The inevitable Brexit post

This post isn’t really for a particular audience (I guess even less so than normal on this site!).

Indeed I’m hoping writing it may simply be cathartic. 

That all being said, I’ve also been asked regularly why the UK voted the way it did (yes, okay England and Wales voted the way they did) and, more recently, how it has made such a mess of things since the referendum. This has obviously all been covered elsewhere in various levels of detail (I’ve tried to avoid it on Twitter but did put some previous thoughts up there) but, as I say, I thought putting something down might be helpful for at least my own mind.  Nuance is the challenge here as in many ways Brexit is about a multitude of things yet, at the same time, inherently a reaction to badly managed change.

First up an admission

My pencil lingered over the Leave option.

Not for long, but there was a linger.

Now, I was very much in the Remain camp all the way up to the vote but there were a number of factors why I considered Leave on the day and some of those issues are still very much in play. However, a key reason I did vote Remain was that I thought it would be close, closer than the opinion polls on the day had suggested and when I saw two women leave the polling station basically saying to each other “there are too many of them we have to vote leave” (despite clearly not being of British Isles heritage themselves) I thought that Leave could well win.

It was clear in the run up to the vote that there was a generational divide and whilst the narrative since the vote is that old people have ‘robbed young people of their futures’ it should also be recognised that some sympathy should lie with those who have seen the original 1975 EC referendum result morph progressively into today’s globalised EU with representatives that the people feel do not represent them and on issues (like foreign affairs) that many feel the EU never needed to deal with. 

The referendum in the ’70s set a precedent that political parties have not followed through with in more recent changes to the EC/EU. Indeed one of the nightmares of the Brexit result is that it almost certainly has killed the desire for more referendums in Britain (due to the difficulty of putting complex questions into a poll-able vote) rather than encouraging more direct democracy where ‘the people’ would feel less distant from the ‘political classes’ (the role of representative and masses breaking down across the political spectrum).

The political (cl)ass

This bit is one area where it feels like the mainstream media continue to miss a trick, in part as they are too caught up in their own importance and the ‘Westminster bubble’.  The vote was, for some, two fingers up at the Cameron government.  For others it was two fingers up to the European elite for be unwilling to do more with regards to what Cameron wanted and other issues. However, whilst the media continues to focus on the impact of their own (predominately) anti-EU stance and the impact of Facebook advertising, etc. the reality is that the referendum campaign will have made no difference to voting intentions.  Most people will have known what they were voting well in advance – as shown by the fact the %s have not changed much in opinion polls since (even with post Brexit implementation showing Leave had no real plans and that the EU is now so all encompassing it is incredibly difficult to leave) .

The previous UK-wide referendum, on changes to the electoral system, increasingly feels like a missed opportunity.  That would have allowed for voices from UKIP, the Green and other parties to be heard to challenge the prevailing narratives in the media and the two main parties without giving Farage and others hero/outsider status.  Alas many people argued against vote form, not least because of the likely increase in coalitions and the inevitable politicking that follows.

Yet we have seen Theresa May and the DUP in effective coalition, going against both of May’s 2017 promises that there was no ‘magic money tree’ and that she offered ‘strong and stable’ government.  Ultimately it feels like a failure of the system and, in May, a cold and ineffective leader who has helped highlight the competence of previously derided predecessors such as John Major, Gordon Brown and ‘failures’ such as Ed Miliband. This thread is good on some of the crazy moments in the last 5 years of politics for quite how bizarre things have got.

The man who in many ways led the Brexit campaign was, though, Boris Johnson, already seen as an ass by many at the time of the Brexit bus tour his political failings are now transparent to many more people.  That he still holds apparent sway over many in the Conservative party shows a respect for arrogance (and admittedly some intellect) that laughs in the face of good government (considering his waste in the form of water cannon, London buses, ‘garden bridges’ and more). Of course the laughing at Boris, his fame created on Have I Got News For You as much as anywhere else, is nothing new. It is just more tragic now.

The EU’s arrogance

Britain of course isn’t alone in all of this.  Grexit for a long time looked like a real possibility whilst Italy and other nations have expressed their concerns. 

Alas, the face the EU has put in front of the cameras to deal with this challenge to the post WW2 order in Europe amounts to a line up of ‘pale, male and stale’ in Juncker, Barnier and Tusk.

Whilst Tusk has shown quite a generous touch of late (not least on Twitter) the EU has failed throughout from a public relations perspective. Juncker is a personification of the EU’s failings in the eyes of many, being from a small country given disproportion levels of representation. That he is adjudged to have aided ‘bad’ globalisation with generous tax arrangements for corporations in 20 years as Luxembourg Prime Minister (a period of power that would not even be allowed in many sovereign states) makes him a target for left wing Brexiters. On the right meanwhile, whilst his opposition to the likes of Nigel Farage has often been correct, it has also failed to recognise the reasons for UKIP’s support and the popularity of the anti-EU block in European elections across the continent.

The ‘left behind’ in society therefore feel they have seen little from the EU or globalisation that benefits them – the volume of areas receiving EU help funds but still voting Leave showing the lack of impact of the EU’s good work with regards to dealing with societal issues.

British arrogance

Part of the issues leading to Brexit has undoubtedly been legacy snobbishness over British quality and exceptionalism.

The supposed superiority of British banks, universities, etc. is often laughable in the face of evidence and advantages they did have are fast fading away such as:

  • language (English is now the business language in many organisations and cities worldwide, you do not need to be in London),
  • facilities (undermined by austerity and with only really Crossrail to aid London in the coming decade),
  • societal (violent crime and other issues up due to multiple issues including Brexit and austerity). 

In some ways this feels a little like a British version of late Byzantium – still referring to itself as Rome but in reality a collapsing power, still with lots of fancy gold and jewels on show in the capital but a shadow of its former (large/imperial) self – with even Parliament no longer able to keep up the pretext as the roof, literally, falls in.  If World War 2 and decolonialization were the ‘loss of the empire/west’ moment it feels like Brexit might be the sack of Constantinople by the Venetians (aka foreign interests funding Brexit giving what is left of the empire a good kicking under false pretext).  The UK will struggle on even with a No Deal scenario but independence for, at least, Northern Ireland and Scotland could prove to be the equivalent of 1453.

Of course mentioning 1453 might not be very helpful given that the vote against remaining in the EU was, in part, thanks to anti-Turkish sentiment.  Yep, folks, we’ve moved on a long way in 500 years… but not that far.

Foreign interests

Now we really get onto the nub of the matter.  Foreigners. 

Whatever anyone says, Brexit has been driven in large quarter by anti-immigration feeling (see my comment about the two ladies departing the polling station above). 

Britain’s seeming failure to deal with the latest wave of immigration (starting with riots against Portuguese people and then opposition to Poles, Bulgarians and more) is in part due to the drive for small government since Thatcher. Britain simply has not had the infrastructure to handle change management at the local level – and there are close links between immigration, crime and other issues in some areas. Even when very real issues like multiple occupied housing have been raised you suspect the will to enforce rules and laws simply doesn’t exist, in part due to lack of resources for the police and other agencies.

Britain has not put in place the rules around 90-days immigration that she could have, and you suspect it was in part due to the admin. An admin burden and cost now dwarfed by the huge expense of Brexit and ‘bringing back in-house’ functions from Brussels – or at least paying Kiwis and other consultants huge sums for consultancy to help Britain ‘go it alone’.

If then we acknowledge that this is about a complete failure of British society to absorb the latest wave(s) of immigration the question is why has this happened?  Well, immigration in the post war period was largely recognised as needed (see Italians rebuilding large parts of the country) or a pay-off from the empire/commonwealth (Windrush, etc.).  However, there are obviously still huge issues with racism (as visible in football recently) even when there was also a recognition of the part Indians, Africans and Antipodeans had played in both world wars. So perhaps it is simply a case of the volume combined with stagnant (or declining living standards). Indeed you suspect the Corbyn/left-wing view in support of Brexit would be protection of works and better wages – as unlikely as that seems with current problems.

The failure to deal with immigration and resulting change is not anything particularly new and of course not unique to the UK. President Trump (for example) has built on long standing issues with his ‘wall’t – as Limp Bizkit said:

“[be]Cause hate is all the world has ever seen lately “

Take a Look Around, Limp Bizkit (2000)

Lets not forget that immigration controls were one of the “Ed Stone’s” promises. This ongoing desire (and another reason for the Leave vote) remains a strong view of British jobs for British people – of course the issue there is time to align what skills we need: another thing not very well done and the positive of immigration has been that it has covered over the cracks. As someone who spent a week looking through trade union archives from c.1900 as part of his university degree, whilst we’ve come a long way (a lot of the union pamphlets were unbelievably racist to modern eyes) some of the sentiments from the early 21st century are very similar to the early 20th.

Of course the other foreign aspect that lingers large is if Russians (and/or others) have had their fingers in the pie to disrupt the EU/UK/etc. The fact the British political system can be so funded by one man’s £9m is surely wrong no matter what (never mind the apparent dodginess of all as shown in this German investigation). Whatever happens politics needs to change, from funding, house/expense rules, etc. Unfortunately Farage and others have the opportunity to express this in completely the wrong language, failing to remember Jo Cox’s memory and ignoring that the whole point is that we vote for them as representatives – it is not ‘them and us’.

What next then?

Personally it feels like voting reform needs to come back on the agenda, the House of Commons needs to move to a new location, the house rules need modernising (watching Brexit through the House of Commons and the modern EU voting systems really are chalk and cheese) and much more.

Politicians, i.e. the new PM when May finally goes, needs to acknowledge that societal and structural reforms in the post-Thatcher era have failed – with far more needing to be done to reduce wealth inequality between the richest and poorest. Changing these issues was what encouraged support for Corbyn in 2017, that so many people seem to have not realised his pro-Brexit approach to this shows how limited engagement with politics is. Thus the press and other media need to reengage in a more positive way, focused on issues/facts and not personality. That said, politics is complicated (I’m sure not all of this post will be correct), lots of people are confused by what the referendum was meant to be, mending wounds is going to be difficult (not helped by all the name calling), etc.

As for Brexit, a second referendum seems the only sensible way forward – ideally followed up by further votes and more direct democracy. With the run-up to any second vote needing to be far clearer on growth for the UK, with clear means to deal with the issues people feel are limited by immigration (pressure on the NHS, house prices, school places, crime, etc.) via an end to austerity.

Some more on what learning needs to pick up from gaming

So another post on the lessons from the world of gaming.

This one was sparked by an article considering if the latest Legend of Zelda game is the greatest ever in terms of design.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time already in this iteration of the world of Hyrule and it is difficult to disagree with the arguments in the article.

The closing paragraph should particularly resonate with learning professionals thinking about how to support their organisations:

the job of the designers is not to hold your hand and guide you around a set path. It is [to] reach out hundreds of hands and leave it up to you which you grab first.

Wow! There’s a topic starter for instructional/learning design debate!

Whilst in the past people may have talked about things like “learning styles” to warrant different approaches we are now, instead, in a position where we consider the different approaches we might drive performance and support learning for people at different starting points and existing levels of competence.

Now the counter argument would be that the multiple, even unlimited, permutations of many games are not feasible in instructional design.  Instead we end up with versions of relatively simple board game constructs when gaming or fairly restricted ‘serious games’.  However, with dynamic algorithmically driven learning there is the potential for an explosion in personalisation.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 20.33.00.png

Winning a battle with only your general left may not be recommended. But a win is a win.

Now the above image is an example of a counterfactual gaming experience, crusading as the Byzantine Empire.  Traditional L&D has of course made use of just such counterfactuals, through role plays, business modeling, simulations, etc.  If you can create an appropriate model then the variations are possible – with different focuses possible across, say, finance, marketing, etc. – all in the ‘safe’ environment of not impacting actual bottom lines, patients, customers, etc.

By thinking through game constructs there is the potential to think about what you want to achieve in a different way.  For example, the battle focused historic counterfactual (such as Total War games in the above image) and more character focused such as the grand strategy Crusader Kings 2 (images below) are effectively giving you the same goal (rebuilding the empire) but in very different experiences.

Rome

Expanding (and renaming) the Byzantine Empire across c.100 years (of game time)

The storytelling in a scenario such as the above is prompted by certain actions (for example Byzantium becoming large enough to reclaim the title of “Rome” as an achievement) but is not as structured as, say, a linear first-person-shooter game like Call of Duty.  The latter, more linear style, offers up the potential for set storytelling, with some games much better at this than others.  Which leads to an argument that future instructional designers would be best sourced from graphic communication or creative writing backgrounds.

Traditionally simulation has, of course, taken many forms in workplace development – from table top games to computer scenarios.  The challenge with simulations remains the balance between ‘keeping it real’ (i.e. actually useful in the workplace environment) and maintaining interest through the storytelling/fun and other components.  Meanwhile this post makes good points about balancing complexity versus needing to know ‘now’.

So what to takeaway?

  1. Think about how much hand holding is appropriate – it’s not always a bad thing.
  2. Have the plot/narrative/story drive motivation.
  3. Reward with hidden achievements.
  4. Use users/learners to determine if you are hitting the right balance between reality and gaming elements.

The (Work)Force Awakens

There has been a lot of interest recently in the importance of engagement in the workplace.  My view would be that this is not as generation influenced as some commentators would believe and has to be looked at as part of the bigger picture.

Emergent trends such as the rise of holocracy, and apparent disappointment with it, can be seen as part of a growth in thinking, again, about the nature of work.  Even if it is easy to see holocracy, itself, as the latest management fadThe Workforce Awakens

The rise of the ‘manager class’, seen in many fields (including Chinese Higher Education), seems to be slowing through association with unnecessary bureaucracy.  Therefore, we are left with valid questions about what the alternatives may be.

Some politicians would have you believe that workers are no longer exploited, the argument from many quarters would no doubt be that without some kind of partnership model for all staff there remains inequality and a lack of engagement.

If we consider organizational knowledge management, in the format it has emerged around SharePoint solutions at least, as reinforcing silos in organizations through endless permission setting.  The ‘circles’ of holocracy and alternative structures offer an appealing alternative.  Indeed If we consider the future to be that of ‘learner workers’, not ‘knowledge workers’, then we can perhaps go so far as to say the individual finally moves to the position of prominence beyond any kind of team structure.

There would be additional options here, data can now be gathered and presented in so many ways that an appeal by the workforce for more engaging workplaces and better representation will likely come at a cost of closer (and often automatic) scrutiny.

This is all in an environment where the ‘war for talent’ might be hotting up with demand outstripping labor supply in some markets.  In the UK at least this will likely result in further brain drain from public sector austerity and then more finger pointing when public expenses come in over budget, projects delayed and seemingly using never ending streams of temporary staff (from high-end consultants to the large volume of agency nurses plugging NHS staffing gaps).

There are plenty of suggestions for ways to engage the workforce, such as opening the books, to make people better understand their influence on the bottom line.  The challenge is that many options come back, again, to the ownership model and if that supposed end to exploitation sees a future of joint ownership rather than one of zero hour contracts, freelancing and uncertainty.

This all obviously has huge implications for any local learning and how fit for purpose models such as PLC will be going forward.  L&D can play their part, but the post-recession awakening in high demand jobs is only likely to lead to your people following the dark side (of more money at your competitors) if you can not fundamentally consider them as equals.

Can there be ‘original thought’ in the era of the knowledge-age organization?

I think I have only ever applied for one temporary ‘professional’ role.  My logic normally is that with constraints such as a mortgage I would not want to risk a period of unemployment.  However, in the case of this particular role it sounded fantastic so I thought I would apply.  I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered an interview even though I did not have one of the key ‘essential’ criteria of the person specification.  When interview day came I, for some reason, developed horrendous hiccups and generally did not do very well.

Anyway, one particularly awkward point was where I started describing past achievements and relating them to some of the prevalent best-practice theory in the discipline (eLearning).  Now I think I might have come across as suggesting that I (or rather my employer of the time and team) were ahead of the game.  At one point, I think, I even suggested it being a little ‘chicken and egg’ in that practice and theory become so intertwined that it becomes difficult to remember what came first – theory, you implementing an idea, recognized best practice, etc.  At best I think I suggested I was an original thinker and innovator, but without really backing it up as a reflective practitioner perhaps should be able to, at worst I appeared egomaniac-ish saying “I was first” to do various things.

Whilst I did not deal with it very well on that interview day, I would have now suggested that 100% ‘original thinking’ is incredibly difficult in our networked world.  In other words, we are products of our environments and if one has a particularly active personal learning ecosystem the ‘original’ source of an idea is difficult to track.  The challenge then should be to ensure you ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ rather than reinventing the wheel.  Whilst the Internet has accelerated growth and sharing of ideas contributing to a world that is rapidly changing [I wouldn’t agree with all of this video but it is at least useful for seeing the prevailing mood] it also means that you can quickly appear out-of-date or just rehashing the work of others.  This has been particularly highlighted in the last week or so…

  • This article on big data in Higher Education, for example, makes a number of valid points but few are original.  Where it mentions work being done to track student achievement by their library use, many in HE will be already familiar with examples of such work.  Indeed some institutions already track devices (certainly of guests) to their networks and LMS/VLE data (should) has been used in ways such as those mentioned in the article.  Perhaps the issue the author really alludes to is the potential value in linking data and (I would argue) warehousing data from multiple institutions to see bigger trends.  Indeed this cross-pollination would help improve the data usage, for organisational effectiveness purposes, mentioned in the article.
  • In the L&D space, this week I watched the recording of a recent LSG webinar from Jane Hart.  Now I have followed Jane online for years which makes it tricky to pick out how much she is confirming my hunches/way of doing things as opposed to leading my thinking with original ideas but this recording really hit home.  Whilst I agree that it is fair to say ‘lets not kid ourselves, people are not going to adopt all of this’ (a point approximately made in the presentation) I have to feel that in an office/knowledge/people based business there has to be much smarter coming together of learning, sharing, collaboration, knowledge/information/resource management, etc. in the kind of ways Jane mentions.  I tweeted at an event earlier in the year that Salesforce-centric employees seemed to always be the example given of where some of this works, but surely there are leaders out there who are implementing appropriate organisational development(s)?

I would argue that joined up systems and data are one thing but, realistically, you need an enterprise where learning is fully embedded culturally.  Here is where education organizations have an advantage as learning is their mission but they should also be able to use the LMS/VLE as their organizational platform, alas I would imagine too many break that shared social hub by using separate Intranets, etc.  Yes there remain specialist functions, that need certain software (arguably a Library Management System would be an example), but for being an employee of a collaborative organization that shares, reflects, learns and adapts as one I really do feel we need to move from breaking things into silos of learning, knowledge, resource, etc. management.

Perhaps it is my own environment and ‘professional genetics’ of training and beliefs that sends me down the above road but surely the above should be the case and I am not diving into ‘original thinking’.  However, when you see so many project management, L&D, learning technology and other advertised posts which are clearly based around old models it does make me wonder.

Capitalism 4.0

Anatole Kaletsky’s 2010 book has a question that I had not really thought about before – when did the 21st Century start?

1815 and 1918 are the dates, as a historian, you often associate with the previous two centuries. Kaletsky considers key dates in the 21st.

Identified are 1989 (Berlin Wall collapse and the WWW being two of five “major transformations”).

However, the era of “Capitalism 3.0” ended in 2008 (with the collapse of Lehmans) and thus the 21st century began.

For the record:
– Capitalism 1.0 = laissez faire (1776-1932)
– Capitalism 2.0 = state involvement (1931-1980)
– Capitalism 3.0 = Thatcher-Reagan led (1979-2008)

As a history graduate I like to try and step back from issues and consider these trends. In-particular, the point made that it was not just cheap credit that caused the 2008 problems. It was a wider self-destruction of “market fundamentalism”, growth driven by 30m communist souls opened to western goods.

The argument is that we now face a period of balance between state and free-market.

So will we look back and consider a banking crash to be the great apocalyptic moment of our generation – when we moved into a new century of new concepts? Perhaps – its something to keep in mind going forward though.