piatok 20. júna 2014

Graduation a hostia

Hugh Masekela, 21 icons
Graduation je niečo ako promócie. Formálne taláre, hostia, rodičia, výborne pripravený program. A neskôr aj radosť a slzy, lebo ráno už čaká lietadlo domov. Prvý rečník podujatia bol Ashish Thakkar, riaditeľ Mara Group.
Thakkar, wikipedia. Podľa vlastných slov je vždy zle oblečený: dnes mal rifle.
Thakkar začínal v Ugande od nuly s pôžičkou 5000$: skladal a predával počítače spolužiakom. Dnes má jeho majetok hodnotu 230 miliónov. Thakkar sa dnes podelil o zaujímavú myšlienku: If you do good, you'll do well. Ak budeš konať dobro, bude sa ti aj dariť. Ľudia zaoberajúci sa social entrepreneurship by asi povedali, že to bude zložitejšie, ale Thakkar asi vie, o čom hovorí.

Masekela je úplne iný zjav. Starší, dosť ukecaný a s mnohými zaujímavými myšlienkami. Prvou bola úvaha, či by sa viac dynamických ľudí nemalo venovať v Afrike poľnohospodárstvu. Druhou bol exkurz o africkej identite, a aj v zmysle pridanej hodnoty, resp. komparatívnej výhody. Možno by ma niekto takýto presvedčil, že aj slovenská značka má budúcnosť napriek mojej skoro nekonečnej skepse.
Okrem rečnenia vie Masekala fantasticky hrať. Druhá pesnička, ktorú predviedol bola o vlaku s novými baníkmi pre bane v Johannesburgu. Všetky zvuky charakteristické pre vlak, ťahaný parnou lokomotívou, fantasticky zreprodukoval. 

štvrtok 19. júna 2014

Sebareflexia z ALA

Krátka a tematicky obmedzená reflexia z ALA.


 Black Hat on a sabbatical

“Do you know what a boogieman does before he goes to sleep every night? He checks his closet for Chuck Norris.”
Taken from bitstrips.com.
Poor boogieman. As if he did not know that he will not find Chuck Norris, even if he is there – unless Chuck decides to be seen…

Have you ever thought what de Bono’s black hat is afraid of? No, not the red hat. The red hat is too spontaneous to be on the ball, it’s the easiest target. A proper black hat would tear a red hat apart every second. The white hat? Nothing to be afraid of. A white hat is essentially a brother in arms: he prevents the inaccurate data from entering the reckoning. The yellow and the blue hats are obnoxious. The first one seeks positives and harmony, ultimately overlooking the self-evident fact, that if it does not work, there will be no benefits. The blue hat has the magical power silencing the black hat and allowing the unworthy to come up with more … ideas, more … nonsense.

The true nemesis of the black hat is the green one. One reason for that is inexhaustibility of the green hat: this guy will just not listen. The second, and more important is that the green hat will eventually win. For practical problems a solution has to be chosen eventually. If a bad one is chosen – “I told you” – the black hat will feel undervalued. (“I told you, I told you, you would not listen.”) If a viable creative idea – horribile dictu! – is adopted, the green hat will get all the praise. Sadly, nobody remembers the black hat for his thorough demolition of 632 bad ideas.

I am a seriously good black hat. This is partly a diagnosis, and partly a vocation, as nobody beats me at finding negatives.[1] Teaching and coaching requires a black hat to occasionally make unpalatable compromises or delegate the jobs of motivating and praising to someone else. This is a necessity, not a change of heart, though. Yet, being a proper black hat all the time gets tedious.

When I was leaving Slovakia, I was asked to offer solutions, not only critique at ALA. I was in a too excited mood to argue that this fell outside my portfolio, and later decided to give it a try. Metaphorically, I decided that the black hat could have a sabbatical. And even rest. After all, it looked like this approach could work here. I saw Mr. Bradford conjure up CS II during a conversation with Wissem and Yonathan. A whole new subject! A subject led by students, a subject they will get credit for, a subject ALA will try to present to its partner universities as academically rigorous.

Of course, my attempts were feeble in some respects. My AS Physics student might testify that raised eyebrows and telling nods made their appearance all too often. I was also too quick to tell them what they had done wrong, instead of giving praise.[2] I want to think about how to avoid this in future, though.[3]

There were a few highlights. The Scientific Research class liked both the pentomino, and “the creative nonsense” challenge. I did manage to put together a poem in Xhosa after a two-day struggle. I told the Story of the Axe. It still awaits its completion, but its part was presented. The idea to have a pre-match presentation before the last Staffulty vs. Students bout somehow materialised within my head. I also came up with a couple of nonsensical and politically-incorrect ideas such as naming the row with (the) rocket(s) on Agrinovation farm “Beirut” row.[4] And I profoundly enjoyed it.

What are the reasons for black hats sticking to their well-earned niches? While there might be little originality in the following, there is a bit of personal experience behind this, so bear with me. After all, not all of us had he luck to have SLC.

The first motive for my sticking to the black niche is the lack of self-belief. Critique – if presented in a socially acceptable way – is a safe bet. There is no recipe or blueprint for success in a creative endeavour, and the ever-present demon of small imagination will always whisper “What if you do not do well? You will be for a fool.” If you are a shy person, you would bear a failure of a group project particularly unwell. If you are a perfectionist or used to not failing, changing your mind-set is doubly hard.

My second reason for being cautious would normally be lack of support. Tiny self-belief can be augmented in a supportive team, but then I am rarely in a team. I am not that abrasive but I do prefer to work on my own. Truth be told, I have never been taught to do otherwise.

ALA made both premises invalid. Choosing to do something new, wild, crazy is encouraged here. Whatever reasonable project I proposed, I was always supported. I even came up with one on the line, and Dean Bradford okayed it. There was no fear of failure, or – rather – it diminished a lot.

Second, it is highly probable that you will be able to find a supportive team at ALA. In the end, the whole Scientific Department stood behind me leading the Scientific Research class, although I did not have great credentials. When I mooted the idea of a chess league, Morema and Mr. Webster almost made me organise it. They pushed me enough to overcome my uncertainty about the endeavour.

At times I have managed to step out of my comfortable role of a black hat at ALA. Surprisingly, it did not lead to a disaster, and it was enjoyable. It also gave me more confidence to try some adventurous things. While I know there is a long way (in order to be creative) to be walked, I might have taken a few steps. There are other things I will be taking from my year here, but this is perhaps the most surprising one: I can be creative.

[1] My debating partner might though, so you can imagine what a team we have been together.
[2] Prima facie, this is the correct approach: nobody will get better if you do not tell them about their mistakes and how to correct them.
[3] There is a bit of a difference between not being optimist or a sunny person, and a black hat by trade. However, most pessimists will wear the black hats all too readily.
[4] The closest African equivalent might be Mogadishu, or any other major town that has been shelled for longer period of time.