…just words and a tune
I was re-reading Marcus Ellliott’s blog post last night, “Singing along, but I don’t know the words” seeing if I could spot any more spelling mistakes ;-). It was nice to be included on a list of “contemporaries” such as that. I started thinking about what are the common elements to that list? Is there a unifying thing that we all do? Are there things that the others do that I shouldn’t? I have been very lucky to meet and in many cases work with the people on that list, so the task of eliciting those “best practices” should have been easy. After sleeping on it, and going for a walk before work, and still thinking about it, I came to a realisation – very little in the practices of that list unify us*.
The key to Marcus’ list is diversity and difference – not a unified profile. As he starts his new role he is not looking for a role model or a template to base his trajectory on, he is looking across a range of people, at a range of practices and interestingly a range of opinions (because I argue with at least half the people on that list) and adapting them to what makes him unique in his situation. The common element that he identifies;
“They’re able to eloquently get their ideas down into words, to condense complex ideas and systems into cogent and pithy prose.” (sic)
Some might disagree, and I certainly think he was full of generous seasonal cheer and starting-a-new job-happiness, but I think he means, “I can get the gist of the idea quickly and make up my own mind.” He’s about to embark on leading change in a new job, and as he says in the post he is learning as he goes, but he is not learning by rote, certainly not from that reading list anyway! Using Marcus’ analogy about singing along with the song, in this case you need to see what songs other people have written in order to write your own lyrics.
Mike Caulfield highlights this skill when he talks about Digital Literacy, in an excellent and entertaining post (that includes the Pacific Northwest tree octopus). He argues about the inherent flaws with using checklists in information literacy for students. Mike makes the point that you can run quite a few internet hoaxes through many information literacy checklists and still identify them as being credible sources, (#spoiler alert there is no such thing as a tree octopus). Mike is arguing that domain knowledge, and being able to reflect on your own processes (and those of others) is more important than being given a template or checklist for identifying if a resource is credible.
Marcus is about to lead a change initiative in a new institution, the thing about his list is that he’s read it, he knows that not all of them agree with each other and that is a key attribute for anyone trying to create change. Domain knowledge, a range of processes, getting people with different ideas in the room, and then making things happen are key elements of change and leadership. Leaders don’t need to know it all, and they don’t all need to know (or do) the same thing, being adaptable and flexible is key, but also being open to possibilities. This is a key part that informs the logic of the Jisc leadership course: leadership is not about ticking boxes, templates and checklists have their place, but leading change needs more. We are providing them with the tools and reflective practices necessary to generate organic, grounded, specific, responsive leadership. Does it work? Well. Marcus is an alumnus of the leadership course so I guess we’ll know in short order.
* it’s possible I have had a drink with all of them**
**it’s possible I’ve had more than one drink with some of them