Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Metrics and Meaning; Technique and Content.

I've been busy moving house this last few weeks, which has presented its own modest opportunities to 'thrive in the face of adversity.' Luckily for me, the adversity is only of the inconvenient and transitory form, but it has meant that I've felt a little out-of-step with our plans here this month.

Yesterday, Zoƫ and I had a day blocked out to catch up on this stuff, and alongside a lot of very practical planning stuff, we also managed to begin think through a few more interesting angles on the meaning of succeeding. One of these - which really resonated with me - was the observation that 'default,' everyday understandings of success are very often situated at one end of a polarity, with metrics and technique at one end of succeeding (how much money, how many skills, etc.) and meaning and content (defining success in our own terms, for its intrinsic value, or in terms of what it permits us to communicate).

I think this is brilliantly illustrated in these two contrasting clips from the BBC's 'Listening project.' In one, Miguel and John discuss the financial implications of their transition to what seems to be construed as a 'state of success' (albeit a vulnerable one).

In the other, which is misleadingly billed as the story of two musicians who have 'not known success,' Duncan and Paul describe how - on their own terms - they consider their musical work to have been rewarding and successful.

This led us to thinking about competency (artistic technique; professional skills in healthcare; leadership and its qualities; the collaborative 'joint action' aspect of skilled enactment; evidence-based training and change) as a dimension of success, and as one which links the interests of several of our proposed collaborators for the theme. I experience a bit of 'de-skilling' when I think about this. I find the topic fascinating, but will need to rely heavily on the expertise of collaborators in order to explore it meaningfully. It seems to be the nature of this scheme that its interdisciplinary and interconnected nature takes one seemlessly into the realms of topics which are *just outside* of one's comfort zone. I expect that this is a good thing, really, but it will be good to deal with this in a team context. A little bit of time and space for reflection goes a long towards coping with the twin perils of Discomfort and Complacency!

The other thing I wanted to post, because of Matteo's interests in Lord Owen's ideas about character, leadership and hubris, does link - tenuously perhaps - to this idea of knowing your limits, and extending them cautiously. David Owen gave a very interesting interview to Radio 4's Reflections programme, last week. I was struck by a few things: the non-partisan nature of his judgements about important people in his career; the strength of feeling still evident in Owen's account of his departure from the Labour party, and the difficulty that Owen had in responding to his interviewer's question about the consequences of that departure for his own political career.

I wonder if there is some merit in thinking about the motif of the 'road not taken,' in relation to the meaning of success. Thinking back to those two co-constructed narratives from the Listening Project, I notice that some of the more emotive content settles around the 'what if?' and 'if only?' moments. There's a sense of precariousness and transience to many of our experiences of 'doing well.'

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