Our roots in stories

In sport, we are awash with data. A fundamental challenge for us is how we deal with these data in our everyday practice. We are trying to make sense of exabytes of data to provide a service.

I think an answer may lie in our roots as story receivers and tellers. In analytics, our relationships with coaches, players and other support staff requires us to share stories about performance. Neil Lanham (2013) points out “stories, in their natural setting, are vitally important to human understanding because they are the tools of wisdom”. He adds that the “naturally formed mindset is acutely observational, it sees metaphoric story in almost every happening, and has the language to form and relate it” (2013: 152).

Neil is an analyst and an oral historian. The combination of both domains has enabled him to think carefully about how we share and record messages. Like Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (2015), Neil has looked carefully at individuals at work and “to see how work connects with other aspects of their lives”.

Our roots in stories enable us to connect with others and establishes trust. Through our story abilities, we are able to connect practice with the innovation and transformation that is going on in the world of sport.

With experience we build our stories with thick description. In doing so, we engage in ethnographic, qualitative activities in which stories unfold. This enables us to make more permanent our analysis and allows us to discuss how we do share and the impact we have as analysts.

Clifford Geertz sees this thick description as an interpretive act in search of meaning. His approach resonates strongly with Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s view that reality is socially constructed and that the sociology of knowledge must analyse the process in which this occurs (link).

I see this qualitative dimension as vital as we seek to employ more and more Insights scientists (link). Particularly when we encourage them to produce compelling, insightful reports that can and might be triggered by data visualisations. This is where ‘science’ meets story telling and the impact we have is defined by the ways in which we share.

It is a time when we as analysts become autoethnographers and we are able to link our biographies with the insights we are sharing. As John Tetnowski and Jack Damisco (2014) (link) suggest, it is a methodology “that gets at the inner feelings and interpretations of someone involved in the phenomenon being studied”.

It enables us to transform our practice by celebrating our qualitative roots in stories.

Photo Credit

Appears Backward (Brian Talbot, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Hill and slope (Marco Forno, Unspash)

Live Blogging Synchronous Sharing

Reading Stephen Downes’ OLDaily is akin for me to entering Aladdin’s Cave.

My day starts with Stephen’s newsletter and a piccolo latte.

Yesterday I enjoyed Stephen’s post on How to Get the Most out of a Conference and followed up on his link to Matt Thompson’s post 5 reasons to liveblog instead of live tweeting.

I liked the detail in Matt’s post.

I am keen to blog about the talks, workshops and conferences I attend. I do so out of a sense of privilege and of a commitment to open sharing. I use my WordPress blog for my live blogging and tweet briefly about a topic or a speaker. Last week, for example, I attended the Launch of the Human-Centred Computer Laboratory at the University of Canberra and made a small number of tweets with #HCCL.

Matt suggests that live blogging:

  • Enables attention and engagement
  • Encourages writing
  • Is a service

(I have condensed his list of five characteristics to three.)

For my part live blogging is an ethnographic activity. It is an an opportunity to share a cultural context and whenever possible to provide thick description. It is an opportunity for reciprocal altruism too. A commitment to connected sharing. Thirdly, I do think that it is a phenomenographic activity. It is a personal opportunity to observe and share particular events.

Engaging Readers

This week I have been introduced to two delightful writers. I met their work through Radio National programs. I have been thinking about writing a great deal recently in my role as supervisor of a number of student theses and research projects at the University of Canberra. I have been thinking about engaging implied readers too. Ironically this is a post about writing stimulated by being a listener.

On Tuesday Richard Stirzaker was a guest on Bush Telegraph and was interviewed by Michael Mackenzie. The interview celebrated Richard’s ability to explain scientific principles to a lay audience. The interview centred on Richard’s book Out of a Scientist’s Garden. A trail for a book launch noted that:

Out of the Scientist’s Garden is written for anyone who wants to understand food and water a little better – for those growing vegetables in a garden, food in a subsistence plot or crops on vast irrigated plains. It is also for anyone who has never grown anything before but has wondered how we will feed a growing population in a world of shrinking resources. Although a practising scientist in the field of water and agriculture, the author has written, in story form accessible to a wide audience, about the drama of how the world feeds itself. The book starts in his own fruit and vegetable garden, exploring the ‘how and why’ questions about the way things grow, before moving on to stories about soil, rivers, aquifers and irrigation. The book closes with a brief history of agriculture, how the world feeds itself today and how to think through some of the big conundrums of modern food production.

This the YouTube presentation by Richard.

On Wednesday Phillip Adams interviewed Jonathan Gold. This is the trail for the interview:

In the US, food critic Jonathan Gold has a cult following, not just because he is the first food writer to win a Pulitzer prize, and not just because he won it while working for a free, alternative newspaper, LA Weekly, but because his reviews embrace both high end cuisine and low rent neighbourhood joints. His reviews are equally riffs on food, music, politics and art; his tastes are bold and adventurous. Just don’t ask him to eat a scrambled egg.

The interview led me to Jonathan Gold’s writings in the LA Weekly and a real desire to find out more about the riffs that so captivated Phillip Adams. I liked  The Gorbals: Stomp, the Restaurant as an introduction to his writing. This is the opening paragraph:

The Gorbals, perhaps, is a restaurant that should not be seen by the light of day, when the boxy tables look like a shop-class project, the artfully scuffed floors look worn, and the back-room speakeasy vibe is overtaken by the thought that the dim space may have once served as an industrial laundry room. The music is still good, various Iggyisms and post-Iggyisms and proto-Iggyisms, but you get the feeling that the chefs would rather be sitting on a couch smoking cigarettes rather than flipping matzoh brei, and although the $5 Bloody Marys with fresh horseradish are of a strength that you may not have experienced since sophomore year in the dorms, on a Sunday morning the staff may be as hungover as you. As crisp as the blintzes are, as rich as the latke-studded pork belly hash can be, the Gorbals is not a fluffy, happy place to brunch.

Jonathan Gold’s book Counter Intelligence (Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles) was written in 2000 and is a collection of  “over 200 of Gold’s best restaurant discoveries–from inexpensive lunch counters you won’t find on your own to the perfect undiscovered dish at a beaten-path establishment”. It is available as an e-book. This blog post (from if it’s hip, it’s here) celebrates Jonathan’s Pulitzer Prize and links to a Washington Post article that is a delightful account of his work. This is the set of works that was considered by the Pulitzer Prize judges and this some biographical material about Jonathan Gold.

Richard and Jonathan have distinctive approaches to writing and sharing experience. As a supervisor of student work I am keen to share different forms of writing as a way of stimulating voice in writing. My hope is that by providing a diversity of forms each student’s voice can be enriched by access to writers such as Richard and Jonathan who offer thick description of the worlds they experience.

Photo Credits

Listening

Jonathan Gold

Road to Heaven