Connecting 131024


Kristen Swanson wrote a brief post two days ago about Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take.

She shares three profiles from the book:

  • People who help others without hesitation (Givers).
  • People who help others but expect reciprocation in return (Matchers).
  • People who mostly take from others (Takers).

These profiles took me back to James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy (1993) and his discussion of energy givers and takers and reminded me too of Malcolm Gladwell’s connectors.

Kristen went on to reflect on her personal learning network (PLN) and observed:

my PLN is full of givers. When I engage my PLN on Twitter around a topic, question, or resource, I’m always amazed by how freely they give. In turn, I honestly enjoy giving back whenever I can. This exchange (which is organic and far from “an eye for an eye”) has improved me as a person and as an educator.

Stephen Downes plays an important role in my personal learning. I noticed this week that Stephen had written about e-portfolios. Stephen suggests that “students will be responsible for managing their own online learning records and creative products”. I am hopeful that this leads to a growing altruism of open sharing.


Last month’s announcement of the Wales Open Education Declaration of Intent makes this open sharing an important characteristic of higher education. Universities in Wales have agreed “to ensure that any designated teaching and learning material released under open licence can be adapted and redistributed without cost or restriction”. (I am grateful to a  Martin Weller tweet for a link to this declaration.)

I think that this will be an environment where the cMOOCs, described by Jenny Mackness this week, will flourish. It is interesting to note the verbs Jenny used to characterise cMOOC activity: distribute, network, immerse, disrupt, self-organise, remix, repurpose and co-create.

A delightful email to me from Hugh Nguyen this morning brought all these ideas into focus. With Hugh’s permission, I am sharing the insights he shared with me:

we use dropbox to share the media amongst the coaches, we decided to open up all the materials we used to the junior coaches in ACT. They might get some ideas, share with us some ideas, or just find a different level of enjoyment watching the games knowing more about the background.

Hugh uses MailChimp as his newsletter platform. The idea for his project came from reading Take Your Eye Off the Ball. Hugh is able to follow up on the use coaches make of his open sharing in order to refine how he shares information.

Hugh’s email encouraged me to think about how coach education and development programs might start to use this cooperative approach. For many years now, I have been hopeful that all the millions of person hours spent analysing opponents could become a commonwealth of knowledge to support the flourishing of sports. There are so many resources to give and share. Perhaps in Kristen and Adam’s terms, we could all start by reciprocating sharing (matching).

After reading Jennifer Roberts’ post on Patience, I have a better insight into the pedagogical support needed to encourage giving. I liked her suggestion that she acts as an engineer in the pace and tempo of learning experiences to stimulate immersive attention:

Every external pressure, social and technological, is pushing students in the other direction, toward immediacy, rapidity, and spontaneity—and against this other kind of opportunity. I want to give them the permission and the structures to slow down.

I think open sharing and connecting makes this slowing down more possible.

Three young female kids, girls sharing one stand-up paddle board


Photo Credits

Common land (Joss Winn, CC BY NC-SA 2.0)

Shareholder value in the state forest (Markus Spring, CC BY NC-SA 2.0)

Three young female kids, girls sharing one stand-up paddle board (Mike Baird, CC BY 2.0)

Innovation: impact or distraction in high performance sport?


DSCF7600I have been invited to present a guest lecture to students in the High Performance Sports Management unit at the University of Canberra.

The topic is a question – Innovation: impact or distraction in high performance sport?

I think the answer is “Yes, both”.

In my talk, I will discuss my apparent equivocation with reference to:

  • Intrapreneurship
  • Hype
  • Disruption
  • Strategic Leadership

I hope that these might lead to a qualification of my “Yes” answer.

Before I get to these points I would like to flip this talk. I am encouraging students to look at some or all of these recommendations in advance of our meeting:

Frank Barrett on being uncomfortable (3 minute video).

Clayton Christensen on disruptive innovation (8 minute video)

A Fourth Age of Sports Institutes (25 minute SlideCast)

I have prepared this 10 minute 42 second podcast too.



My imagined audience for this talk is anyone involved in high performance sport or considering engaging with it as a career or as a volunteer. Whatever role one takes, innovation requires the shifting and management of risk rather than its avoidance. It requires political will above all (top-down leadership and support).

I like High Performance Sport New Zealand‘s (HPSNZ) definition of innovation as “solving a measurable performance issue with a new approach or product which will result in sustainable change for a sport, athlete or HP sport system”. I will return to HPSNZ later in this presentation.

If we are to explore innovation in the lecture then we need to note Everett Rogers’ work and the technology adoption lifecycle.


I think it is helpful to look at Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point too. I like Harold Jarche’s (2010) discussion of the chasm to be crossed to connect innovators and early adopters “to the more pragmatic majority”.

Harold has visualised this chasm:


(Note: Content from is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial Share Alike License)

My example here is the adoption of an App for sharing information at the 2012 Olympic Games. cited this app as one of augmented reality’s first big smashes “the official London 2012 app displayed nearby transportation and scheduling information for more than 40,000 live events based on where users’ cameras happened to be focused”). Xomo and Wikitude worked together on the app.

It prompted me to think about the advocacy needed to position the app innovation for decision makers to manage the risk of a combined planning and augmented reality resource.


East Africa Retreat_088

In 1978, Gifford Pinchot and Elizabeth Pinchot wrote about Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship. In their paper, they propose that intra-corporate entrepreneurs are “intrapreneurs”.

Intrapreneurs …

  • Must risk something of value to themselves (“It tests and later increases intrapreneurial conviction and drive. It binds the corporation in an implied contract not to stop the intrapreneur for any reason other than poor performance”).
  • Share the rewards of success in an intrapreneurial project with the corporation in a well-defined and equitable way.
  • Should have the opportunity to build up something akin to capital.
  • Should have an independent spirit.

Gifford and Elizabeth conclude their paper with these observations:

People have enormous potential for goodness, for insight, for creativity, for intimacy, and for work. Much of this potential is trapped within the constraints of today’s huge hierarchical organizations. The development of the entrepreneur is a step toward freeing individuals, our organizations, and our society to use our potential for building fuller, more meaningful, richer and more productive lives for us all.

My suggestion is that high performance sport requires intrapreneurs. An organisation focussed on transforming performance needs to support insights from the staff it has recruited to do exactly this.

I think this provides organisations with points of difference that make sustainable innovation possible.

One example of such activity is the work of Professor Allan Hahn at the AIS. Allan worked closely with the developers of the Catapult GPS systems. Their partnership within the Cooperative Research Centres program is an excellent example of a technology disrupting practice and then becoming a ‘normal’ part of the training and competitions contexts.


Gartner has developed a graphical representation of a hype curve.



My suggestion is that high performance sport needs people who can evaluate innovation by filtering enthusiastic spruiking (hype) with knowledge and understanding. The debate in Australian sport this year about supplements is an excellent case study in how organisations can get caught up in hype. It requires enormous fortitude to argue against hard sell particularly if the argument involves first principles.

Back in 1998 I had the opportunity to try out one of the first digital cameras. I brought it out to Australia to share at the Sports Coach Conference in Melbourne. I thought it was an important innovation and talked about the convergence (“the separate technologies which provide the telephone, the computer and the television are now converging in ways which increase the educational application of each”) of media.


Eleven years later is seemed quite normal to post digital images on Flickr. Our phones today have very powerful cameras that were impossible to find as a free standing camera back in 1998.


One of the challenges for innovators is that there is often minimal evidence based practice to support innovation decisions, particularly when there has been sometimes a decade long wait from original idea to everyday use.

Internet search is making it easier for us to find the story behind an innovation and understand its footprint of emergence.



Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen (1995) introduced their Catching the Wave paper with this observation:

One of the most consistent patterns in business is the failure of leading companies to stay at the top of their industries when technologies or markets change.

Joseph and Clayton point out that disruptive technologies have two important characteristics:

  • They present a different package of performance attributes … ones that, at least at the outset, are not valued by existing customers.
  • The performance attributes that exiting customers do value improve at such a rapid rate that the new technology can later invade those established markets.

Clayton has explored in detail the relationship between disruptive and sustaining innovations.



Irving Wladawsky-Berger (2013) has some interesting insights to share about organisational response to disruptive innovation. He proposes three key points: the need for a clear, compelling strategy that the whole organization can rally around; the management of disruptive innovation initiatives; and the importance of top-down leadership and support.

  • “While we all talk about how exciting it is to embrace disruptive innovations, we often forget that disruptive innovations are indeed disruptive, not only in the marketplace, but also for individuals and groups in your own organization.”
  • “Disruptive innovation initiatives requires a more entrepreneurial management style based on establishing an early market presence; close collaborations with research communities, business partners and early adopters; and learning in the marketplace through continuous experimentation and refinement until it becomes clear what the company’s strategy should be.”
  • “Top management support is absolutely essential for initiatives based on disruptive innovations to have any serious chance of success.”

Strategic Leadership


I see Irving’s point about top-down leadership as fundamental in resolving the place of innovation in an organisation. This is the place where impact meets distraction.

Whilst I am an advocate of flat organisational structures in which experience is valued as much as rank, I do understand that without political will, bottom up change has very little opportunity to flourish.

I see the potential for innovation to have impact facilitated by sensitive leaders who are connected with their organisation and the community they serve.

I think two high performance sport systems offer some excellent discussion points about how to address disruptive innovation. One is the Australian Institute of Sport and its Winning Edge vision. The other is High Performance Sport New Zealand‘s Targeted High Performance Innovation. Both countries are in a globalised sport system and have to address how to compete against other nations with larger populations and greater funding.

Impact or Distraction?

I started out this post with an equivocal “Yes” answer to Innovation as Impact or Distraction. My aim in the presentation has been to use Intrapreneurship, Hype, Disruption and Strategic Leadership to move to an optimistic view of organisations renewed and transformed by considered perspectives on innovation.


I believe impact comes from inclusive, strategic leadership that values the talents of those in the organisation. I think it is vital to have members of the organisation (spotters as well as intrapreneurs) who have the autonomy to search for and monitor change in an eco system.

I think a vibrant organisation is characterised by Everett Rogers’ early adoption. I like Alistair Gray’s description of such an organisation as “hot”.

My hope is that units, like the one for which I have prepared this presentation, encourage prospective consideration of innovation. I have included some links to potential case studies to support this prospecting.

Thank you for sharing this conversation.

Photo Credits

Innovation (Stephanie Booth, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ashoka Intrapreneur Simon Stumpf (Wil Kristin, CC BY 2.0)

Disruption (Theo Jones, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Leadership (thephotographymuse, CC BY 2.0)

Bushfires (CSIRO)

Fate and Fortune?

This week has thrown up a number of opportunities for me to contemplate fate and fortune.

In my synchronous life I have attended a selection event for a national team, engaged in discussions about organisational change, worked with colleagues to explore learning opportunities in open spaces and have contributed to an open tender to write a wiki history of paralympic sport in Australia.

My asynchronous life has prompted me to reflect on how I get involved in such events.

Last Saturday (19 February) Radio National broadcast a Radiolab program, Fate and Fortune, about life trajectories.  The program explored the genetic links to destiny:

If destiny isn’t written in the stars, could it be written in our genes? Kids struggle to resist marshmallows, and their ability to holdout at age 4 turns out to predict how successful they’re likely to be the rest of their lives. And an unexpected find in a convent archive uncovers early warning signs for dementia in the writings of 18-year-olds.

The hour-long program includes:

  • Paul Auster talking about rhyming events.
  • Walter Mischel’s marshmallow experiment.
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion of talent.
  • Ian Lancashire, Kelvin Lim and Serguei Pakhomov sharing their work on textual analysis.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the ideas in Radiolab format.  Each of these topics is a journey of discovery.

Whilst pondering some of these ideas I received a link a few days later to Patricia Kuhl’s TEDxRainer talk on the linguistic genius of babies.

The link from Stephen Downes that took me to the talk directed me to a post about Gary Small’s work too.

Patricia and Gary have a great deal to share about plasticity, fate and destiny. As I was contemplating their work I recalled reports of a study I had seen late last year. The study by Geraint Rees and Ryota Kanai discussed political affiliation.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, Professor Rees and his colleague Dr Ryota Kanai at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL (University College London) analysed the brain structures of ninety young adults who had reported their political attitudes on a scale from ‘very conservative’ to ‘very liberal’. They found a strong correlation between an individual’s view and the structure of the brain, particularly two regions.

People with liberal views tended to have increased grey matter in the anterior cingulated cortex, a region of the brain linked to decision-making, in particular when conflicting information is being presented. Previous research showed that electrical potentials recorded from this region during a task that involves responding to conflicting information were bigger in people who were more liberal or left wing than people who were more conservative.

Conservatives, meanwhile, found increased grey matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with processing emotion. This difference is consistent with studies which show that people who consider themselves to be conservative respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions.

I enjoyed reading a critique of the left wing, right wing brain in this post. I liked in particular the suggestion that:

The brain is a powerful organ designed to help you deal with reality in all its complexity. For a lot of people, politics doesn’t take place there, it happens in fairytale kingdoms populated by evil monsters, foolish jesters, and brave knights.

A link to Ravi Iyer et al (2010) in the post has left me with some more reading to do with regard to psychological predispositions in the organisation of political attitudes.

All in all it has been a great time to contemplate plasticity, rigidity, free will, determinism, genetic endowment and cultural empowerment! Next stop … following up on Kent Anderson’s post about Margaret Atwood and cheese sandwiches. Kent quotes Margaret to end his post:

The book is not dead. Reading is not dead. The human interest in stories is not dead. But we are in the midst of a sea change in transmission tools, the likes of which we have not seen since the Gutenberg print revolution. As with that historical moment, there was a lot of turmoil, and nobody could foresee all the consequences.

Photo Credits

Where do we go from here?

I came when the sun o’er that beach was declining