A Transition without Tom

By now some of you will have heard that my colleague Tom Barrett has decided to move on from NoTosh. When the announcement was made a few days ago, it all finally began to sink in that things were changing. Working with creative, thoughtful, and fun colleagues makes any job incredibly satisfying and pushes your own ideas and perspectives further. When they, or you, leave you realise that the capacities and limits enabled by the relationship leave too.

Tom and Hamish

Working with Tom has been an amazing experience. Tom doesn’t like when I say this, but when I first entertained the prospect of working at NoTosh, I was very excited to be part of a team that included Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett. Two people I considered leaders in education and had followed intently online . I was just a little bit intimidated and pretty chuffed to be sitting across from Tom waxing on the parameters of learning. Tom always demonstrated a profound depth of thought and perspective on learning. His insights helped build and match with my own, and it was even better when we had opportunities to work on projects collaboratively.

Probably one the best of these was rewriting the Google Teacher Academy experience in 2014. Not only did we look for the balance of the aspects that made it already very good, but we played with and designed features to make it even more challenging and focused on learning. And we had a lot of fun doing it. We got to slam the Masterclasses at EduTech over two years, co-facilitate Northern Bay College’s big staff day, work with a room of senior leaders at Emergency Management Victoria, and more recently shake up a session at the TeachTechPlay conference. Before Tom leaves we’ll be tag-teaming on a three-day retreat for architects and educators called the Mayfield Project, part of the Learning Environments conference, and facilitating two-days in Adelaide for Social Ventures Australia with a Thought Leadership Gathering for school and student leaders.

PierThese are just some of the experiences that will always make me smile of my time with Tom. The ‘Beach Retreat’, a few days away to get some strategic pieces aligned, was a big shift for us in building more work around Australia. It also brought out Tom’s skills with a sniper rifle in Star Wars Battlefront. Beach walks and larks aplenty. Work culture cannot be a serious space. It must know when to let go, when to think differently, and when it’s time for a transition.

Tom and I often used our ‘alter-egos’ to help us deal with the intensity of our work. Tom became ‘The Punisher’, able to take a stand and get the job done, and I became ‘The Hulk’, breaking loose in a frenetic smack down of ideas and frustration. Those bursts of creativity and commitment happened in all sorts of ways. And naturally they take us down paths that lead to new transitions. I know all too well that space you find yourself in – knowing you’ve made a real difference to others, but appreciating that it’s time to make a difference for yourself. Tom – it has been an absolute honour working with you the last few years. Go well.

Save the Earth. Make the physical redundant.

When people say ‘the world is getting smaller’ they’re often talking about how well we seem to know each other; those 6-degrees of separation keeping us apart. Those close ties that we share are a very real entity, and a reason why I’ve always been very careful to never ‘burn bridges’ with people or assume that anyone I meet might have nothing to do with the people I already know. But that’s not what’s troubling me…

For a while now I have seen and sensed the ways in which things in our world are either shrinking or disappearing all together. This could be taken in a purely environmental context, but it’s not about extinction or endangerment. It’s the way our lifestyles at home are shrinking and disappearing. Small is in. Lack of physical objects is in. Partly driven by the digital behemoth of accessing information and entertainment anywhere, but also by a more subtle cultural shift to keeping ourselves literally mobile. If we can live and move with less, then it may make us more efficient. It might also increase serendipity as we link more services and spaces.

For example, I have a sizeable CD collection – years of listening to jazz and dance music, and others in-between have taken their toll on my shelves. I have rarely thrown or given away any of my CDs, as I do find myself coming back to them. Having a good CD player and stereo system helps. I have a library of MP3 songs for listening on the go, Digital Radio, and a Spotify account that I barely use. However I cannot convert myself to a purely digital collection. There’s something about sifting and sorting through those CDs to play – the quality of the sound (and yes I know there’s FLAC audio services too), the liner notes, the process all keep me entranced. Interestingly there was an article today about how vinyl is making a comeback. Yes, I have some vinyl too. And a lot of books. And a stack of DVDs and Blu-rays. And disc games.

High School Library at ASIJ

The pattern here is our habit (and obsession) with ‘collecting’ – this is in contrast with the kinds of services, like Spotify, Kindle, Steam and Netflix, that offer all that choice without the hassle of ever having to store it somewhere physical. Likewise homes are becoming more compact in design, efficiency, and occupancy; small apartments and clever storage are quite appealing. The ‘collaborative consumption’ movement is also a sign of this shift – why waste space on things you use rarely? The more recent suggestion that the motor vehicle might go the same way (Elon Musk suggesting cars will be an on-demand commodity) are further signs of the ways our personal physical spaces no longer need to be as generous as they have been. As much as it will hurt me personally to one day give up my collections (because why will my kids even want that stuff?) there’s clearly going to more ‘space’ available in the near future… At least notwithstanding the massive global population, the need for screens, the lack of resources, the computing power of the cloud, and costs of all those subscriptions to new ‘mobile’ services. Alternatively, it justifies the power of libraries as one of the only places where physical collections might live.

Recently I saw the movie ‘Lucy‘ which explores the potential of a greatly expanded use of our brains; eventually resulting in the final lines of the movie “I am everywhere” when  Scarlett Johansson achieves a kind of singularity at 100% brain power. It reminded me again of the shift away from the physical realms of our world and all the trappings of our wares. This is not about what’s cool, although that’s how we end up with it, it’s about us giving up our own space in order to supersede it with a more efficient solution. I wonder what education would do to make the physical redundant? MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) haven’t been the revolution many thought, and the staple of classrooms, storerooms, and computers labs are rarely challenged.

‘Save the Earth. Make the physical redundant’ – it would make a powerful provocation to kick thinking off on what else we might save space on. Like how I once opened a workshop for some teachers with a quote from Lu Hanessian: “Unpack your baggage so your kids don’t have to carry it.” With the above thoughts, that quote starts to take on a whole new meaning.

Magic and ripples: Do Lectures Australia

This post has been a long time in the making, so settle in for a decent read. But then so has Do Lectures; a speaking event that has been described as ‘TED meets Burning Man’. While that sounds good, I now don’t think it’s entirely accurate. While TED might celebrate the ‘what I think and what I made’, Do Lectures goes to the heart of storytelling and looks for the ‘how and why people do’. And not just for one day, but for four. It goes deep, back to the natural order of finding the true intersection of people, place and program. While those of us organising the next Do Lectures Australia (March 19-22 2015)  fret and sweat on how to make it even more successful, I have to keep reminding myself that all good things are only known by those who care.

Do Message Board

I first heard about Do Lectures in November 2013 when my good friend Samantha Bell asked for my advice on a new event she was cooking up, and seeking funding for. Thankfully I had the head space to give it my attention. With a nudge and wink from Sam I quickly became enticed by the prospect of helping bring something fresh to the crowded table of talks, conferences, and events. I have run a few in my time, and without even the slightest hesitation Do Lectures Australia blew them all out of the water. So here’s my thoughts on ‘how and why’….

Do you have any idea how much effort it takes to create an event from scratch, in the bushland of regional Victoria, on a property run only on generators, for 120 people, for 4 days, and make it the most memorable experience possible? Nope; well neither did I. Looking back on it, I see my ignorance of the complexities of these things as a blessing. In looking after the speakers and the program, I approached it with a disruptive mindset – how might we help people sustain attention and listen intently over four days? Amongst the options given to speakers, they were asked to give the ‘talk of their life’ – an intimidating challenge that kept the bar high and the focus on storytelling. Having the advice of people who had first hand experience of what made Do Lectures special was also hugely important – thanks Ross Hill for the insights and connections, and of course the ‘huggable’ founders and friends Sam Bell and Mel Jacobsen.

Garden path

The blur of making it all happen was the first piece of magic. I use the word ‘magic’ here in a fairly simple sense: an illusion that impresses the people around it, for which the people might desperately want to know how the trick was done, but just need to accept and be entranced by the beauty of magic. However if you ever wanted to know why networks are important, combined with a sense of driving purpose, then an event like Do Lectures Australia would crank the dial right up. A magical experience that changed perceptions and assumptions. We all make incredible moves of courage, tenacity, and intensity when we find something that binds us together – I’m grateful I keep finding them.

Talks tent

I made an important transition as Do Lectures Australia came together. I started out thinking I needed to have those 20 speakers locked in, worded up, and prepped ASAP. Yet I was encouraged to keep at least two spots open for closer to the date. It took me a while to realise that Do Lectures does talks a little differently. The art of the talk is in the power and clarity of the story, and the sense of the impromptu; a chance to find the real purpose of why people do what they do. It’s a little known fact that two weeks out from April 24-27 we still had the 20th speaker spot to fill; from a list of more than 200 potential names. By this stage I had swung the other way – I wasn’t stressed by this at all, because I realised that the right person was there, we just had to look for passion rather than ‘power’. I’ll never forget the day I made that call to Jeremy ‘Jez’ Forbes asking him to speak – he’d already volunteered to help out early on, and doing a little more homework, I realised he was doing so much more. He became part of a trio of talks on the Saturday morning that I dubbed ‘the dark horses’; it was the ultimate emotional roller-coaster.

Part of the reason why talks work well is not just what they say, but how they say it, and who they say it with. I grouped speakers into partners and trios that aimed for common themes to emerge. As I got to know the speakers, I also got insight on what drove them, and the value they may offer to the audience. Shared wisdom, entrepreneurial mindsets, going with your gut instinct, a strong focus on place and community, and experiences of family and humility. These were powerful elements at work as audiences settled into a session, that cumulatively created a pulse and strong bonds.

We rarely disconnect to really connect these days. Those four glorious days at Payne’s Hut turned 120 people into one epic community; and quite a few of us into one extended family. No phone reception, no internet, no hotel rooms – just nature, tents, fires, and the warmth we generated through each other. And my god the food…the first night we were served a piece of salmon that literally made me stop and savour every last bite – afterwards I walked into the kitchen, hugged Chef Brooke Payne, and said ‘you’ve just fed my soul.’ The barn dance on Saturday also goes down as another of the incredible highlights – Sal Kimber’s music, the crazy dance routines, ice-cream, and a beautifully impromptu song from Karen Knowles.

Inside the tent

I have barely scratched the surface in trying to describe the atmosphere, photographer Mark Lobo captured it so perfectly. But the real gems were in the talks – stories of incredible honesty, joy, pain, hindsight, and foresight. Thankfully I don’t need to tell you about all of them, as the talks are about to be released on September 23 – keep a watch on @DoLecturesAus for more details, which include a chance to join live online screenings of the talks with the speakers. Yet the talks were often where the magic was ignited – people not trying to sell you an idea, a product, or a methodology, just giving you some provocative insights into why they help others, make big decisions, focus on inner voice, see the world differently, crave peace, find adventure, have fun, value truth, and continue to challenge themselves. The lessons bubble and ripple not only over the four days, but are still going even now. People have quit jobs, started bold new initiatives, pursued big ideas, and pulled back from the craziness of life and appreciated what matters. All of this is why I, and many others, will Do it all again.

Mitta Mitta

I was lucky to be part of an online ‘Do Croo’ hangout last week with the founders of Do Lectures, David and Clare Hieatt, and as great words of wisdom and passion were shared by David and Clare, I quickly jotted down ‘magic and ripples’. Do Lectures Australia was an incredible piece of magic – one that I still can’t comprehend how beautifully it happened. I don’t want to overthink it – I want to have that beginner’s mindset as I begin to shape and plan Do for 2015; thankfully there is an amazing crew of people making all the magic possible. When an event creates such incredible ripples in bringing and keeping people together, you know it’s worth doing. It’s also worth being actually there for it. I’ve had many people ask me what it was all about, and I’ve launched into a series of rambling, wide-eyed stories.

Simply put, it’s magic and ripples – if you’ve ever wondered what more can come of putting people together to hear a swag of talks – then you now know what others don’t about Do.

Go Do


What transition taught me.

Raicho Valley, JapanIt probably seems odd to try to contextualise the past 7 months, but the thoughts suddenly started coming to me. Isn’t it odd when we make a change or a shift, often we’re simply looking for anyone to give us the confidence to know it is the right thing to do. We’re all looking for affirmation of one kind or another. Well, what follows are some insights on my journey that I think go to prove that grabbing an opportunity, shaking it vigorously, and then embracing it, are valuable at any kind of scale.

Insight #1 – Make Space

Our lives are so incredibly full. The lack of posts here is an indicator of that. As we get older things get seemingly more complex: work, money, health, homes, children, travel, exercise, love. Yet we also hat-tip and stare with envy at those that just ‘let go’ and seem to suddenly change direction. When I drew a line in my time at the State Library, it was a sign that I had indeed learnt from my past, in realising that hanging on until you’re either very sick, crazy, demoralised, or all three is a very unhealthy and unsatisfying way to live. In my view, it is exactly the same as knowing when to change tact on a program or project you’re doing, because you realise there is a better way to do it. Making space helps to reset the mind, opening up deep thinking, and lets opportunity find you. Making space allows you to reconnect with the things you wanted to invest more in.

Ironically enough, in the world of education, we have crammed the lives of our young people with so much schooling stuff, that we moan about opportunities to change, thinking that it means adding more. We should be cutting all the extra Maths and English garble (improperly justified as literacy and numeracy) and start injecting more mindfulness into learning. When we look at some of the most progressive and ‘innovative’ education systems in the world, very often they’re doing the simplest thing: giving kids time to connect with themselves, their inner voices, and just letting kids be kids. What if learning was about creative ways to ‘make space’, learning to let go, failing and quitting with grace? Well, my way of making space was to quit my job while not having a plan for another. Crazy? Maybe. But making space was the best thing I could have done; easy to say given I have landed in work that feeds exactly the energy I was looking for. Which leads me to insight two…

Insight #2 – Have A Fail Safe

You think I was crazy quitting my job, while not having another to go to? With a mortgage and a family? Sorry, but you just missed Insight #1. Even when I held on too long as a teacher/coordinator/manager, I had an escape plan: I’d been saving as much money as I could to take a holiday with my family; four months in a Japanese winter was the best thing I have done since travelling the world after leaving Uni. That time made me realise that I wasn’t ready to go back into school. After all, how could I contemplate teaching in an established school when I’d spent nearly 7 years designing one with colleagues and kids? So when it came time to pull that parachute from the Library, I did so feeling pretty proud of what I’d been able to ‘achieve’ (read: get away with) and mindful that the environment wasn’t exciting me as it had done before.

So I cashed in my many days of accrued leave and instead set upon finding that next ‘wave’. Sure, I might have been only 6 months away from long-service leave, but once you’re set, who wants to wait? Finding that next wave translated into heaps of coffees with people; and maybe a couple of whiskies. People who I respected, people who weren’t necessarily going to give me a job, but instead were going to give me insight and honesty. I already look back on that time with fondness; in making that space, cool ideas and connections formed, ideas that have already changed me. You’re escape plan may look different to mine, but take the time to find it – whether it’s money you’ve saved, holidays you’re owed, or amazing conversations to be had. But there’s a key tenet to this Insight that makes it work…

Insight #3 – Find People Who Trust You

Time again in my working life and my personal life, everything comes back to trust. It’s one of the reasons we underpinned the middle years City Campus  program with the foundations of ‘trust and responsibility’. School and business operate the same at the core: if leaders don’t trust those that ‘work’ for them, it’s revealed in the exorbitant rules and blockers put in place. If students and employees don’t trust their teachers/leaders they will never show any great commitment or creativity – because they know it isn’t valued. I consider myself a very fortunate (and perhaps intuitive) person to have worked with people I trust. People who can give me honesty and confidence, and I know it’s not out of politics or manipulation. People who go with an idea or program I’m pitching because they trust my judgement, my insights, my ability. Very often all you need is just one – make sure it’s someone who has some leadership up the chain! Of course the most important piece of trust you can have in making these kinds of transitions is your partner – I simply could not have survived the changes I’ve made without the love and support of my partner; that’s where I drew my strength. It gave me the strength to give myself to the next endeavour.

Insight #4 – Give And Invest

I have recently just finished reading the book ‘Give and take‘ by Adam Grant, I highly recommend it. As someone who feels silly for trusting people sometimes, or who feels like I give too much of my time to so many different groups, Adam’s book was like a mirror into these experiences. When I left the Library I gave myself to almost any idea or opportunity coming my way, it didn’t matter whether it was paid or not. In fact one of the opportunities offered to me in November last year was to help curate and program the first Do Lectures Australia. I will post in more detail about this particular event, but let it be said that I had little idea at the time that it would be one of the most amazing event experiences I’ve had; yes, I’ve already agreed to help do another one in 2015. At the very least I recognised very quickly with Do Lectures Australia that while it was unpaid, I would be well ‘paid’ in the networks, ideas, and people I’d get to connect with.

I also made sure that I booked into and bought tickets for events that fed my creativity and networks. Strangely enough instead of hitting social media like a hound with all the time in the world, I actually pulled back from it – I still can’t explain why; I think it was that making space allowed me to give of myself and invest in myself that negated the need to look for this online.

Insight #5 – Be Prepared To Start Again

I believe that the one thing I’m most proud of as an educator are the times when I threw out convention, tradition, and assumption and started again. Often with successful programs that already worked. Sure it worked, so why do it the same again? Because it will never be the same again, especially if you’re talking about a program that involves people. And if it doesn’t work, then you’re already committed to trying to start again, or change tact. It applies to work and life. ‘Closing up shop’ and relocating your life to another country, even with a family in tow, is something I hold as my ‘ultimate escape plan’. I think I’ll be a disappointed old man if I never crack that one out for a whirl. My transition to NoTosh came in February, a whole 3 months after leaving my last job. To be honest, I don’t think I would have had them come knocking if had I not made the space to rethink things and reconnect myself to myself. I actually wasn’t sure that I was ‘qualified’ to be someone who would use design thinking to help evolve education. It was like starting again, but knowing that I had the trust and support of people who ironically were spread around the world.

A teacher in a recent workshop was completely astonished that I had only been delivering design thinking workshops for 3 months; she thought I’d been doing it for years. What I tell educators now is that I have been, I just didn’t know it. Design thinking isn’t a science, or a philosophy, hell, it isn’t even a pedagogy, for me it simply affirms a process about what sits at the heart of all good learning experiences – look up at the five insights and you’ll find them.

One. Giant. Leap.

This post is an edited version of  the short presentation given at Teachmeet Melbourne on Saturday 30 November 2013:

I find myself at an interesting transition in life, one where I am trying to look at systems with fresh eyes. What my work-life will look like is too early to say, but at present I am supporting an exciting new project which I believe will make a significant impact on the national discussion on learning. God knows it’s desperately needed.

This week I was lucky enough to be invited along to Creative Innovation 2013, a conference which brings together business, industry, community, government, amongst others. While the ticket price might exclude many people, it did feature quite a number of sessions on education. Stephen Heppell was back again, and as always, made sure he disrupted the thinking of the people in the room about the potential of young people; when they’re trusted. Stephen reiterated that many schools can be (and have been) transformed in learning and culture simply by having better toilets, better chairs, and a shake up of more classroom spaces.

However out of all the interesting sessions and speakers, one comment that has stuck with me was from Steve Vamos, who is the Founding President, Society for Knowledge Economics, Non Executive Director Telstra, Medibank and David Jones, and Former Vice President of Microsoft. He took the floor during a Q&A and lamented that the Australian cultural mindset won’t be shifted until we stop believing that the only way to succeed is to Be in control, don’t stuff up, and know the answer”. I believe this statement also rings true in the education mindset.

So taking into account the incredible work you all do as educators to influence schools, teachers, or students to change, how do we do that at scale? How do we take one giant leap? Actually I think it’s not a case of asking ‘how’, but ‘when’. So – [I have re-written this into a rhyme, which came to me after the Teachmeet, and has since proven a pretty tricky thing to craft]

When does change become enough to change the way school is organized and structured?
When do we fix the way schools are funded?
When will more schools share programs and resources they’ve created?
When will sorting kids by age become outdated?
When will subjects not be the substitute for schooling?
When did winning mean more learning than losing?
When will maths be just a subset of numeracy?
When did English come to mean the same as literacy?
When will mindfulness and well-being be a priority for schools?
When do we agree not to have rules?
When will we bring others to Teachmeet to help us network?
When will we bring a principal, a parent, an entrepreneur?
When will PD be designed as messy and fun?
When will we have a Kidmeet Melbourne?
When will assessment of learning be more than numbers and dots?
When will teachers be treated not as robots?
When is school driven by learning and not the timetable?
When will we start seeing that every child is able?
When will schools get rid of the bells?
When will teachers show and not just tell?
When did extrinsic factors for learning become the operation?
When will we organise more for intrinsic motivation?
When will exams matter less and examining real life matter more?
When will students not be judged by their grade and their score?
When will we discuss what school reputation means?
When do we be wary of learning through screens?
When will teachers be valued for their role in children’s lives?
When will we interpret curriculum not as a set of rules but as a guide?
When will the school of the future stop being so grey?
When will we just teach the best of today?
When does BYOD or blended learning become features we keep?
When do all these school steps become just one. Giant. Leap?

When? How about now? Because I would wager most of you can validate these questions now. If you can’t, you’re asking the wrong questions.

Work according to values

The following is an edited version of the speech I gave at my farewell from the State Library of Victoria on Friday, which I deviated from quite a bit – and a good lesson that when you have something personally important to say to an audience of colleagues, try to stick to the script as much as possible. Names have not been changed to protect the need to praise 🙂

Roof of the Library dome

“Believe it or not I have been thinking recently about the Library’s core values, and I realized I’d never committed them to memory or learnt to understand them better in the work of the organization. When trying to explain the work we do to groups outside the Library I used to refer to the themes of the Mirror of the World exhibition: inspiration, imagination, exploration, and innovation. I think these are still good triggers, and similar to how I would like share a few reflections about my time at the Library, but aligned to the actual organisational values –

Innovation: this aptly describes my experience of the Learning Services team in a nutshell. Innovation requires you to bring a new perspective to something, to make it do something for which it wasn’t intended to do. It’s a bit like hacking. Of course there is no innovation without risk, so it was great to be empowered in my work to experiment with formats, partners and spaces; taking programs and audiences in new directions. This happened organically through programs like Collection Reflection, XperienceXpo, Listen2Learners, Freeplay, TEDxMelbourne, and of course Outside-In Cinema. Innovation also existed in the work we began to do online, where it was partly trial and error and partly maximising opportunities. I think it’s important to share that innovation is a reputation this Library has established for itself, and I am often asked to explore  these concepts with various audiences, particularly connecting technology with innovation. If the Library wants to heed a bit of advice from my experience, it is that games, and the massive communities that come with them, are the golden ticket for the very things we seek to innovate around.

Collaboration: more than anything this defines a great deal of my work over the last few years. I simply couldn’t list all the organizations, national and international experts, government departments, community groups, businesses, institutions, and schools we have worked with. Ironically it was this work that shaped how we worked – we became shaped by the work from the outside-in, not from the inside-out. What started as a conversation for a way to use Library spaces, our major playing card for dealing into all kinds of collaborative programs, quickly became a working relationship in which the external parties were amazed at the networks, ideas, programs, and resources we could offer beyond what they assumed. I have often told audiences that this is one of the functions of libraries – taking library assumptions and turning them into expectations and anticipation.

Engagement: this gathered momentum each year as networks and programs grew. To be honest for the last two years I have not had to plan a yearly program. I just waited for the flood of eager partners and collaborators to pitch programs and ideas, in the same way thousands of schools expect the Library to be ready when they have a program need. I can put my hand on my heart and say that nothing I did failed – I simply learnt how to make it work better, how to engage audiences and engage networks. One area of engagement I would particularly like to acknowledge is an internal initiative: the creation of SLV Social. As something that grew out of a Shared Leadership project for a desire to build better relationships around the Library, SLV Social has been successful in facilitating internal networks through the introduction of things like Yammer, table tennis tournaments, film nights, staff discounts, new furniture and of course those seasonal BBQs!

Excellence: nobody who works here settles for anything less than excellence. That’s because we are all passionate, knowledgeable, and committed to the work we do. Excellence comes at a price though – it’s takes endless amounts of time, support, and patience. If you take on too much, you put excellence at risk. If you don’t resource what you want to achieve, you put excellence at risk. And if you rush… Well actually sometimes acting swiftly is what it takes to make something excellent. In my opinion the public and our partners really want a responsive, adaptable library.

Respect: it goes without saying that I could not have achieved anything in my time at the Library without the incredible support of people all over the organization. There is such incredible creativity, goodwill, and wisdom around this building. When you’re working with multiple programs and partners and tight deadlines, I always was ready to excuse people for flipping out when I came to them for some support. But they rarely did. Instead they did what they could to help, which is all I ever needed to make something meaningful happen. I do want to acknowledge and pay respect to the amazing work of our Education team: Emma the shining star, Linda the diligent provocateur, Yen the passionate information specialist, as well as the ever expert work of our other team members as casual teaching staff. The team has really excelled in some pretty tight and tough environments over the past 12 months; thank you for being focused and creative. I want to also sincerely thank my co-managers Kelly, Leanne, and Anna – who have been the perfect balance to exploring all kinds of ideas and programs together, as well as some of our past managers like Indra and Paula, for helping me to pave the way. But of course one person I need to thank most dearly is Andrew. I could not asked for a wiser mentor and manager. Often a partner-in-crime in all sorts of crazy and cool schemes to make incredible things happen, we should have claimed the duo of ‘Hamish and Andy’ long before those other guys took off! Thank you Andrew for trusting in me, in my pursuit to make people of all ages genuinely surprised at what a library can do and what a library can be.

Thank you all for coming today, and for the wonderful afternoon tea. I look forward to watching from the outside-in as I explore new opportunities in my career.”




A new transition

Hakuba Japan

I started this blog with a view to sharing thoughts on how people and systems change over time – given the lack of posts, it’s easy to feel that things haven’t worked out. That ideas were unfulfilled.  That family, work, and energy got in the way. Well it’s often not until you look back on something that you realise you were actually in transition.  Recently I came to the conclusion that I had been, which is why I have just resigned from my job at the State Library of Victoria.

I left the world of classroom teaching seven years ago – I almost felt it had eaten so much of my passion away that I might never want to be a teacher again. But after a short break, some deep thinking and reading, some failed interviews, and some side steps in employment, I not only rediscovered my passion for enabling learning, I did it within Australia’s oldest library. I count myself very fortunate that I have often landed in jobs which have had little to guide them, where there was freedom to innovate and personalise, with colleagues who were supportive and ambitious. Rather than follow in foot steps or ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ I have tended to push for transitions which allow for different perspectives, alternative networks, and diverse partnerships.

These are not easy paths, particularly within well established systems like education and libraries. You take your wins when you can, and you make a decision about whether it’s worth having another crack. Ironically these moments of success are the experiences that keep people working in education and libraries for many years. I know every teacher stays in the job because they’re waiting for that next learner to offer them an unexpected moment of heartfelt thanks – those moments when your capacity to help improve another person’s life exceeds what you were given to begin with. I can tell you it’s no different in the library world: libraries are one of society’s great magicians – making one dollar turn into three dollars of value, or one experience turn into a lifetime of interest. That’s what makes them surprising – places where our assumptions are challenged and replaced with anticipation.

My transitions seem to come in shifts of about 7 years; although I’ve never quite seen a full seven. I guess we all reach a point when we realise we could be repeating the same territory, when we think we know what to expect, when we begin to stick to a proven formula. I am at once proud and bashful that I have rarely repeated anything the same way twice – repetition just isn’t in my nature. Surprise and risk give me a guilty thrill. The down side is that it makes predictability hard, planning tricky, and processes fluid rather than rigid. Pick any kind of transition, mental or physical, and you can guarantee that these will be elements of them. This does not discount the incredible importance of practice, experience, and reflection – these are the elements looking to create order and accountability in systems. This is why I think all of us, young or old, are always in transition – we’re just not always aware of whereabouts we are in the process.

I leave one knowledge and information system with an open mind about the next. It scares some people that I have not pinned down what that will be yet. I know what it will be though – something where learning about what’s possible and what’s current matters, where learners are at the centre of the system. A transition to something else…