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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Monday 16 July 2012

Completely normal Olympic deviants

The recent Olympics debacle brought about an interesting omission. According to culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, it was "completely normal" for a contractor to fail to deliver on a major project.

It probably wasn’t the best phrase of words to capture the understandable difficulty of organising security for the Olympics. But there is a greater ring of truth about what is deemed as acceptable.  

For too long, it has been ‘completely normal’ for large providers to fail to deliver. For years, we’ve been watching the ‘usual suspects’ – the Job Centre Minuses, the Further Dis-education colleges, the ‘Prime Turkey’ contractors - miss the mark in achieving real education and employment outcomes for young people, but continue to devour funding contracts to do more.  For years, we’ve watched and waved large cruise ship charities offload the same old cargo of goods and ply the same waters of disadvantaged thinking without changing course to bring back fresh ideas, find different lands, or rescue the local charity canoes capsized in the sizeable backwash of their egos.

What is completely normal about all this is our failure to change what is acceptable as the norm. None of this has to be this way. Only a country devoid of intelligent leadership and enterprise could possibly manage both large scale unemployment and staff shortages at the same time.  It is not completely normal – it is what we have made normal.

Let’s make a list – and, believe me, in my world, a list is a last resort.  Let’s make a list of every current project, provider, institution, service, where we expect things not to work or be solved just because they are complex or challenging. And then let’s think about harnessing the energy and talents that are being wasted in communities up and down this country to solve those issues. 

What we will find is that we have normalised systems of failure. We have structured failure into the operating software our lives, accepted it as the limit of what we can achieve, and created commissioning and contracting conditions to sustain failure as a positive outcome.
How ironic it is, on the eve of the Olympics, when we are meant to marvel at humans pushing the boundaries of what is physically possible, that we are so ready to accept the limits of what we deem mentally impossible.  It is not so much a question of Olympic security that is the issue at stake here, but how we choose to invest in and utilise the resources we have available to secure our future.

Every day, it has been completely normal, under this and every Government I can remember, for people to struggle.  For young people, and for old people, to lose what counts in their lives, at the same time as others gain more than they could ever possibly need, without adequate checks and balances between these extremes.   What we might calmly pronounce as ‘completely normal’ in our society  - that a TV actor pretending to be a nurse will be paid more than a person who can actually nurse - is a choice we have made that demeans our humanity. If this is what is normal, then it’s time to wallow in that other great English gift: to be a positive deviant.  We need an army of them.  ‘Advantaged thinking’ Olympic deviants deployed in every local authority, every national charity, and every normally-failing Government provider, to breakthrough what we have 'accepted'.  And it certainly won't be a contract for G4S...

Thursday 12 July 2012

Doing it, whichever way we can

Doing it Differently was my 12th annual Foyer Federation conference at Aston University, and reflected the progress made in the Foyer network over the last couple of years as Advantaged Thinking and Open Talent begin to be expressed in ever more exciting ways.  Whatever the very real impact of the economic recession on young people and frontline services, there is certainly no recession in ideas here.  Foyers are claiming their rightful place as the ‘militant optimists’ of the third sector.

 Watching Independent Futures use drama and performance to give the audience an insight into how their Open Talent ‘Connect Yourself’ programme had transformed the lives of young people and staff, seemed to me to capture the essence of the two days: not just ‘doing it differently’ but bringing the spirit of Open Talent into life. With passion, with confidence.

The conference innovation exhibition was the spirit of adventure to spot, develop and promote young people’s talents for the world of work ahead.

Our keynote speaker Nick Booth was the spirit of digital revolution, harnessing the power of social capital through social media.  

Young People in Governance was the spirit of young people’s influence, highlighting that something as essential as Foyer Accreditation was developed only because young people were given the platform to clarify its priority in the early days of the Foyer movement. 

Stephen Cox from Peter Cruddas Foundation was the spirit of positive fundraising, creating networks and relationships based around what we are good at, what we believe in, what we have to offer.

The evening entertainment was a spirited reminder that we could and should find a way for an intelligent use of comedy to ‘stand up’ to Disadvantage by exposing its stereotypes and absurdities.

Open Space and World Café sessions were the spirit of collaborative inquiry and dialogue, while the C'arl Miller show' was the spirit of energy to recharge and focus our vision.

My little magic routine was the spirit of creative dreaming, to find the advantaged thinkers and convert the disadvantaged thinkers so we can build an Open Talent team around the world.
Finally, the young person who took the microphone at the end of the conference and thanked everyone for the impact on her life, was the spirit of recognition and celebration.

When the speaking is done, when we return to the challenges that define us all, it is the spirit of Open Talent that remains our source for future solutions.  Doing it, whichever way we can. 
Where will you be in July 2013?

Thursday 5 July 2012

Creating, not cloning

Being back at in the UK, back at the helm of innovation, is a little bit like:

·         Fighting with bayonets on a sinking lifeboat in the talons of a giant octopus;

·         Jogging up mount Everest dressed as a banana;

·         Realising that humans are just oversized devices to carry phones and ipads (when is the ihuman?);

·         Stepping back onto a motor circuit with fresh tyres, doubting the meaning of life and other existential dramas whilst remembering that one can’t actually drive anyway despite travelling at over 100 miles an hour;

·         Tuning into channel Tory to find the same endless repeats of European referendum, charges against youth by feckless adults,  and dodgy trails of corruption – a reality TV show that makes one long for the innocence of the Magic Roundabout.

That said, I’m still having a good week.  The seeds of advantaged thinking are growing everywhere, and I keep getting to meet them, and they are always people more energetic and inspiring than I am, such as my latest advantaged thinking colleagues from the wonderful Chance for Change. 

Plus, tomorrow I’m in Warrington with Your Housing Young People's Services for the world premier (as my American friends would say) of the second phase of TalentS, the quality assurance approach for Open Talent and advantaged thinking.

Why does that excite me?

It’s much much more fun than a banana costume.

The premise of TalentS is that quality, like talent, resides in people.  All we need do, then, is to help people find the right processes to harness their talent and quality and create positive solutions.  It’s an investment in the DNA that defines the wonder of what humans can achieve beyond the limits. Thus TalentS is the first quality assurance scheme that is more interested in enabling people’s innovation to find the answers than to set the answers and then just mark against them.  Thus TalentS is more interested in how we present who we are, how we explore who we are, and how we experience who we are, in an advantaged thinking kind of way, than an assessment that defines who we need to be. Thus TalentS is actually about validating an experiential journey where we discover the best offer by which we can make a positive investment in young people count, rather than force feeding a set of ingredients and rubber stamping what comes out the other end.  And what comes out the other end in TalentS is more like a rites of passage than a policy and procedure manual.  Those on the journey exit the cave as shiny members of a new community of practice. Ready to energise and excite others.

It’s all about creating rather than cloning.  Creating can be messy, like paints thrown around at playschool, but it is ultimately a more powerful way to find the fresh new talent pool of life.
For those who dare to be more than a device.