Year 7 Summer Homework

The importance of play.

A couple of weeks ago Siobhan Sheridan shared this photo on Twitter.

Year 7 summer homework


I don’t know if it’s real or a spoof, but this homework grid caught my attention and I’ve decided to adopt it as my own summer homework too. You may think that homework for Year 7 is a little advanced for me, but a lot of this stuff looks like fun, I’m up for the challenge. Some of you may think that homework of any nature, is not fun – that’s fine, I’m not setting this for you – simply sharing it. I’ve completed nine tasks so far (with a little help from Keira) and I’m hoping Siobhan will mark my homework at the end of the holidays.

Since sharing this picture with others myself, one of the pieces of feedback I’m regularly getting is ‘it’s just a bit of fun’. It strikes me that we often use that term in a throw away context, and whilst I’m no fan of trying to force fun on anyone, I think there’s real power in something fun, something playful. I’m grateful to the late Brian Sutton-Smith, a well known play theorist, for coining the term:

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”

Forgive the oxymoron, but I think we need to take play more seriously.

Push the Button

Following on from Keira’s lessons in learning last week, when she suggested part of what makes a lesson interesting is ‘fun, especially when you’ve been good’, the subject of fun has been on my mind again – and in particular, how can you make something fun, without forcing it.

Forced Fun

I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal recently about ‘Spontaneity for Hire’ which is the cringingly awful sounding practice of paying for a flashmob to erupt ‘spontaneously’ at a conference. Here’s an extract from the article.

At a gathering of pharmaceutical-marketing executives in Las Vegas last year, attendees saw Flash Mob America in action. The keynote speaker, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was running late, someone announced. A replacement speaker took the stage, but he dropped his notes and hit his face on the microphone, drawing audio feedback.

“My stomach sunk,” says Jeffrey Neil, a conference attendee. Suddenly, music started blasting and the speaker, along with dancers who had been disguised as conference goers, all started dancing. It was 8 a.m.

After the hoopla, Mr. Giuliani came to the stage. “That’s a flash mob?” he asked the crowd, stressing the word mob. “I thought I put them in jail,” he said, according to a YouTube video of the affair. Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The point of this exercise was apparently to get clients excited and tweeting about the flashmob or discussing it on LinkedIn. After having paid $35,000 for the privilege I doubt the conference organisers were too happy with Jeffery Neil being quoted in the WSJ as above eh? Force fun at your own risk.

I was then treated, courtesy of Neil Usher to an excellent piece of writing about that most surreal piece of workplace design – the slide. Yep – you read that correctly – a slide. When I was a kid we had a slide in the back garden which I considered to be vaguely fun until the time I had an unfortunate incident involving my neck and the washing line. I also got into an altercation with a dog at the foot of a big slide in our local park many moons ago. The dog won, so I accept I’m biased – but slides don’t really do it for me, and as Neil’s blog post says:

Slides are part of the unfortunate genre of misplaced “fun” elements in workplace design (along with fussball, climbing walls, table tennis tables etc) that are fundamentally masculine – the modern equivalent of the black leather, smoky glass and chrome office set-up. They only serve to reinforce the notion that the workplace is a male environment. It is design straight out of Nuts or Stuff magazine, the titles of which tell you all you need to know.

Misplace fun at your own risk.


As you may have spotted in an earlier post this week, I was fortunate to spend last weekend away with three friends, all of whom I’ve known for a long time, thirty years and more. The weekend was planned in the diary some time ago. It was packed with reminiscing, bad jokes, beer, long walks and short nights. We had a hilarious time and as we parted company we all agreed how important it is for us to meet up like this from time to time. I also recall a great night out at a lively, lovely Iranian restaurant after the CIPD HR and Development conference in April. Good food, great company and great laughs among a group who have known each other for some time. The meal was spontaneous. The kind of fun that emerges from friendships is part of the percolation process, it takes its own sweet time and the less it is forced, the better it is.

Fun can just as easily emerge from more recent connections too. Last year at the Ohio State HR Conference Dwane Lay, Jason Lauritsen, Steve Browne and myself happily jousted with each other in a Gladiator style game during the evening festivities. This was the first time we’d met face to face and when Steve Browne puts his hand on your shoulder and says ‘Hey Doug – let’s go hit each other’ you know you’re in for something special.

Good work is good fun too, and by good work I mean the bits of your job that really play to your strengths and help you make a great contribution to the team. Whether it’s closing a mutually beneficial deal, finishing an insightful piece of research or delivering outstanding service to a customer or colleague, if you like doing it and you’re in an environment where you can do it well, that sounds like fun to me.

Push the Button

So what makes something fun? I remain uncertain about that, and I’m glad, it feels like a secret that never should be told. Old and new, planned and unplanned, always free flowing, never forced. It’s a thin line between fun and fake, and being at ease with fun seems to increase the likelihood of its occurrence perhaps? One thing I am sure of – the more you try and force fun, the faster it runs into the darkest corner of the room to hide, where it sits laughing at you, not with you.

photo credit

When is a Conversation not a Conversation?

I had a really interesting, useful and fun afternoon at the second LnDConnect Learning and Development Unconference in London yesterday. Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen. Here are a few of my thoughts on the event, and unconferences in general, I hope they are useful to you.

The Venue Matters

The venue matters, but only in so far as it is clean, warm enough and accessible, and any tech needs you have are met. You can run a good event in a modest venue. Yesterday we were at Park Crescent Conference Centre which pretty much had it all, including decent break time coffee too. If I’m being really picky the Twitterfall was a bit hard to read as it was projected onto a screen quite high up on the wall, but yesterday was a good reminder that venue wise – good enough is perfectly good enough.

The People Matter More

It was lovely to catch up with some friends, and get to meet some people I’d only previously got to know on Twitter, and….drum roll please, meet some people who are not currently using social media to connect. I’m not sure how LnDConnect pulled it off – but kudos for attracting a diverse audience, more so than at your typical event.

The Technology is Becoming a Distraction

I think Twitter, blogs, and other tools are great ways to promote and market unconferences, and when the day of the event comes, I’m feeling more and more like I just want to immerse myself in the conversation and the learning possibilities. I find it too much of a distraction to engage in what other people are saying and tweet stuff at the same time. Sometimes what emerges on Twitter can be interesting and I’m hoping LnDConnect will share a Tweetreach report with the delegates. I wonder, if people are wiling, whether we need to ask folks to volunteer to curate a conversation? Sit at the edge of the chat and pick up on, and share the emerging threads.

When is a Conversation Not A Conversation?

In the wrap up before we hit the bar – opinions were sought about what worked well and what hadn’t been so good. Niall Gavin asked that in future, could we please do away with the tables. We were sat at round tables designed for about ten people – and on reflection it would have been easier to converse without these tables in the way. I think I would have preferred the intimacy over the slight inconvenience of having to rest on my knee to scribble those little insightful nuggets you want to capture. I’ll share a few of the ones I caught in a minute.

Beyond the table observation, it struck me that some of the tracks weren’t really conversational at all. Let me ask you a question – how many people does it take to make a conversation? I’d suggest between two….and maybe five at a push. Beyond that number what tends to happen is gobby gits like me, dominate the available air time and quieter folk tend to withdraw and….go quiet! I picked up on this in the bar afterwards when having a few conversations (heh heh) with people. Maybe in future – when a track gets really popular the facilitators might split it up a bit, to aid and maintain the conversation.


Here are a few things I heard that I’m enjoying reflecting on.

Stakeholders – the perception has evolved beyond just the purse string holders, to anyone who has an interest in your project/organisation/plan etc

Can we be more disruptive? Yes please!

Being bold – that came up a lot and it was fun listening to people define it. The dictionary says: Showing an ability to take risks, confident and courageous. Subtle and elegant were among the alternatives offered.

Be open to the possibilities – good learning is perhaps more about great connections that great content.

Pourable sunshine does exist. Whaddya know?!

It struck me that people aren’t big fans of happy sheets, who am I to disagree?

A lot of people said they were at the event for some ‘me time’. I’d like to see L&D pushing the case for more self determined learning in general. It’s powerful stuff.

Before the event I had wondered if together we could try and apply some theory and suggest things we might take away and experiment with. I’m not yet sure that we got there – and right now – I’m OK with that. Like I said, yesterday was interesting, useful and fun. That gets my vote.