Sunday, 25 September 2016

In a very enjoyable weekend I wonder if it’s possible to get any satisfaction

I am so enjoying this weekend. Not only did some of my grandchildren have a sleep over, help build a wooden gate, and get the garden ready for autumn, but BBC 4 allowed 72 year old Keith Richard to curate their entire weekend programmes – something that’s been called, Keith Richards Lost Weekend. Now for all you younger readers of this blog, Keith Richards is a founding member of the internationally renowned rock group the Rolling Stones. Along with Mick Jagger he wrote some of the best known rock songs of all time. The band still play.

He is a former heroin addict and still chain smokes to this day. But he has an irascible sense of humour, is extremely well-read and erudite. His style of presentation was beautifully captured by Chrissie H on Twitter who pondered; 'you know that caterpillar smoking on the mushroom in Alice in Wonderland…' And it's has been a wonderful experience to sit and listen to his memories, and views on the world. These are often straightforward and yet simultaneously complex. Only Keith Richards could want to be famously anonymous. He doesn't own a computer or phone (but did admit to employing others who do), although he does own over 3000 guitars.

For someone of my age the sound track for both nights has been amazing. It has been a fascinating reminder of the challenging social history that has evolved during my life time. Listening to this and his life story brought back so many personal memories. Keith Richards was born just over 10 years before I was and although a great deal can happen in 10 years his account of his early life experiences very much reflected mine, with everything from Saturday morning pictures (cinema), the Readers Digest, to Sunday School, and then later, the discovery of guitars, rock music, smoking, drinking and of course, girls. Hedonism was all.

Keith Richards was born in 1943 so technically he was a Pre-Baby Boomer. Baby Boomers like myself, were those born between 1946 and 1964. Of course the 1960s were said to be a period of great cultural change, which in some ways they were. Whilst generational culture shifts do occur, every generation has basically the same set of aims; living a fulfilling life, earning a living, pursuing a vocation, living in relationships with family, friends and the communities where these relationships are to be found. Arguably these basics of life don’t change much from generation to generation.

However, whilst these ambitions might be the same, the way different generations strive to achieve these goals can shift radically and rapidly. Technology is now all. The different generations (the boundaries of which are rather arbitrary) are usually understood as being the Baby Boomers -those born between 1946 and 1964; Generation X – those born 1965 and 1980; Generation Y (or the so called millennials) who were born between 1981 and 1997; and the latest kids on the block, Generation Z (or the so called iGen or centennials), all of whom were born between 1998 and today. Of note for baby boomers like me is that by 2020, Generation Y and Generation Z will make up nearly 60% of the global workforce.

This fact featured twice for me last week. Monday I was at an annual strategic planning day with colleagues from the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust. Tuesday was the regular VC Executive Team meeting at which our Campus Framework was presented, which included discussions around our plans for a digitally enabled University. In both these meetings the possible expectations of Generation Z (the first true digital natives) formed a central plank of our discussions.

Why, you might ask… Well the majority of the Generation Z would rather lose their sense of smell than their connected devices. They would rather do without good plumbing than good Wi-Fi, over 40% of them spend more time interacting with their smart phone than anything else (which includes their family) and if you think that currently children and young people get their first smartphones at age 10 and the smartphone population usage in developed economies is now above 90%, it's clear we need to find a different way of connecting.  They care less about the getting their hands on the latest fashion than getting a good deal. Experiences rather than accumulating more stuff is what turns them on. Critically, for us baby boomers and the generations yet to come, is that connectivity and social integration is all.

As educationalists and service providers we need to carefully consider what Keith Richard once said so well when we think about our students and colleagues:

'When I’m driving in my car
And a man comes on the radio
He’s telling me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can’t get no satisfaction
Hey, hey that what I say,
I can’t get no satisfaction'

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Business Cases, Suitcases, and Conference Case studies: All in a week’s work for this Professor

Last week's travel included Scotland, Manchester, London and Prague. It was a full on week, productive, poignant and pleasurable. Increasingly these days I find leaving the House in Scotland at the end of the weekend a real wrench. But with 5 children, 9 grandchildren, a dog and parrot needs must, and there are still 865 days left until 31st Jan 2019. That equates to 74,736,000 seconds, which by the time you have finished reading this blog will be reduced by a further 414 seconds. If you are reading this on Dave, I may have already retired.

Well Manchester was of course a day at the University, which was a very productive day. The ICZ Business Case referred to in last week's blog had reached a stage of maturity where it was possible to be able to start writing the Executive Summary. Whilst the process of co-creation and co-production has provided some very rich narrative and innovative ideas, it’s also a process that is quite difficult to lead. Fortunately, I am blessed in working alongside the 'Jen and Rachel' team. Although they consistently make what we do look so effortlessly easy, their sheer hard work is much appreciated!

Tuesday I was down in London and attending the regular NMC Thought Leaders Group. The discussion was successful and progress continues to be made on the development of new standards for the education and preparation of future graduate nurses. The only blight on the day were the problems caused by a huge storm over the North West of England which resulted in long delays. So my train journey back to Manchester took nearly 6 hours rather than the normal 2 hours! Unfortunately, Virgin trains also ran out of G&T after hour 3.

Wednesday to Friday was spent in Prague at the 5th European Conference on Mental Health. I have supported this conference since its inception in 2010, when the conference was held in Helsinki. Prague is one of my favourite cities and I have visited many times. As well as presenting a couple of papers I also chaired one of the concurrent sessions. It was entitled Sexuality and Mental Health and whilst all the papers presented were interesting it was the last one that really caught my attention. It was entitled: Old and Sexy; Nurses knowledge and attitudes as possible mediating factors on the mental health of sexually active Home Care residents.

No it wasn’t about Rod Stewart, as in Do you think I’m [old and] sexy, which lots of folk do, it was a paper about the dilemmas in reconciling individual choice and desire in older age with societal norms and expectations. The presenter succinctly and humorously illustrated these dilemmas in the notion of there being no 69 after 69. The paper recognised that the response of care givers to these often complex issues can be difficult, and made more so where someone living with dementia is being cared for in a residential care setting.

The conference was jam packed with really good papers and presentations. One of the key note presentations was by Arman Alizad, an Iranian-Finnish master tailor, fashion columnist and TV personality. He was a larger than life character who was passionate about confronting stigma and discrimination, poverty and abuse head on. His passion has taken him all over the world and the films he makes of these encounters are currently being shown in over 100 countries around the world. His talk was illustrated with stories of how young women triumphed in the very closed and male dominated society that is the Eagle Hunters of Mongolia; how street children in Cambodia were given the freedom brought about by education; and how it was possible to free young people from the life shortening prison gangs of Manila.

It was a fascinating and poignant collection of stories and collectively they had resulted in Arman's comforting and familiar black and white view of the world being replaced by a challenging greyness in his understanding of why people behave in the way they do. If I had wanted to see a really good example of unconditional positive regard in action I couldn’t have chosen a better way to do so. If you haven't seen any of his work Google him and be prepared to have your sense of the world challenged!  

The conference was organised around 2 long days. Unfortunately there was very little time for sight-seeing in what has to be one of the most romantic and evocative cities in the world. However, the conference dinner was held in a the beautiful 17th century Baroque Palace in the heart of  Prague Old Town, now converted into a luxurious hotel (bed and breakfast EUR 450). Dinner was outside in the hotels beautiful gardens and the food and company was excellent. What also caught my eye was the precision serving of food to the table and the removal of plates and so on after each course was finished. A small team would approach the table and on the nod of the team leader every plate would be placed on the table in a synchronised silent movement, they would take a step to the left and serve the remaining guests in a similar fashion. 

Later today I am off to a local Manchester hostelry, where unlike the Prague hotel, as far as I know Madonna and BeyoncĂ© haven’t stayed, and where I don’t expect there will be precision serving of the food or food of the same quality. What I am assured of though is the company will be superb. One of my wonderful grandchildren, Evie, who was 9 last week, is celebrating her birthday and I am absolutely sure we will have a great time together!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Gin, Great Colleagues and Technology; Creating a Brave New World

Last week I was on holiday. Well that's what it said in my calendar anyway. Monday I worked from home in the morning before attending the University Management Team monthly meeting in the afternoon. Tuesday and Wednesday I spent at the wonderful Stanley House Hotel. If you live in the North West and you want somewhere to get married, have a fabulous meal or even sip a superb G&T, Stanley House is the place for you. Apart from the G&T element, I however, wasn’t really in the market for anything else. I was there with 21 of my University colleagues.

Yes I know how to have a great holiday. It's all about sharing. Seriously, I was happy (although W wasn't) to forgo 2 days of my annual leave to work with my colleagues because we were doing something quite unique in my experience. The 2 days were aimed at getting to the final first draft of our Business Case for the establishment and development of the University of Salford's first 4 Industry Collaboration Zones (ICZ). The creation of our ICZs is the University's single strategic priority.The aim of ICZs is to unite staff, students, industry and communities in a multi-disciplinary, technology enabled environment in the pursuit of the shared goals of knowledge, learning and innovation.

What made the development of the Business Case different was not that their creation will bring about culture change, but establishing the ICZs will require completely new philosophies of practice, different pedagogies and new ways of working that fundamentally re-aligns and re-defines all our activity. In my MBA days I would describe this as a 'paradigm shift', these days as 'positively disruptive' - being part of the team making this happen was very exciting. In a week that saw the World Technology Universities Network being launched, I read about much change promised through the development of new technologies.  

Such technologies underpin the knowledge based economy created through high-quality research and a graduate workforce equipped with a range of new skills. Indeed I saw this in action with my colleagues who were able to use their lap-tops, tablets and phones to effortlessly exchange information, working drafts and to do so with people in the room as well as colleagues geographically distant. A number of my colleagues appeared to be working just using their mobile phones! And last week saw several phone stories – there was Samsung’s Galaxy phone with its exploding battery, and of course the launch of the Apple iPhone 7. Priced at £599, I doubt if I will be getting one despite the fantastic advertisement (see here).

Partly there is something about an organisation that spends £170 making a phone that they sell for £599, (which is how they made £36.5 billion in profit last year) - that and allegations of child labour being involved in the manufacture of the batteries they use. But I guess it's also partly because I don't know what such a phone is truly capable of and I am not sure I would use most of the technology that’s now available.  I do use my phone for taking photos, sending and receiving emails, texts and phone calls, but I don't play music or games on it, and if I need to know the time or directions to where I want to go, I will ask a policeman.

I understand there are a growing number of apps that can run even when your phone or tablet is off-line, and although I must confess to not knowing quite how that will change the world, I am assured by colleagues who do know, that it will. Going slightly against the trend in technological innovation, last week the UK NHS CEO, Simon Stevens appearing at the Health Expo 2016 extolling the benefits of wearable technology to improve access to health care, a theme echoed by the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt. He wants us to increasingly use NHS approved apps to both consult on health problems (bye bye long waits at your GP or A+E) and to update your personal health record - so welcome to Huxley's Brave New World! 

Huxley's book of the same title was first published in 1932 and is set in the world of 2540. For younger readers who have not read it, it's a challenging view into the future – a future where technology has made sex a recreational rather than reproductive activity, learning occurs at night (when we are asleep)  and society is 'controlled' through sophisticated mass psychological conditioning. People live in perfect health until they are 60 (which is when they die) but that's not a problem either. Hmm, yes I didn't really understand it either when I first read the book in 1970. I'm just grateful, that like Tuesday and Wednesday last week, I have such a great group of colleagues to help me find the way to create a different future!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

A touch of the vapours thinking about Becks risk society

It had to happen sooner or later. A researcher somewhere claiming their research shows that smoking e-cigarettes (vaping) is bad for your health. In the UK last year, Public Health England firmly endorsed vaping, claiming that it was 95% safer than smoking tobacco. They said that GPs would be able to prescribe e-cigarettes to people trying to give up smoking. However as I write this blog, the Smoke Free NHS web site still says, to date there are no 'medically licenced' e-cigarette products available. Interestingly, in a GP Online poll conducted in July this year, over 70% of GPs said that e-cigarettes should not be prescribed to smokers wanting to quit – and most doctors have concerns about the unknown long term safety of vaping.

The research, by Professor Charalambos Vlachopulos, (University of Athens Medical School) was presented last week at the European Society for Cardiology conference, held in Rome. The study was small scale (involving only 24 participants) but even so, the results demonstrated that vaping had a detrimental impact on the aorta, the main artery which carries and distributes oxygen rich blood cells to the rest of the our arteries. The research showed that vaping makes the aorta stiff and reduces its ability to function. It has the same damaging effect on the aorta as smoking a tobacco based cigarette.

But in fairness, whilst arterial stiffing is the best indicator of possible cardiac problems, and therefore attention should be paid to it, Professor Vlachopulos also acknowledged that other things can have the same effect, coffee, nicotine patches, some foods, sex and so on, although these effects tend to be transitory and short-lived.

And that‘s the rub. Such arguments have often been used by those who smoke as justification for not giving up. Of the top 7 reasons people give; the damage is done; I'll gain weight; I'll get stressed; it's not the right time to quit smoking; it will ruin my social life; smoking looks good; I can't quit because I'm addicted – only the last can be underpinned by research evidence, based on work undertaken around the physiological and psychological aspects of addiction. The rest are fluff, self-serving justifications for not taking any action. If that sounds harsh, research commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) shows that the total cost to society in England of smoking is £13.9 billion a year (see here). To put that in context, remember that flawed BREXIT bus advert showing the figure of £350 million a week going to the EU – well at just gone 05.00 this morning, and after celebrating a friends 60th birthday last night, I work that out to be some £1.82 billion a year. I am puzzled as to why the BREXIT figure stirred up so much public debate yet the ASH figure raises barely a murmur.  

We don’t yet know the costs to society of e-cigarettes. We do know that there are some 2.2 million people a year in the UK who regularly use e-cigarettes. We also know that the 3 main ingredients in e-cigarettes are Nicotine, Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerin. Vegetable Glycerin obviously comes from vegetables and as such, is thought to be safe, but our lungs are not naturally made to deal with such quantities of this chemical entering our airways. It leaves a thick filmy substance when it’s left to settle onto a surface – not convinced? well get someone who uses e-cigarettes to blow some of the vapour onto a clean smooth surface a few times and then run a clean finger through where the vapour has settled. Most e-cigarettes, and the vaping liquids originate from Chinese manufactures – who of course don’t always conform to the exacting safety standards seen in Europe. 

Some US studies have reported that young people who smoke e-cigarettes will be 6 times more likely to go on to smoke tobacco based cigarettes. Of course such findings might simply reflect that some young people are more or less risk adverse than others, and those that have 'experimented' with e-cigarettes would have experimented with tobacco in any event. The late and great German sociologist, Ulrich Beck noted that whilst mankind had always been exposed to a level of risk such as natural disasters, increasingly modern society exposes us all to what he described as 'manufactured risks'. This is characterised by the way we are involved in both creating and mitigating the risk. So whilst this new research on the possible dangers of e-cigarettes requires further studies to confirm or disprove the claims, it’s a good example of the Beck's risk society concept. It gives rise to the question of why so many people are so ready to expose themselves to such an unknown risk in order to avoid the well-known risks of tobacco cigarette smoking? Just stop is what I say, and for those of you trying to do just that, keep going, the rewards will be worth it!