Wandering and meeting Sarah, Edouard and Ludovico

This week, I found a link to David Ranzolin’s The Data Analyst as Wanderer: Pre-Exploratory Data Analysis with R. In it David considers “answering questions about the data at two junctures: before you know anything about the data and when you know only very little about the data”.

He used metaphor of wandering to discuss data analysis. He observed “data analysts may wander but are not lost. This post is for data analysts ready to wander over their data (with R)”.

David’s questions are:

  1. What is this?
  2. What’s in this?
  3. What can I do with this?

These sprang to mind when I found Sarah Milstein’s How to Fail When You’re Used to Winning (A guide for managing morale while pushing for innovation). In her post, Sarah observed:

Innovation is a buzzword for our era. It evokes the promise of profiting tomorrow from today’s changes in technology. The word innovation implies a clean, crisp path. That’s a lie. In fact, innovation requires enormous amounts of failure — which then presents leadership challenges.

She adds:

But any team that must experiment constantly will fail a lot, and repeated failure almost always depresses people. (Original emphasis)

This part of her post struck me forcefully:

a certain amount of failure is inevitable. Accountability lies not just in individuals taking responsibility, but in teams having a consistent way to learn from those episodes. (Original emphasis)

Sarah concludes her post with this exhortation:

Your path to succeeding at failure and maintaining morale will not be linear. You’ll stumble along the way and find yourself wanting to pretend you didn’t just trip. But stick with it. Teams that can maintain good spirits during hard times tend to win, and nothing feeds morale like success.

Waldemar Januzczak was the guide in my next phase of wandering. Here in Australia they re-showed his 2009 documentary on Edouard Manet. In part of the documentary he discusses Manet’s Old Musician painting with Juliet Wilson-Bareau. Juliet pointed out Manet’s techniques in the picture and his ability to create texture in his composition.

One example was the shoes of the two young boys:

Juliet’s observation was that by rubbing the existing paint of the shoes rather than adding white, the picture takes on a different perspective.

Juliet’s knowledge of Manet made this granular insight particularly powerful and sent me off thinking about how each of use sees nuances in performance and the data of those performances. She returned me to David’s three questions for wanderers: What is this?; What’s in this?; What can I do with this?.

Fortunately, Ludovico Einaudi was there to help me with these contemplations. One commentator noted of him “For Einaudi, composition can happen in different ways. He improvises at the piano, invents melodies in his mind, but also hears them during his sleep”.

Daniel Keane (2017) said of Ludovico’s music “Throughout its course, one is never sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new.”

I think this sentiment resonates with our experiences of data wandering and why David Ranzolin’s prompts are so helpful.

Photo Credit

Le Vieux Musicien (The Yorck Project, public domain)

Optimistic about Optimisation

Two Medium posts this week (written by Thomas Oppong and David Weinberger) have returned me to think about optimisation as an organisational opportunity that goes beyond the rhetoric of ‘world best‘ and ‘world leading‘ aspirations.

Pursuit of progress

Thomas Oppong in his discussion of ‘good enough’ and the pursuit of progress quoted Seth Godin:

You’re not in the perfect business. Stop pretending that’s what the world wants from you.Truly perfect is becoming friendly with your imperfections on the way to doing something remarkable.

Thomas concludes his post with the observation “Pursuing progress allows you to celebrate each step that feels like an accomplishment”.

Machine Learning

David Weinberger‘s Medium post considered maximising the benefits of machine learning without sacrificing its intelligence. I was particularly interested in this suggestion:

Accept that we’re not always going to be able to understand our machine’s “thinking.” Instead, use our existing policy-making processes — regulators, legislators, judicial systems, irate citizens, squabbling politicians — to decide what we want these systems optimized for. Measure the results. Fix the systems when they don’t hit their marks. Celebrate and improve them when they do.

In his discussion of optimisation, David made three proposals:

1. Artificial Intelligence systems ought to be required to declare what they are optimized for.
2. The optimizations of systems that significantly affect the public ought to be decided not by the companies creating those systems but by bodies representing the public’s interests.
3. Optimizations always also need to support critical societal values, such as fairness.

David concludes:

The concept of optimization has built into it an understanding that perfection is not possible. Optimization is a “best effort.”

Optimisation

I have been thinking about how sport systems might flourish without the burden of winning edges or outcome measures in a highly competitive global sport network.

I do have an intrinsic connection with ‘good enough’ and ‘best effort’ approaches. They are invitational and permit us to fail as a learning opportunity.

My hope is that the acceptance of optimisation processes that offer better ways of performing in less effortful ways encourages and supports playfulness and joy. This I take to be a profoundly ethical undertaking that requires us to adhere to transparent fairness.

This kind of approach offers not an edge but a wide open space for the flourishing of our imagination and optimism.

Photo Credit

Climb (Efren, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Clearinghouses and a Fourth Age of Sport Institutes

I have had the good fortune to be included on the Australasian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN) mailing list for a decade. The network is hosted by the Clearinghouse for Sport (previously the National Sport Information Centre) at the Australian Sport Commission.

The Clearinghouse was established in 2012 as:

a central access point for the Australian sport sector, to serve the needs of users of a specific body of knowledge, and provide information in an audience appropriate manner to support the transfer and development of knowledge.

I received an alert this week that saddened me. It signalled a change in the work of the Clearinghouse. The email header was Discontinuation of the Clearinghouse for Sport, Daily Sports News (DSN).

The email shared this news:

DSN will not continue in 2018. The Australian Sports Commission’s new strategic direction and re-prioritisation of its existing resources were key considerations in the decision to cease the service.
I’d like to thank all who have supported and promoted DSN over the past 10 years. We’re very sad to see it go, but I know many here will not miss those early morning starts.

A colleague replied:

Very disappointed to read this news. This service has played an important role in informing the Australian sport sector of results, news and issues. There is no such service in Australia that covers the breadth of sports and issues in a consolidated way. It was also an important way of informing the Australian sport sector of very worthwhile work of the NSIC/Clearinghouse in terms of ground breaking sport research in and outside AIS/ASC, Clearinghouse portfolios and the recording and availability of seminars and SMART Talks.

In particular, it has allowed me to keep up to date with developments in sport policy which helps my extensive voluntary work in creating and updating Clearinghouse for Sport portfolios in areas such as Australian Sport Policy, Sport in Rural and Regional Communities, Role Models in Sport, Funding for Sport, Country Profiles and new AIS Sport Alumni websites.

The Australian sport sector has been very well served by the NSIC since it was established in 1982 as the AIS Information Centre. It is still a world leading sport information service and one of the few advantages has in the world of high performance sport. Access to information and research has allowed Australia to punch above its weight in world sport since the 1980’s.

Well done to the NSIC staff in their commitment to delivering service to inboxes before 7am. The culture of the NSIC/Clearinghouse has always been about prompt service.

I understand that the Australian Sports Commission is considering how to structure its digital communications. Back in 2009, in a presentation titled A Fourth Age of Sport Institutes, I tried to articulate what such a communications structure might be.

My thinking about this fourth age was profoundly affected by the practices of the then National Sport Information Centre (NSIC). I had engaged with the NSIC from the mid 1990s and had the good fortune to meet them in person when I moved to work at the AIS in 2002.

I found their modesty, diligence, enthusiasm and energy to be a wonderful, infectious guide to my own work. From them I learned the power of invisible service.

I have always thought the NSIC Clearinghouse to be a jewel in the crown of the Australian Sports Commission’s service to national and global sport.

One of my regrets is that I left the AIS in 2007 and could only be an external advocate for the NSIC thereafter. I am hopeful there will be a role for the Clearinghouse staff in Australian sport’s digital future. They have been world-leading for a long time with a modesty that prevents them from saying this. Their world-leading activities are in their practice not in the rhetoric that goes with world-leading aspirations.

I revisited my 2009 presentation following the AUSPIN announcement. I thought these slides embody my concerns. (With my apologies for the red emphases.)

I do hope that the Clearinghouse’s custos role might enable them to be part of this opportunity:

Photo Credit

View towards Bruce, ACT from AIS grounds (1982) (ACT Archives, CC BY-NC 2.0)