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!