Feel the fear…and do it anyway


Trying to give some hope, experience and learning to some current and former students

…Because at the moment the whole world is kicking far too much sand in their faces and it’s really not on. Whether you look at the rise in tuition fees for higher education, the replacement of state funding with student loans for further education from early 20s, persistently high housing and rental prices, the withdrawal of EMA, the persistently high rates of youth unemployment combined with penalising systems of ‘workfare’ that anecdotally at least do not seem to be fit for purpose – let alone the mess that is Job Centre Plus. (This time last year I experienced it for myself for real). To say nothing of the utter failure of the political, employer and teaching establishments to get a grip on our culture of exams that led to the debacle of the GCSEs, our young people are not having it great at the moment.

So…what are you gonna do other than moan about it?

Try something COMPLETELY different.

I’ve got a couple of commissions and events coming up this autumn and feel the need to develop some digital resources for my website to help make delivering them that little bit easier – in particular some digital videos. I’ve been meaning to do these over the summer but weather and health have been up the spout. That and (until now) I’ve not really had an idea of how I want to go about doing this. Just under a year ago I did a brilliant course titled Making videos on a shoestring with the Media Trust. The purpose of that was to go out and make broadcast quality videos. But fear and procrastination put me off – followed by my mental health crisis which is still a huge barrier. Not least continual fatigue.

Although I have experience of the filming and editing processes as a result of that course, I don’t have the level of knowledge I want to make it look as sharp as I would like. So, what do you do in such a situation? Call in the professionals? Well…no. Call in the enthusiasts who need the professional experience – not least for their CVs. That is exactly what I’m doing.

I’ve pulled together a team of recent graduates and school leavers to work on a paid commission to work with me to produce some short digital video clips that cover the basics of social media amongst other things. This will allow me to refer to them for future training commissions and workshops, and for clients to refer back to them once workshops are over. Because I stand to benefit commercially from this, it’s only fair that those taking part are paid – and more than the minimum wage. [Yeah – take that w4MP.com advertisers!!!]

But that’s not the only thing they’ll get. I’m getting them to work on this using some of the basic project management tools – introducing them to the concept of project management. Why? Because so many employers now are demanding experience of formal project management. Of course it won’t be anywhere near the detail of some of the things that I have done in the civil service, but being able to describe to prospective employers how you worked with a team using the various project management tools at various times, as well as managing various aspects of the production process (for a paid contract) I hope will make the difference job-hunting wise to at least some of them.

It’s not just the “I get the digital videos and they get the money and experience” exchange though. I actually want to test this idea as a model and for all of us to have fun doing so in the process. That’s what got many of us using social media in the first place. I don’t blog here primarily because I think it might lead to future commissions or employment. I do it for fun. Ditto tweeting through Puffles. After all, why would I wander around Cambridge, London and other parts of the country carrying a big dragon fairy with me?

And people respond

I was with friends from the Government Digital Service earlier this month for a summer gathering. One of the people there asked me why I had turned up with a big cuddly toy. I tried to explain the concept of Puffles & felt I wasn’t getting very far. Then Dafydd Vaughan rocked up – who I’d met at Teacamp.

“Oh hi Puffles!”

…he said to the big cuddly dragon sitting on the bar.

“How do you know Puffles?”

“Everybody knows Puffles!”

It was the same at the Cambridge Beer Festival where I was with my brother and his brother-in-law – and friends. A number of people who I’d not met came up to the table we were at, saying

“Now this must be Puffles!”

Saying “Thank you” to long time followers

With this first group of people, nearly all that are taking part are people who have been following and interacting with Puffles for nearly two years. This in itself brings huge benefits for me in bringing them on board. They have seen how my social media profile has evolved over that time – as well as my career and life fortunes too. Thus they have an understanding of both the ‘world’ I live in and the pressures and challenges I face in a level of detail far greater than any professional consultant (not engaging) would ever have. Amongst other things, it saves time explaining things.

It also strengthens bonds between people too

One of the things I still struggle with today is a lack of focus – though things have become more and more clear in recent weeks. This is because the various gatherings, events and meetings that I have been going to have been fleshing out a whole series of problems and challenges that I feel need to be taken on. Whether it’s a case of coming away feeling “This is not right” or “They are doing great stuff but it could be so much greater!” I’ve developed a burning sense of wanting to help improve things. In the case for the team that I have assembled, it’s a case of giving them something significant on their CV while plugging some significant gaps in my offer on all things digital and social media.

It’s not just me who benefits from this focus too. My hope is that by formally commissioning the team with a clear set of problems to solve and a clear set of outputs – i.e. the digital videos – it will give us all that level of self-discipline that perhaps some of us have been lacking of late. On my part the focus will be to ensure that I get as much out of the time that I have with the team because I’m paying them for their time and services. On their part there’s not only the ‘duty’ to deliver the contract, but also seizing the opportunity to present themselves, their work and their skills to a much wider audience than at present.

Doing this scares the hell out of me

No – really – it does. I’ve never done anything like this before. There are far easier (and possibly more expensive) ways of trying to achieve the improvements to my skills and the resources on my website…but that would be a kop out. I’ve chosen this way because:

  • My desire to make a difference for other people is greater than my fear of everything going badly wrong
  • I’m treading on new ground commissioning and managing a team. (My previous work has been predominantly with individuals)
  • The team I have assembled is not one with years of experience in a professional field – hence there will be a lot of learning as we go along
  • The initial bonds of friendship have already been established via social media – we don’t have to go through an awkward phase of ‘team forming’
  • The incentive for all of us to make this project work – and to produce a superb set of short digital video clips goes far beyond the financial
  • If this model of delivery works, I can expand it for future things that I would like to work on – whether further digital video production, skills shares or social gatherings
  • It’s an opportunity for social media types in Cambridge to meet some of my social media followers from outside the City.

There’ll be lots of free time during the evening too – so if people are in Cambridge on the week beginning 10 September, please let me know. 


One thought on “Feel the fear…and do it anyway

  1. Thanks for this beautifully written post – it’s given me so much energy. In this era where everyone is trying to cream off students & young people looking for work by getting them to work for free, it’s really admirable that you’re paying them the minimum wage and have thought about the type of skills you could share that can good really help them find a job in the future. Coincidentally I was just asked to attend a difficult meeting between a colleague and a student who’s working for them on a project and your post made me reflect on how stressed I used to be when meeting my supervisor during my internship at university..and how this student in front of me must be feeling 😉

    On a separate note, do you see the stuff you’re doing with the students as part of the Cambridge L!VE “ecosystem” as sometimes projects create communities of purpose (and clearly you’re already doing this with your team of students)?

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