Staring failure in the face, and avoiding its slap


Learning by doing with Be the change – Cambridge

In my previous blogpost, I ended with the following:

Are you prepared to run the risk of failure in order to reach your potential?

With just under a fortnight to go, and with a big marketing push this week for next week Saturday, I am staring that risk in the face. And it is a frightening place to be. But an exciting one too.

The risk was not selling enough tickets or registering enough people for the free places for the large community action event originally planned. That risk materialised. Hence we’re going ahead with a smaller event – a ‘conversation cafe’ from 1pm with numbers around 50 as the first of a series of events, rather than a single 200+ big gathering as a starter. (See the announcement here).

I failed – and school/academia doesn’t teach you how to deal with failure

On the face of it, I promised X and haven’t been able to deliver X. In a school/education system context, think of it as ‘predicted vs actual grades’. You didn’t get your predicted grades so you failed to get into your chosen university. But who is there to help you pick up the pieces? As far as the system is concerned, they’ve washed their hands of you. There’s no obligation for them to help you after that. A very frightening place for any teenager having been institutionalised by the system to suddenly finding yourself on your own.

In my case though, the whole ‘Be the change – Cambridge’ project isn’t like an exam. It’s much more fluid and flexible than that. Everything that I and those working with me are doing with this are things that the current system would struggle to model. Why? Because we’re doing things that have not been done before. All things digital and social media are creating such pressures on the existing system that teachers can easily find themselves with less knowledge on a specific area than the young people they are teaching.

Adapting to changing circumstances and new information

One principle I adopted several years ago was that I change my opinions when the evidence in front of me changes, or when I go through a new life experience. In the early stages of putting the Be the change – Cambridge project together in mid-2014, there were a significant number of unknowns. These including people’s appetite for what we wanted to achieve, people’s desire to get involved, interest from institutions and the general feasibility of it all. In an exam, you’re tested in things you’re supposed to know or have been taught. In this case, we didn’t have various things at the start.

In terms of changing circumstances this included a growing number of event clashes. The increasing number of events that have been organised and publicised since we settled on our date is astonishing. In terms of new information, this has also included people and organisations saying they would love to get involved, but cannot do the 13th of September because of a pre-existing event.

Cambridge needs a city-wide events co-ordinating unit – ideally run & funded by the local authorities and our universities

I am putting that in the biggest letters I can find to make this point. Furthermore, people and institutions planning/organising events should have in their processes contacting the co-ordinators before finalising dates. Amongst other things it could reduce event clashes where organisers are reaching out to the same audiences.

There are a growing number of events that are now being repeated annually – which I think is splendid! In particular credit to those that have forced the hand of Cambridge University to make it more accessible to the public. During my teens I still have the voice of ‘We don’t normally hire out our facilities if you are not a member’ from one of the colleges when enquiring about an event I wanted to organise. That was as recent as the late 1990s. They’ve come a long way but still have a long way to go.

Me learning more skills – ***lots more*** skills

In my case, it’s with digital video:

  • Being in front of the camera
  • Filming behind the camera
  • Editing

Here’s another batch of voxpop clips about Be the change – Cambridge

In a nutshell, new camcorder and external microphone are a lot better at handling poor light and background noise than smartphone and older camcorder. Furthermore, I’m also using Premiere Pro for editing footage rather than iMovie, the former being far more versatile but also far more complex. It’s not a case of download, cut & paste, tweak sound, export & upload. At the same time, the increase in video & audio quality along with the change of file type has significantly increased the size of files I’m now working with – my poor laptop groaning under the strain!

With the Be the change – Cambridge website, I have taken the plunge going beyond the basics of ‘type and post’ as with this blog. As David said to me, do & learn little and often rather than in big chunks. It means the road travelled is a little big bumpy, but the alternative is a smooth ride before crashing into a steel barrier and getting hurt. At least with a bumpy road you can go back over it relatively easily to smooth things out. Hit the steel barrier and you’re not going anywhere for a long time. This was me with digital video. I was blogging away quite nicely, even though I noticed fewer people engaging or even viewing my blogposts. The steel wall was my fear about getting into digital video. It was only when I did the evening class that I got over it.

So, who’s coming to our conversation cafe on Saturday 13th?

1pm at the Ashcroft Business School, ARU on East Road in Cambridge. See details here. The politicians have reconfirmed, for which I am grateful for. We’ve got over 50 of us confirmed on what will be a chance for many actively interested parties to meet for the first time. We’ll also be looking at who can contribute what for the big gathering in very early 2015 as well as the essentials of how to run what is an evolving project that is generating an increasing amount of interest from a growing number of people and organisations. ‘Stakeholder management’ in this context has a very very different feel to what I was experienced in the public sector. But again, this is learning by doing.



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