view or data stream you want (even know what you want and pull up the options before you ask). Cumulus is everywhere!

The central story is, for me, about the level of intrusion Cumulus, the company has, and how this could be used for various means. In the book it’s being used to aid the rich in all aspects of their lives – payments, transport, medicine, social interactions, health, etc. But it’s also the devision that prevents those without status, those without the full Cumulus ‘suite’, from breaking through to the social class barriers. There is a marked divide between the have’s and the have-not’s. Those with Cumulus and those without (but still relying on the infrastructure it provides, in whatever limited form it takes).

It is also used for nefarious means. One individual uses a ‘ghost’ programme to remove him from security cameras, location-based services, even using Cumulus to stop desktop scanners and camera phones working when he’s identified in the frame. Needless to say the analogue world wins over the digital – another main character uses camera film, not digital cameras, and catches the book ‘baddie’ in action and, when trying to scan or digitise the prints, finds out about how far the level of intrusion the ghost programme goes. From realising the digital control Cumulus has over each device they go ‘old school’ and print posters of the individual and post them on lampposts and billboards around the city.

And so Cumulus falls. But not before this character threatens to make all the dirty laundry public. And he has the means as well as the data.

Bring it back to what we have today. We don’t have the one leader that the book has, but it doesn’t take a genius to see how one of the market leaders could someday be the ‘one’ leader like Cumulus – Apple, Google, or Facebook. Each could be just one acquisition away from the deciding factor that gives it an edge over it’s counterparts. Whether this is cloud computing, AI, defence contracts, autonomous vehicles, etc. doesn’t matter.

But, I hear you ask, how could this happen? We’re too well informed and careful about the ethics of the data we create/leave to let this happen. Well, here’s something I’ve thought of, based on existing software and hardware. If I’ve thought of it, no doubt someone else has, and maybe even done something about it.

Here are the players already in the world. All I’ve done is link them together, and you can so how easy this dystopian future could materialise …

Now, here’s how you link them together … if I record my daily commute and upload it to YouTube then YouTube (or A.N. Other provider) can scan the footage and list/bake all the car registrations, along with time and place, in the metadata. The police or other organisation(s) takes this metadata and checks against the ANPR database. Hey presto, a database of cars, where they are/were and when (and even speed and direction of travel is created). Link other scanned videos and you can build journey patterns and individual lives from the data. Now whoever has that database has the potential to know where people are (over time you’ll even begin to predict where we’ll be and when) and where they should be. The smartphone data can also be used to cross-reference individuals and work out who’s in which car, travelling with whom, what they’re saying/doing/surfing, and what they’re doing whilst driving.

In the above scenario I’ve not even added the power of the smartphones we carry with us. Add this to the mix and you could build up audio or photographic evidence of what’s going on in the vehicle, make payments as you pass specific geotagged locations (toll roads, coffee shops, petrol stations, etc.) and even build detailed maps of communities, cultures, behaviours, etc. If you can identify one person, one vehicle, amongst all the ‘noise’, then imagine what you could do … ?

You see where I’m going? It’s almost Minority Report, and it’s definitely an element of Cumulus right here. Once you throw things like contactless payment, access (without knowledge) to our phone’s camera or microphone, GPS locations, social media check in, CCTV cameras, etc. then it starts to get very … um, worrying. The thing that’s scary, like in the book, is that these tech behemoths are currently operating in a vacuum between the law and ethics. There is no one keeping them in check (do you really believe they’re doing it themselves?) – if we accept the T&Cs without questioning them do we have the right to complain about how they use our data that we freely give up? Before long will we have handed all our rights over, without realising?

I love this book, I kind of wished it had been longer and gone into more details about the tech and it’s intrusion in the everyday lives. I am also inclined to read some of Eliot’s other work now – I like his style and I most definitely like the mind behind the stories. I’ think I’ll continue with Eliot’s earlier work the ‘uncommon stock‘ series now.

Yes, this Cumulus book is sci-fi, but it could so easily become mainstream if we let it?

Laura Ritchie

Book Review: Fostering self-efficacy in HE Students

This book takes me out of my usual reading habit and away from the work I’ve been doing for the last few years, and back to or rather closer to the kind of work / contact I used to have with academics and students. Laura Ritchie’s book ‘Fostering self-efficacy in Higher Education Students‘ is a well structured, well written, and well argued insight into the kinds of student-focussed capabilities that HE, and by association those who work in HE, should be aware of.

I have become very aware of this thing we call the ‘student experience’, about how we need to include the student body in more and more process and decisions in how courses, programmes, and administrative functions are organised and run, Through their inclusion we have an opportunity to capture their interest and passions in a way we can structure around the core materials needed for the structured learnin objects. This means, or rather should mean, we have a stronger ‘product’ to offer the students, making them a stronger ‘candidate’ when they graduate and enter the workplace. Whether we’re looking at business leaders, doctors, researchers, or other graduate employment routes doesn’t matter. What matters is that the student has had the best attention we can give them and the best outcome for their future. What they do with this is up to them, but we can say, with hand on heart, we did everything we could.

Student experience is, obviously, more than just this though. Learning and learning objectives are just a small part of attending university. There’s things like the Student Union, sports club, library, friends, family, work/jobs, happiness, health, etc. We have the ability to input and affect how these things happen, across campus (and beyond) so should we?

Well, obviously, yes we should.

“As teachers in higher education, we strive to put students at the centre of learning and teaching, and understanding the formation and role of self-beliefs can have a huge impact on this process. Developing self-efficacy happens through communication and active learning, which facilitates a two-way interaction between learners and teachers. This fosters trust, so teachers and learners can risk having moments of vulnerability where we are willing to expand learning horizons and grow. With established self-efficacy beliefs, students will have both the foundation and tools to successfully continue their learning after leaving the higher education environment.” Laura Ritchie

Of the themes of the books the ones closest to my personal interests dealt with ’embedding the foundations of self-efficacy in the classroom’ and ‘implications for life-long connections with learning and teaching’. I admit I’ve only skimmed the other sections so I could really focus on these two chapters that have a greater pull.

This final section, about ‘life-long connections with learning and teaching’ fits my current thinking more than anything. Our ability (responsibility even?) to our students is to prepare them for their eventual progression into the work force, in whatever form that may take. Skills developed during studies with need to fit the academic requirement for study and assessment (more of that another time) but we need to represent the real-world, the world outside of academia – are these skills transferable to an employee, not student, status?

“Establishing a strong sense of self-efficacy sets the foundation for a continuing pattern of learning and achievement that happens through professional development and an active pursuit of personal growth. Planning, seeking, reflecting on opportunities for training, and peer co-learning can facilitate a positive career trajectory and keep a teacher’s perspective fresh and fitting with today’s fast-changing workplace.” Laura Ritchie

Image source: David Hopkins

Webinar Master

Book Review: Webinar Master from Donald Taylor

I downloaded Don’s Webinar Master eBook the day it came out and ready pretty much all of it straight away. It came at a time when I am becoming more and more involved in webinars, both at work at WBS, my involvement with ALT and Learn Appeal, and as an observer/participant in learning-related online seminars.

“There is no real difference between the intimacy and informality of a conversation with friends and what you say online. You still need to be engaging, and to know your audience. If you are also fully prepared, you will do an excellent job.” Donald H Taylor, 2015

Don writes from nine nine years experience of developing and delivering online seminars for the Learning and Skills Group (LSG), so it’s pretty clear to say that Don has seen many changes to the technology and features available in the systems on offer. What strikes me about the book and what Don has written here is that the basic skills needed to plan and run an effective webinar haven’t changed – you still need to carefully plan for an audience who will have many more distractions  that usual, that will be quick to leave unless they are engaged, that will be slow to react or reluctant to ‘chat’ unless they are displeased, and that you will never know how you’re doing until it’s too late.

“I strongly believe that an effective webinar relies on live contributions from attendees. If your platform does not offer a chat area which everyone can contribute to, and read, then I would change platform.” Donald H Taylor, 2015

It isn’t easy, however, to be a ‘webinar master’, I don’t claim to be any good presenting, whether in person or online, but Don’s book covers enough for me, and indeed anyone, to learn a few more skills and to be aware of what will help take a simple presentation and make it an experience.

Steve Wheeler: Learning with 'e's

Book review: Learning with ‘e’s

On my shelf (virtual and real) are a series of books that I know I just don’t have time to read. I’ve recently started to use Shelfari to organise my real and virtual book shelf, where I can easily refer to books I’ve read, I am reading, or want/plan to read.

Indeed (if this embed works) here they are:  Continue reading

The NET Model of Social Leadership is built around three Dimensions: ‘Narrative’, ‘Engagement’ and ‘Technology’. The NET model is both an idea and a call to arms.

Book review: The Social Leadership Handbook @julianstodd

“What we know today will get us to tomorrow, but we’ll have to learn more again tomorrow to keep ahead … welcome to the Social Age, where change is constant and we live in constant beta.”

I’ve never thought about learning like this before, other than I know I get bored quickly so find new things to keep me engaged and entertained. But, with the constant bombardment of new technologies, new networks, new applications to old techniques, etc. we are indeed in ‘constant beta’.

And I mean ‘we’ in the context of learning professionals (which I’m exploring with my next book project: follow here for news –#EdTechBook) that we need to not only keep up with developments but somehow keep ahead of them. I know this is near impossible, but we can at least be proactive in how we approach the changes, reflect on our own experiences, and make suggestions and engage with each other (and the students). From this will come better understanding and a clearer picture of what could be used, how, where, why, and (importantly) by whom.  Continue reading

Brian Chen: Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future--and Locked Us In

Book Review: “Always On”

It’s been a while since my last book review, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been keeping up to date with my reading list – if anything the list is getting longer (and the days shorter).

Brian Chen: Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future--and Locked Us InMy latest addition to the list is from Brian Chen – “Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future – and Locked Us In“.

It is clear to see all around us just what impact smartphones have had on society and, in my area of interest, learning. It has enabled truly mobile learning to take place – in the sense of mobile materials as well as mobile individuals – as well as interactions when we, the learner, wants it, not just when the course director wants it. Apple has taken something, developed it, marketed it, and let it loose on the world. You could argue about Apple and Steve Jobs’ intent and whether they knew what they had when it was first released, but it is the inclusion of the App Store and the developments the global community made that have helped steer and mould the direction the iPhone and subsequent smartphones took.  Continue reading

The Sketchnote Handbook

I don’t write anymore, I sketch #sketchnote

A couple of months ago I had one of those ‘ah ha’ moments I should have had 25+ years ago at school. I have never been good at taking notes. Never.

At school I was always behind and struggling because I couldn’t keep up with my teachers and their dictated notes. I wasn’t alone with this, but it was still hard. At University it was the same, but it felt worse because everyone else wrote and kept amazing notes from lectures, demonstrations, field-trips, etc. I survived and gained my degree because I had generous friends who helped me when I needed it.

Now, with nearly 18+ years since graduation I’ve finally realised why I am still making rubbish notes in meetings, conferences, etc. (apart from the obvious reason that I suck at it). It’s the wrong medium for me. It’s not that my handwriting is so awful I can’t read it (which, unfortunately, it is) it’s that I don’t respond to those kinds of notes. Therefore I shouldn’t be trying to take notes like that.

I should be sketching, or rather taking ‘sketchnotes’.  Continue reading

The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual: Your toolkit for putting elearning into practice

Book Review: “The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual”

The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual: Your toolkit for putting elearning into practiceLate last year (2013) I started reading the latest offering from Rob Hubbard, “The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual”. A collection of chapters from leading and respected authors and educators this book offers the reader a “broad base of knowledge and the tools you need to navigate the eLearning terrain.”

The book is structured with well-defined chapters written by respected educators who lead their field, covering aspects of eLearning for synchronous and asynchronous delivery, internal- and externally-provided learning opportunities, and the differing platform and approaches to online / eLearning, including:

  • Jane Hart – informal and social learning
  • Charles Jennings – learning management
  • Ben Betts – games-based learning
  • Clive Shepherd – what is eLearning?
  • Julie Wedgwood – blended learning
  • Colin Steed – facilitating live online learning
  • Jane Bozarth – in-house, off-the-shelf, or outsourced eLearning?
  • Clark Quinn – mobile learning  Continue reading
Instant Prezi for Education How-to

Book Review: “Prezi for Education How-to”

Instant Prezi for Education How-toInstant Prezi for Education How-to” is written by Domi Sinclair (@Lilly_Stardust to you and me) and build on her experience and background as a Learning Technologist at University College London.

Designed as a short ‘instant’ book (I read the MOBI formatted file for Kindle, using the Kindle App) it is well structured and covers the basic details of Prezi for anyone new to the tool, and is sufficiently detailed for experienced Prezi users to find something new and useful too.

“This book is for people in education who are bored of delivering the same old presentations to their students (or perhaps it is the students who are bored!). This is for people who would like to increase student engagement by using more dynamic tools. This is for people who have not used Prezi before and may not be technically minded, but are willing to learn and utilise this online presentation aid.”  Continue reading