Sunday, 28 February 2016

A Travelling Parrot and the Joy of Coffee and Conversations

I have a parrot called Billy. He loves to whistle the blues, dance to music, imitate nearly every noise he hears, laugh at comedy on the TV and talking in the voices of familiar people around him. He can be context perfect when it comes to expressing an opinion, and he has many of those. When we go to Scotland he likes to sit on the back seat with Cello (the dog) and is quite content to watch the world go by with just the occasional whistle or ‘ye gods did you see that’ or 'by eck!' type utterance. The journey usually take between 2.5 – 3 hours, last Sunday it took nearly 8 hours.

There was an accident on the M6 which sadly resulted in the death and serious injury of a number of people. The accident brought the motorway to a standstill. After sitting on the motorway for 2 hours we started a very slow stop/start journey off the motorway and on to the backroads more or less until we could re-join the motorway the other side of Kendal. Billy was not impressed and kept up a cry of ‘I despair’ until it became dark and he tucked his head under his wing and had a snooze. W read her Kindle, as I mentally ticked off all the jobs I now couldn’t do in preparation for the following busy week. Of course it was very frustrating just sitting there as the hours ticked by, but of course the inconvenience we were experiencing was nothing to the possible life changing consequences facing those directly involved in the accident.
The only silver lining in this tiring travel experience was that after many disappointments and luke warm cups of coffee, W had invested in an authentic Themos flask, and on its first outing, this wonderful invention kept us in hot coffee for several hours. I was very grateful for the refreshing sips of coffee, more so because I knew it was good for me. Here are some examples. Only last week I read of a recent study, led by Dr Oliver Kennedy of Southampton University, which reported that drinking 2 or more cups of coffee a day could significantly reduce the health risks associated with drinking too much alcohol.

Cirrhosis of the liver is a disease that kill 1000s of people in the UK and more than 1m people worldwide every year. The risk of developing cirrhosis was found to be reduced by 22% with 1 cup of coffee, 43% with 2 cups and 65% with 4 or more cups compared to those who drank no coffee at all. In a different study published last year it was also noted that for men, drinking just 2 cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of erectile dysfunction by 42% compared to men who didn’t drink coffee. Care needs to be taken though as the research also showed that the results (and the affected member) dipped slightly (to 39%) for men drinking 3 cups a day. 

Women can also benefit as well. Research carried out by Dr Fay Guarraci from Southwestern University in Texas suggested that coffee can boost women’s sex drive. She found that drinking coffee stimulated the parts of the brain that signal sexual arousal – although the finding appeared to only apply to women who did not drink coffee regularly. And Professor Ichiro Kawachi from Harvard University undertook a study that monitored the mental health of 86000 nurses over a period of 10 years. He found that those nurses who regularly drank between 2 – 4 cups of coffee a day were significantly less likely to have committed suicide. 

However, my best cup of coffee last week was the one I had after enjoying a great dinner with Professor Sir Walter Bodmer, the internationally renowned human geneticist. He had come to the University to open our new mega laboratories. His work on human genetics in particular is seminal, and he is credited with the idea of the Human Genome Project. There can be few scientists whose contributions to knowledge crosses so many different fields of science. At 80 years old, he had many stories to tell, and his humorous, confident and knowledgeable approach to life was an inspiration, it was a real privilege to share a meal and a good cup of coffee with him.  

Sunday, 21 February 2016

A Question of Sport, A Winning Wine but no Tea with your Dundee Cake

One of the most excruciating moments of life came when at the last moment I was asked to be part of an inter-hospital Quiz Team. It was a long time ago. Now pub quiz’s had never been a big part of my life but for the sake of the hospital team, I stepped up to the mark. Things went better than I had expected until we got to the last question, a tie-breaker question – ‘which team won the 1966 World Cup?’. I had no idea who had won and looking around at the increasingly panic stricken faces of my team mates I just wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. We didn’t win the competition.

Unlike last night. Last night I was up at the House in Scotland and it was our cheese and wine event in the village hall. I was one of 5 people asked to present a wine, costing less than £6 a bottle. I presented a Sauvignon Blanc called Fern Bay, which comes from grapes grown in the Hawke Bay region of New Zealand. W and I like the wine for its gooseberry flavour and because it reminds us of 2 of our children and 4 of our grandchildren who live in Hastings, one of 2 towns in the area famous for its Art-Deco architecture and fine wines. It was a great presentation (even if I say so myself) and it was one competition I 'won' hands down, 

However, I wasn’t and haven't been asked to take part in any more quiz nights until many years ago when I was courting W – and then it was by accident. We were in a pub having a quiet drink when we were asked if we wanted to participate – previous experience not withstanding I said yes, and although we didn’t win, it was actually good fun. I can’t recall now if there were any sports questions or not, but if they had been I am not sure I would have been any better at answering them than the World Cup question. 

Sport and I don’t mix. Yes I do like the big occasion events, or I can get caught up in the public support of something like the Women’s Curling Team winning the Gold medal at the 2002 winter Olympics. So I have been surprised at how interested I have become in finding out about the many sports related activities there are across the University. One of the exciting things about my new role at the University has been meeting so many new people, and so many of these new people are working on projects related to sport – and they are all people passionate about their particular sport or sporting area.

As well as the obvious football connections with Manchester, we have colleagues and sportspeople from basketball, athletics, cycling, squash all making a contribution. We have colleagues who are academic advisors to the next World Cup and the next Olympics. We have sports scientist, sports psychologists and sports business colleagues.  The Salford University Students Union has over 40 different sports clubs, with everything from archery through to fencing, surfing, football, ninjutsu, mountaineering, horse riding, karting and wrestling.  There is plenty to think about in terms of developing a possible sports focused Industry Collaborative Zone (ICZ).

There also appears to be plenty to think about when health and sports come together. Last week I picked up on the story of the former NHS Cumbria Chief Executive (Nigel Maguire) and his campaign to stop using plastic playing fields after his son developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The conjecture is that the rubber pellets (often made from old car tyres) which are added to the 3G pitches to give them bounce, maybe connected to cancer clusters. It is feared that the pellets maybe accidentally swallowed, or become lodged in open cuts to arms and legs and cause illness as a consequence.

However, thousands or amateur and professional athletes play on all weather surfaces every week, and while in the US it’s alleged that hundreds of young footballers who regularly played on artificial pitches went on to develop cancers, the producers of these pitches strongly refute there is a connection. But some studies have found that the rubber pellets do contain substances such as mercury, lead, arsenic and other carcinogens. Professor Andrew Watterson from the University of Stirling notes that there are no good epidemiological studies available on cancers linked to football players and 3G pitches. However there is study underway which is due to finish in 2018 – so watch this space. 

The other story that caught my eye also came from a university in Scotland, this time Dundee University. Apparently that are so cash-strapped (forecasting a £10m deficit by 2017) that staff have been told they can no longer order tea, coffee or biscuits for meetings. The ban on tea break supplies was contained in an email telling staff they should refrain from ordering stationery, office supplies, furniture, IT supplies and so on. My heart went out to Elaine Plenderleith, the administrator who wrote the email and her 15 minutes of unwanted fame.   

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Putting on a rucksack full of aspirations in order to learn how to ride a Paperless Tiger!

I like to travel light. I have absolute dislike of waiting for my luggage to be found and off loaded from the plane. On more than one occasion in the past I’ve had my luggage go missing and had to deal with all the hassle that involves. So for a number of years now, I’ve used a small rucksack that is capable of carrying all my mobile devices, an overnight toiletries bag, a change of clothes and the occasional present and/or bottle of wine and M&S sandwiches. Usually this system works well and only becomes a problem when I have to carry paper versions of reports, minutes and so on. Then the rucksack can become very heavy – or I end up having to take two bags – which obviously defeats the objective of traveling light.

Experience has taught me that one needs to take care with such a system. Last week I came across a very grey looking Robert, clearly in pain and in need of some attention. Robert had worked most of his life for BT (there are other telephone services providers available). He had for years carried a computer bag, with what would have been a chunky and heavy lap-top. Robert favoured one side when carrying his case. Over many years this had resulted in problems in his shoulder, neck and back requiring physiotherapy. I saw him immediately after he had received one of his treatments, which had been painful, very uncomfortable and left him in a great deal of pain.

Whilst it was going to be a busy day of meetings to get through, it was clear that Robert wasn’t going to be able to take part in any of them. We got someone to take him home, and as I write this he is well and on the mend. The second meeting of my day was the Quality and Safety Committee, a committee I chair. Although electronic versions of the meeting papers are available, I do take paper based copies as I make comments on these, which I find easier to refer too in the meeting rather than reading ‘track changed comments’ on the computer screen.

So this means my rucksack gets temporarily filled with a massive sheaf of papers. I say temporarily as I have long used my car as an office. I am able to ‘file’ paper work there, unlike my bricks and mortar office. I’m into week 2 of my new job and already my new office resolution of becoming a paperless worker is beginning to waver. It’s proving difficult to steer clear of using paper to record, track, or capture information. My new (recycled desk) is already displaying a growing mountain of paper. I am going to have to try harder as I refused to have a new (recycled) filing cabinet, and apart from my car, I actually have nowhere to ‘hide’ the growing mound of papers.

The trouble is that paper based information is just so seductive and even without considering the content of the words, it is hugely reassuring to print off a report, paper or whatever. As in the example above, sometimes it’s easier to use a version than an ‘on screen’ format. Paper is a tangible artefact, and for my generation, certainly provides a high degree of ontological security and of course can often be visually pleasing to look at.

However, it’s estimated that the average office worker generates nearly a kilogram of paper each day (about the weight of a cheap bottle of wine). That much paper cost industry dearly. So it’s not surprising that organisations have long looked at ways of reducing this cost. 30 years ago it was a software company ‘Micronet’ that first used the term ‘the paperless office’,  but as late as last year research suggested that only 50% of small/medium sized business believed they could go paperless by the end of 2015.

The Department of Health and NHS England obviously know something different. Last week they pledged funding to create a paper-free NHS. £1.8bn to get rid of ‘old technology’ (which could include folk like me); £1bn on cyber security and data consent; £750m to transform out-of-hospital care, medicines and digitise social care and emergency care; and nearly £400m to build a new website – NHS-UK - aiming to develop apps and ensure wi-fi is provided free. 14 years ago, the then Labour government spent some £10bn on developing electronic patient records – but the programme was eventually scrapped after it proved impossible to make any progress.

Creating a paper free office? Actually, it may well already be a redundant aspiration. The 20-something generation (the so called millennial's) is already influencing the way the world turns. They would rather go on a good holiday than save money for their pension. Instability is at the core of the millennial psyche – they don’t want to own stuff (most can’t afford to anyway). More importantly perhaps for the office of the future, is the notion that the millennial are ‘digital natives’ – people who grew up on the internet and want to be able to do anything and everything online, and on demand. And maybe in such a world there is no longer a place for rucksacks, whether these are large of small. However, on Valentines Day it is still lovely to get a proper card (or 2) rather than an e-card pinging into your phone or computer.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

A Naked Intrepreneur’s Ambitions Revealed?

I am just in from celebrating Doug (66) and Lisa (70) getting married. Its a wonderful thing for 2 people to find love and happiness and it felt a privilege to be part of their great day. My legs and hips are telling me that 4 hours  eating, drinking, dancing and making merry is possibly not a good thing to be doing at my age. But having raised a glass to their future, I am also raising one to mine! Welcome to the new look first blog, posted after the initial week in my new role at the University. 

It was an interesting week. For the first time in a long time, I had momentary pauses in my working day, pauses where I have sat and wondered what it was I should be doing next. There were busy moments however, and I got to meet lots of people, many for the first time, something I am reflecting on as I slowly acclimatise to a new role in what should have been a familiar institutional environment. Pleasingly many of the conversations have been constructive, with much enthusiasm and interest in what the plans might be for taking forward the ICZ programme of work.

Everyone I've met, without exception has asked how I would best describe what an ICZ is and how would this programme be any different from the kind of things we had been doing in the 7 Schools across the University up to now. It’s a fair question and good question to ask. ICZs are the number one (and only) University strategic priority, so it’s a question that needs to be answered. For me, and at one level, it’s a relatively easy question to answer. An ICZ can be both a tangible organisational entity and a heuristic device. This is a place I have been before.

Way back in 2007, one of the first things I had to do as a newly appointed Head of School was to produce a Self Evaluation Document (SED) as part of a quinquennial review process. In the Executive Summary I proudly declared that our 10 year ambition for the School was to create an Institute of Nursing. The assertion caused great consternation in the ranks of the very conservative, traditional, largely nescinet and performance orientated university managerial hierarchy of the time. Cries of ‘it can't be done’, ‘it won’t be allowed’, ‘it shouldn’t be allowed‘ and ‘who does he think he is’ grew into a raucous cacophony of condemnation and derision.

In response I drew upon the Kejserens nye Klaeder defence in declaring the Institute to be a heuristic device. Back then the Kejserens nye Klaeder defence worked as my challengers and detractors didn’t know what a heuristic was and such ignorance was hard to admit to. They also came from a generation where a Google search was equally meaningless. So eventually there was a great deal of enthusiastic agreement with my assertion and the review was praised and passed with flying colours. By the time a metaphorical little child observed that the Institute of Nursing was naked, the School was already motoring at speed and we never looked back.

Of course that was nearly a decade ago and my reasoning in using heuristics as a way of beginning to unpack the concept of ICZs is different. But, way back in 2007, the Schools ambitions were used to support and guide our creative approaches to learning, support the professional development of colleagues, and increase our research scope and capabilities. We were able to do so against a contextual backdrop that was recognisable and meaningful to others across the University, and to colleagues and stakeholders on the national and international stage.

Likewise our 4 ICZs will have their own contextual backdrop: Sport; Health and Wellbeing; Creative and Digital; Engineering and Environment. Each ICZ will provide a physical and or virtual place and space for our University colleagues and students to work, play and simply be with others from a wide range of external organisations. The only criteria is that all those who come together in these spaces, take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation, and are relentless big thinkers, dreamers and doers.  

Last week, I started the process of assembling a group of people to help shape, support and facilitate our ICZ strategic ambitions. This is a group who will form the Programme Board. They won’t be the usual suspects - I will find other ways to engage with such people. No I have someone different in mind. I am after the intrepreneur, the thought leader, and those comfortable with promoting disruptive change. Thankfully, there are many such people across the University and I am really looking forward to working with them in co-creating a very different future.