Oxford Residency with the Saïd Business School

I’m off this week to work with the Saïd Business School, part of the University of Oxford.  I have been furously packing all the bits and bobs I think I’ll need as part of the week, but there’s always a nagging feeling that there’s something left behind.  Ah well, we’ll find out soon enough.


We’ve set up a project Tumblr here that you can follow us on – we’ve just put up  project outline for which will give you as good an idea as any what we’re up to…



The Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme has never tried to teach leaders all the answers. Instead, it’s been about creating a space within which leaders can learn together to ask relevant, transformational questions of themselves, their organisations and of the world. We know that it is in these spaces between people, in the dialogue and interplay of ideas and perspectives, that our alumni have found the life-changing experiences they’ve walked away with.

Technology presents new opportunities to create spaces where people can learn and walk a common path together; sharing history & experience from the past, to ideas for innovation & change in the future. We would like to walk this path together with our alumni, asking questions about how people learn about leadership and the implications for how they will lead their organisations in the future.

As well as our alumni, a group that we value so much – we are inviting some friends to help us on this journey that will begin this weekend with an experiment. Prior to the weekend we will spend some time designing different types of spaces – both digital and actual – that can be used for learning. We will also be imagining versions of future OSLP experiences that would make the most of them. Confused?!


The OSLP team will be joined by the following friends:

Some of our more local alumni will join us on Saturday 28 September for a madrigal experiment with Paul Hedley and Musica Beata (many of you will remember them).

Then we will gather around a campfire at Egrove to tell stories, to create a virtual object network and to smelt brass to make unique keys that will unlock this new leadership learning space.

CHRIS THORPE is a technological pioneer, a former research scientist who played with really big computers, who had a hand in building everything from the Guardian’s Open Data Platform to the Moshi Monsters site. He’s also recently launched The Flexiscale Company, a model for the manufacturing industry we’ll be all too familiar with in twenty years’ time.  Chris will be with us for two days before the echo event creating versions of the ‘object network’ or platform so that alums can capture and share the visceral learning experiences of being on the OSLP in a network that exists beyond their time in Oxford.

THOMAS FORSYTH is an artist, designer and ‘maker of strange things’. A graduate of the University of Brighton’s famous Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics course, he will be the blacksmith of our experiment. He transforms objects through the alchemy of melting and smelting.  Thomas, alongside our alumni, will be hand-making a set of sand cast brass keys that will access this new platform. This will not be a symbolic act (we hope!) – through the use of 3D printed fiducial marks, each key will have a reciprocal digital location where Saturday’s alumni will put their thoughts, inspirations, questions and reflections on the state of leadership. As with much of the OSLP, this is new and experimental. We are hoping it will work but we know we will learn a good deal in the process.

JOHN V WILLSHIRE runs Smithery, a product and marketing innovation studio. His work includes understanding more about the nature of media, how it can be used in new ways for transferring knowledge between people and groups, how it connects communities, and is increasingly hybrid, working between the physical and digital worlds.  John will spend the whole run- up week with us, working on ways in which we can capture and share the experiences of the course with the world, further broadening the cohort of the OSLP to ensure we remain at the forefront of what leadership means in such a transformational age.

On learning – “Consider everything an experiment.”

I’m a teacher’s son, and I think it’s rubbed off.  It perhaps explains a lot about my presenting style when I get in front of a group of people, and I reckon it’s been useful so far.  What good is it talking about the communication of knowledge if you fail to get it across?  (So, firstly, thanks Mum)

This year I’ve been working on a few interesting projects around education, and I’ve been thinking about two at opposite ends of the career spectrum; the Squared programme, developed by Google, and the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme, with the team up at the Said Business School.

What’s interesting is how they’re both trying to extend the experience they offer further.

Squared started as a programme for new grads in the advertising industry.  They arrived fresh-faced at agencies on their first day, yet agencies found it hard to rapidly give them the sort of training they needed most, to understand more about the complex digital world.

Squared was born to create a different learning experience for them; the course so far has been taught in intensive six-week bursts in London, and the feedback from both the alumni of the course, and the agencies they’re working at, has been phenomenal.

squared! (2)

And off the back of that success, they’re launching Squared Online, a six month version delivered online which you can read more about and sign up here for if that sounds up your street.

As was highlighted by Sarah Tate, the programme leader of Squared, at The Talent Revolution event last month, it can’t be just an online direct learning course, however; there has to be the right sort of spaces for the students to talk and exchange views  about the subject matter.

I know this sort of learning experience is vital, from previous work with the IPA Excellence Diploma – learning in isolation of others is really hard, because so often it is in the articulation of explaining something you’re trying to understand that you discover what it is you think.

When I think about this style of learning, it now reminds me of something I read on Brainpickings last year – a brilliant list of ‘rules for students and teachers bu Sister Corita Kent, written in the late 1960s (one of which is the title of this post):

corita kent

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.
RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

It’s the second one that I find most useful when thinking about the distance learning thing; “pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students”.  There is an implied need to be around the people you’re learning from, and learning with, in order to get the most out of the experience.

It’ll be exciting and interesting to work with and watch the Squared guys use everything at Google’s disposal to create ways in which we can do that without having to physically be there.


At the other end of the career trajectory, “being there” is a massively important part of the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme (OSLP) at the Saïd Business School .

It’s a course for the leaders of large organisations who want to learn in a different way from the dry, textbook approach that a lot of business courses can put people through.


What I especially love about the course is the way it takes leaders out of the everyday learning approaches they’ll be used to working with, and make them think about themselves in a completely different way; for instance, this quick overview presents the way in which people on the course are taught about the physicality of what it is they do:


We’re working together on a project to open up the OSLP to a wider audience.  It’s been running for thirty years, and it’s a highly successful programme, but perhaps too much so; intra-company recommendation is so high that every course will be full of the same sorts of people and same organisations.

As the world is changing so quickly, in terms of new companies, industries and emergent economies, it’s vital that the mix of people on the OSLP represents the world as it transforms into whatever comes next.

What we’re doing is something much more akin to “The Workmanship of Risk” than “The Workmanship of Certainty” as David Pye put it in The Nature of Art and Workmanship, working with brilliant people at Saïd, and an awesome crack team on our side.  It’s also arguably the Smithery analogy writ-large, so I honestly can’t wait to share more about it.

That project begins today – you can follow it on the Tumblr here, and I’ll post regular updates on here too.