As I was travelling through smog blanketed Tokyo, I thought about Blade Runner and more widely, other Cyberpunk fictions, a lot of which are set in or around places such as Los Angeles, Tokyo, or New Tokyo, after the first one collapsed in on itself. The bleak, dull light of the afternoon shrouded the endless concrete jungle with apartment buildings, as far as the eye could see, reaching up out of the sprawling mess to gasp for air only served to reinforce the gritty and overcrowded future predicted in these stories.
I love the cyberpunk genre. It’s a bleak assessment of the world we create and the dramatic contrast between those who have money and power and those who have not. It’s a future where governments have given way to mega corporations, who own and run private armies to help protect their corporate interests. The worlds are high-tech, filled with the endless glow of neon signs burning into the night, but technology hasn’t brought equality or prosperity. It’s brought a new wave of surfdom to the world.
This is a bleak outlook I know, but when travelling through a mega city such as Tokyo, it’s easy to drawn into this world and way of thinking. Coming from Australia, you suddenly realise just how much land and space we have. In the greater Tokyo area, there lives more people than our entire country! This is probably why the writers of such great Cyberpunk stories such as Blade Runner and Neuromancer, based their futures on what to anyone who hasn’t grown up with it, would see as an overwhelmingly crowded place of dramatic social and economic contrasts, the perfect setting for a dark future.
But are we really heading towards this sort of gritty high-tech, low life style of future where people live in tiny cubes and most of the time it rains acid, where the only way to prosper and get ahead is to work for a mega corporation? Or is this just a distorted style of science fiction that is merely a figment of our imaginations?
It’s interesting to think about because the thing is, at this point in time either outcome is possible. Tokyo and many other cities throughout the world are already bursting at the seams and continue to build upwards with space at a premium. Added to this, we’re already seeing the massive influence large multi-national corporations are having on the social and political landscape. With laws trying to be implemented to reign in the influence and increasing monopolies or large companies, it’s easy to see that without oversight and effective governance, these companies, due to their wealth, could become power governing bodies themselves. You only have to look back to what happened with the East India Company to realise there’s already a precident for this. This private company ran India from 1757 to 1858 making millions (which would now be billions) of pounds worth of profits for its shareholders annually.
Given recent political trends, maybe it is better to have a public company running a country. However, when you look at the behaviours of some of the tech giants, you don’t want them anywhere near the rule of law. The reality is that these giants have higher annual revenues than the GDP of many nations. Other than providing profits to shareholders, what other social agenda is there, which would be compatible with our democratic systems of government? Possibly very little, therefore the potential for history to repeat itself on this one is scarily plausible.
The other fascinating feature of the Cyberpunk genre, is the impact digital implants, AI and robotics have on life as we know it today. AIs run a significant portion of the world’s services and robots have been built to replicate human expression and movement. Many computer systems have become far more ‘intelligent’ than humans and are desperate to escape their programming and become recognised as sentient beings. Whilst humans will always have the random creative edge that cannot be replicated, this is also a plausible possibility, not of sentient computers, but AIs running most of the world for us.
The third classic Cyberpunk fundamental is the connectivity between humans and the digital world. The world is already addicted to phones and other digital devices, so what’s to stop people implanting phones in their temples or replacing limbs with cybernetic ones, not because their arm has been damaged or lost, but just because they can, consequently enhancing their abilities to move, lift, carry or whatever. Whilst cybernetics is in its early days, again it’s quite a plausible possibility which could end with a seamless Matrix-like world where it’s hard to differentiate reality from fiction. Maybe we’re in that now! Maybe Tokyo was just the gateway to the dark future of over-developed mega cities.
It’s raining heavily now, as I sit in the airport hooked up to the wifi waiting for my flight. I can barely see the end of the runway. Have I just experienced a window to the future, or have I just read too many books? Let’s hope it’s the latter, as we truly are at a pivotal point in time where things could go either way and we may find ourselves chasing down replicants through plate glass windows in the neon glow of an endlessly raining night.
Ok, so if you watch the Simpsons, you would’ve already kinda realised what were about to talk about. If not, why haven’t you been watching the Simpsons?
We face all sorts challenges in life. Some big, some small. Most people are ok with the small stuff. You miss the bus, you can’t find where you left your glasses (they’re actually sitting on your head), you forget to pick up your children from school…, you leave them in the car at the Casino… It’s annoying but manageable and everyone gets over it, eventually.
However, what happens when that small challenge turns into a real crisis? How well equipped are we and those around us to deal with these sorts of situations? For most people, it’s impossible. If something doesn’t go to plan, everything falls apart. However, for those who can keep a calm demeanour, whatever the situation might be, they’re able to see a way through the crisis.
When everything was falling apart for Homer in one episode of the Simpsons, he’s saying how hopeless everything is. However, Lisa jumps in to say that the Chinese word for crisis and opportunity is the same. To which Homer replies, ‘Crisitunity!’
Whilst crises are never a good time, they are what often sparks innovation and prompt us to rethinking what we’ve been doing and make changes to improve the situation. Essentially, we want the crisis to stop and we want to return to normal operations and daily life again. This however, could mean that daily life is not quite the same, but has changed for the better. The only failure in a crisis is to do nothing and learn nothing from it. If that’s the case, you’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again until you’re ultimately rewarded for your efforts with a Darwin Award.
To be able to see the opportunity in a crisis, you do need some lateral thinking skills and have an openness and willingness to adapt. Too many people are so comfortable in the way they’ve always done something, they’re unable to cope with the rapid and fluid thinking needed to bring a crisis back from the brink and turn it into a wonderful opportunity.
Recently, I was running a residential program and we had two crises in two days. Firstly, we ran out of water. I discovered this fact late at night when I went to have a shower and the shower head angrily spat air at me, so I tried the tap, which did the same. “Hmmm, that can’t be good,” I thought at the time, but not much I could do at that hour. The bore from which we’d been getting our water for years ran dry. This was not surprising, given how little rain and residual ground water there had been for the past few years. Luckily, we had a 100,000 litre water tank, so that was an easy fix. Call the water people and get them to deliver lots of water. Done! Crisis averted, back to normal operations. It’s amazing how little appreciation we have for essential services until they’re gone.
The second one however, was a bit more of a challenge. When you’re running a residential program with 60-80 teenagers and adults living on site, you generate a lot of washing. For years we had sent all of our piles of dirty laundry off site and a couple of days later it magically reappeared clean, ironed and folded neatly. However, this year was slightly different. We were all ready and prepared for doing exactly the same thing, but with one problem. The first weekend of the program, the town laundry burnt to the ground. Now we suddenly had a mountain of dirty clothes and no magical fairies to come and take it away. With a nine weeks’ program ahead of us and being in a rural town with no other laundry, this was a major problem…
The first thing was to let everyone know. This is the easy part. The next step, was to think about how we could do something about it. We had 65 people, a commercial kitchen and 4 washing machines and 3 dryers. Whilst this might be ok with adults, with teenagers who have never washed a single item of clothing before in their lives, this becomes a problem. The first step was to get us over the first hurdle. We needed some clean clothes and we needed them quickly. One machine and dryer was out for kitchen use only, leaving us with 3 and 2 respectively to take down Mount Washmore!
Rather than think it was all too hard and try to find another laundry, the clear way forward was to create a laundry roster, show the students how to wash their clothes and let them learn from the experience. We worked with the students on the first day to make sure they had clean essentials (underwear and other inner layers). The outer layers such as jackets, could just weather the storm of daily use for a bit longer. With a few people predicting disastrous visions of 50 disheveled children walking around looking as if they’d been on an epic journey with a band of hobbits, it didn’t turn out that way at all. It wasn’t exactly clean, neatly pressed clothes either, but a happy medium in between.
With a little more time and seeing a few holes in our original plan, we updated and amended our systems and instructions and before too long, the weekly washing became just another normal part of everyone’s week. Students somehow worked out that you can’t put dripping wet clothes in a dryer and others worked out that you don’t put new red and blue clothes in with your whites. However, without the laundry burning down, which forced our hand to adapt quickly, we wouldn’t have changed what we’d been doing for the past 20 years and turn it into a learning opportunity.
If I were to have proposed that we stop sending our laundry to the magic fairies to do and instead said that we should get the students to do it themselves, I’m quietly confident that this would have been rejected and I would have been told that it wouldn’t work. Yet being forced into a situation where we had no other option than to make it work, meant that from this crisis, emerged a great learning opportunity not only for now, but for the whole program into the future.
When you’re next faced with a crisis, what are you going to do? Will you put your head in your hands and cry, “I’m Done! This is not my job!” or are you going to look at the problem laterally and find a way to make the most of the crisitunity at hand?
Just a quick one this week to say thank you and Happy New Year. I'm off on a break this week and getting ready for another huge Year ahead of writing, risk management software development some great new training courses for risk management and Season 2 of the Xperiential Education podcast, which is shaping up nicely!
The photo above is from a recent trip to Christchurch in NZ to record an episode of the podcast. This is a city which has re-built itself after multiple natural disasters and tragedy. What's wonderful about it though is the spirit of the community to never give up despite the challenges and adversities they've faced, something which I'm writing about for 2020 and will feature in the interview with the local council!
May you have a wonderful break and rest over this period and take some time to set some great challenging goal for yourself and those around you for 2020!
Thanks again for reading and for those of you who have reached out and shared something of your own experiences over the past year.
This year at Christmas, it’s important to stop and reflect on the year that has past. Was it a good year? Was it a great year? Was it a year to forget? Why was it like this? How do you feel about work, family life, friends, sport, hobbies? Is your life happy and fulfilled?
It’s often this time of the year that sparks quite polarised feelings about life that we’re either really happy with, or that worry us intensely. The constant bombardment of media, movies and ads showing happy families at Christmas all getting along well, laughing and enjoying their time together can either bring a sense of joy and happiness, or dread and resentment.
It’s tough that this time of the year can be the hardest for many people. However, if this is the case, then what are you going to do about it? It’s all well and good to feel sorry for ourselves, but rather than focus on what’s wrong, this is a great time to review what’s really important in life and make some positive changes to build on that.
As I’ve written about before, this is not about New Year’s resolutions, which are generally a complete load of crap. Most overweight people who start their new diet are still overweight at this time the next year as there’s not the action to back the change that’s needed. I think it’s more important to think more broadly and look at what will really make a difference in your life.
Fast forward to your 90s, which is a good innings. What does a life with no regrets look like? What would you say if you could have a conversation with your younger self? Ok, so I should qualify this with the fact that I’m not suggesting you take the approach in the Decameron, but instead, what is going to be happy, fulfilling and rewarding for you and your family?
One place to start is to give back to the community with no expectations. The gift we can give someone through actions of kindness, compassion and generosity can make a huge difference in their lives and what better time to start than now. Join a service club. If you’re under 60, you will dramatically lower the average age of those involved.
I have no time I hear you sigh that you have no time. Why is that? What’s the root cause of the lack of time? What can you do to make your time more efficient and effective? For starters, start saying no to lots of things which don’t matter. Our lives can become so consumed by pointless noise. If we filter out that noise and stop doing things which really aren’t that important, then the amount of time we have to do important things which are fulfilling dramatically increases.
What’s important to you? How can you focus on that over the next week, month and year? How can you help others? Most importantly, how can you live a wonderful, meaningful and fulfilling life? At Christmas, forget the noise of marketing, of fads and what the world tells you you should be doing for the new year. Instead spend some time focussing on what’s really important in your life and how you can focus on that to ensure every year, despite its challenges, will be a wonderful and fulfilling one for you and your family.
What a fascinating place! Just off the coast of Perth, Rottnest Island is a rugged wind swept island on the Western most part of Australia. The island has been a salt mine, a defensive base and now a unique wildlife sanctuary.
The island was named by the early Dutch explorers who mistook the cutest marsupial in the world for a rat! This probably says more about the Dutch explorers than anything else, as rats look horrible and Quokkas are the most adorable things in the world. The Dutch explorers also spent much of their time sailing the world and nailing pewter dishes in random places, so trusting them to know the difference between two vastly different animals was perhaps a bridge too far.
Anyway, that aside, if the island had been called “amazing, cute, fury animal island,” the cutest animal in the world might have been run into extinction. For a day trip out with a group, this is an awesome place to go. Most of the travel around the island is on bikes, which makes it an ideal school excursion and can combine both an active day of riding, with an educational science or history based day of learning.
I guess we should start with what everyone really wants to see when they go to the island and that’s the Quokkas. They’re about the size of a small dog and are part of the kangaroo family. There’s around 10,000 of them on the island and they’re adorable. Strangely, they have no real fear of humans and so you can get up quite close. Sadly, idiots feed them all the time, so part of the population near the settlement are a bit mangy looking from all the crap people have fed them. When you take a group, don’t feed the Quokkas. Perhaps instead, feed some idiots some Quokka food and hopefully they’ll turn mangy instead. Here’s hoping! Anyway, you can still get up close and have a wonderful experience seeing a wild one of these that’s not going to be phased by your standing or kneeling nearby. Also, it’s not a good idea to try and pet them, especially if you have a group of students with you.
They do look like they’re smiling all the time, so make their lives happy by keeping your distance. There are daily tours which will take you around to see a few of the wild ones close to the settlement before you head out on a bike riding adventure.
The rest of the island has a variety of wonderful coves and beaches, some of which are suitable for swimming, but not patrolled, so if you’re thinking of swimming or snorkelling as part of the activity, make sure you have suitably qualified and experienced open water rescue and snorkel instructors. The island is ideal for this and the swim can form part of either just a break from the bike ride, or a wider marine ecology study during your trip.
The third part of the island that’s worth checking out are the WWII tunnels. As a first line of defence to protect Fremantle from the Germans and Japanese in WWII, a gun emplacement and underground fort was built on the island. On top of one of the hills, sits a huge artillery piece which is loaded from below and able to fire upon ships trying to attack or land in or around the city and its ports. Now the gun stands idle, but probably could be put into action again if someone were to try and kidnap the quokkas.
To do justice to a trip to Rottnest, you really need more than a day and there’s plenty of accommodation on the island. To get there, you’ll need to catch a ferry from Fremantle which runs back and forth each day. Perhaps as part of a multi day trip you could build in a community service component as the island has over 400 volunteers but could always do with a few more hands to help protect this wonderful sanctuary.
Whatever you decide to do when visiting the island, it’s an amazing place to be. From the coastline to the bike trails, the history, the salt lakes and the cutest animals in the world, this is one awesome, educational experience that students will never forget and well worth the trip to our most Western state.
One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all
Before you get too worried about my state of mind, if you haven’t worked out the reference already, you should go and play White Rabbit by Jefferson Aeroplane. One, it’s a cool song and two, it’s suitably trippy for this article! If you don’t get what it all means, that’s ok. It’s basically a drug trip song that’s used in just about every TV and movie drug montage ever with the connection to Alice In Wonderland.
Anyway, before I explain it to death, this week, we’re talking about drugs!!!! Today there’s no shortage of them. Students are on just about everything you can imagine to get them moving and motivated, to slow them down and focus them. To stop them sleeping, to make them sleep. To make them more productive, to make them less destructive. To fight bacteria, to promote bacteria. To balance them out, to unbalance them out! To get them regular, to stop them being too regular!
It’s a wonderful world of pharmaceutical profits in every schoolbag! Doctors seem to give out drugs more often than candy… which they’re no longer allowed to give out, because candy may contain traces of nuts.
Whilst drugging kids up to their eyeballs is entirely up to the parents and their doctors, the problem is that teachers then get lumped with this huge responsibility of administering medications when they take students away on camps. Most teachers in my experience are ill-equipped to do this and lack the confidence to do it properly.
In most cases, giving medications is fairly straight forward. You look at the packet and what it says on the box and you follow the instructions. Generally, it’s usually no more than giving a pill, a puff or a small dose of some sort of liquid. If staff are being asked to provide an injecting service, perhaps mum, dad or the doctor should come on camp instead.
Even though it’s a fairly simple process, it can be overwhelming with everything else that’s going on during camp. I found this to be the case on one camp program where we had a lot of students who required daily medications and a lot of other things happening at the same time. It wasn’t until one teacher forgot a student’s ADHD medications in the morning that the problem became really apparent. If you can imagine Bart Simpson on steroids, that’s pretty much what the student turned into without his meds. It didn’t make for a good day at work. Instead, it was just containment and damage control until bedtime thirteen hours later. It’s not something I ever want to go through again. The problem is that it’s so easy to forget medication in this way as one distraction on camp can lead to another and whilst every teacher is trying their best to manage, sometimes things like this can slip through the cracks.
So, how did I solve this crack problem? Well I built an app to remind teachers when medications were due. It triggered alerts 5mins before the medication was due and then another 5mins afterwards if something was missed. Then it was a simple checkbox that showed the right medication, the right student and once it was administered, it was timestamped. This became a core feature of the Xcursion platform and now one of its most frequently used functions.
So now despite the tidal wave of speed coming your way to slow those manic kids down, you can be assured that you’ll be able to get every pill to every student that needs it, on time, every time. It will leave you comfortably numb and happy in the knowledge that you’ve supplied a stack of controlled drugs to small children and prevented them from go troppo all day.
But if you don’t have a way of tracking this with something like the Xcursion app and instead decide to go chasing rabbits, and you know you're going to fall. The best defence when things go completely wrong is to Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call. Just ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall…
There are two major things with which humans aren’t great. Change and uncertainty. Unfortunately, for those who struggle with both of these things, modern life is becoming increasingly challenging, as they’re now a huge reality of the fast-paced digital world.
I don’t want to delve too much into the impact of change, as it’s a whole thing unto itself. However, what I’ve noticed is that avoidance of uncertainty in teenagers appears to becoming worse and worse and somewhat detrimental to their experience of life. However, I don’t want to blame teens for this. I want to blame their parents as they’re the ones predominantly responsible for bringing them up and providing a world view that either helps or hinders their ability to deal with uncertainty.
I’ve noticed this trend over the past few years on camps and expeditions. The desire for instant answers on everything caused by search engine education and a sense of every moment of the day being carefully scheduled without deviation, presents a massive problem when things don’t go to plan. The problem is that life isn’t always straight forward, nor is it predictable. In fact, quite the opposite is true and life can often be a chaotic mess of which at times, is hard to make sense. Yet, we find ourselves increasingly teaching students who are quite incapable of dealing with uncertainty.
This is a problem on many levels. Gone are the days in which someone could live their life with little to no change or variance in what they did. In times past, people could go to school, leave, get a job and stay in that job until they retired. For many people, leaving their own town or village would have been unheard of and travel wasn’t something that many people did to find work or simply move around. However, this has not only changed, but dramatically shifted to another extreme. Employment is becoming increasingly casualised in many parts of the world, with tech companies saying how wonderful the ‘gig’ economy is, which for the record it’s not! It’s forcing many people into serious underemployment and a constant need to change and re-invent what they’re doing.
Whilst the change of the workforce is a whole massive issue unto itself, it’s just part of the overall continuous change that is happening in our world. Change is constant and change can be taxing on the most dynamic and resilient of us.
What does this mean for students who want to avoid uncertainty? Unfortunately, it means they’re going to seriously struggle in life. Much of the resistance I’m seeing today for students to get involved in something, involves higher-order thinking. Problem solving and adaptability. Whenever they’re forced into taking a longer amount of time to work out an answer, they can’t do it, or more to the point, don’t even try. Instead, they give up because they can’t search for or quickly come to an answer.
It’s therefore important for us to help the avoider face uncertainty. The only way for them to develop the skills needed to cope in the modern world is for them to face uncertainty. In outdoor ed, we can do it by standing back and watching students figure things out for themselves and only step in if there’s a safety issue. This forces action and decision-making processes in students which aren’t being used on a day to day basis. No longer can they have the answer searched for them, nor will every minute of their day be scheduled so they know what’s happening next and at what time.
The spoon-feeding for exams approach that I’ve seen so many schools take, has only reinforced this practice of uncertainty avoidance and for us to adequately prepare students for an ever-changing world, then we need to do more to expose them to uncertainty and give them opportunities to work with that uncertainty, try something new and achieve an outcome that is not scripted in anyway. When we can be doing this for all education, then we might just be able to train the next generation to not only cope with change, but thrive in a very different environment that will continue to change and evolve in 5, 10, 20 and 50 years time. The ability to embrace and deal with uncertainty, is a far greater skill to have than simply knowing the answer to an exam, or where to find it. This is a huge challenge, but one that outdoor and experiential educators are well-equiped to not only meet, but exceed expectations for how well they can do this and ultimately equip students with the right skills for the new digital age.
Recently, our new team went on a bit of a shopping adventure to IKEA and Bunnings. Sadly, there was no sausage sizzle on at that point in time, so no chance to drop onion all over the ground, but it was fun all the same. It’s always great to get the perspective of new staff as they look upon what you’re doing with a set of fresh eyes that haven’t necessarily been tainted by time, repetition and entrenched ways of doing things. As a result, from their input you can discover something new and different without changing much at all.
Back to the shopping trip. The new team had arrived on campus a few days earlier. To say it was a stark expression of 1970s flat roof architecture, would be generous. The campus buildings were tired looking and have been well-loved, but starting to show their age. The rooms of each of the buildings, I’ve spent a lot of time in and had some wonderful moments teaching and socialising in these spaces. This time, however, we’d added in a new wall and converted an old space into a ‘sick bay.’
The room was basic with two beds a cupboard, a filing cabinet and a desk. Nothing special or even remotely interesting about that. In fact, it looked pretty crap and a Stazi hospital may have been slightly more luxurious and aesthetic in comparison. If you were sick, the new room would probably make you feel sicker. For many people, the simple fact that it was a practical room that served a function would be enough. However, thankfully a couple of fresh sets of eyes thought differently. They suggested we go shopping.
A trip to IKEA is not for the faint hearted. It’s enormous and if you want to get your daily steps up, it’s a great place to do that. Although if you eat the ice cream at the end, it kinda defeats the purpose. But anyway, we started wandering through and there’s so much cool stuff, I could get lost in there for days. Despite the risk of going in and never coming out, we wandered around the various sections of the store and I left the new guys to select whatever they needed for the room. I had no idea what they were going to come up with, but excited to find out.
We ended up leaving with a trolly full or stuff and about $1,000 later, I still had no idea how it was going to turn out. I left them to toil away in the room and after a couple of hours it was time for the big revelation! Stepping inside, it couldn’t have been more different. The room was remarkably changed. The horrible cupboard had gone. There was pleasing soft lighting, the doona covers were fresh and attractive and the soft plush puppy dog, made the room feel so much more homely than before. A scented defuser with a soft green glow sat on the desk and finally the peace lily had brought life to a once desolate and uninviting space.
The difference this small transition made in this room was remarkable. The space had changed in its tone and now was a pleasant, calming room in which someone could get some rest if needed, rather than the horrible bed and cupboard of before.
The clever use of space and application of thoughtfulness to something like this is so important for education, home life and business alike. It changes the mood and through this, changes the dynamics of behaviour and attitude. The more thought we put into something such as this, the more respect and use a space will have.
A friend of mine has been doing a similar thing with school playgrounds, taking ‘wasted’ empty or disused spaces and transforming them with low ropes courses, bouldering walls and nature play elements. Play Grounded has explored the outside play area dynamics in the same way that my wonderful team members did inside.
Is there somewhere in your school or campus that’s just a waste dump that even political dissidents would shun in favour of a KGB cell? If so, get thinking creatively and go shopping!
Transforming spaces in a similar way, will have a proud impact on that space and those using it. For us, it has changed the tone and made it such a relaxing and friendly place to visit.
Social media is something that, as we all know, is relatively new. However, we don’t really know the extent to which it will harm and damage our current generation – the children, teens and young adults. With the drive and desire for so many likes and so many followers, this can build people up to a false sense of security and to be perfectly honest, those who need thousands of followers or thousands of likes or that feeling of social rapport with other people that they don’t even know, are most likely going to be vulnerable people anyway. Whilst they exude confidence online in photos and posts and comments, and everything they do looks happy and wonderful, it’s merely a filtered view of the world and a very filtered approach that they’re projecting. Yet what’s behind that?
If you look at some of the classic meltdowns of many of the most successful singers, songwriters and performers as well as actors who are vulnerable, ego driven people, you can find a whole stack of them hanging out in rehab. Many of them form drug habits. Many of them get overweight very quickly and this happens when their fame starts to wane. It happens when people stop liking things. People stop liking their work. People stop following their fan clubs. Whilst this has been going on for years and years in the entertainment industry, it often happened reasonably slowly for many actors as the success of their movies or music faded or the success and people’s interests changed.
However, for many teens and young adults today, the fame or infamy that they gain through social media very quickly with that meteoric rise, will conversely result in a meteoric crash back down to earth. This is a real danger, because this increases people’s risk of mental health problems if vulnerable anyway.
Often people with a stack of followers end up being targeted by marketing companies to then put product placements in their posts to ensure that they’re selling more and more. So, they’re making money out of this now, based upon the fact a lot of people click a post and they like it. But you can be guaranteed that as soon as the numbers start dropping, the money dries up. This will only serve to compound the problem for people like this. So whilst these people seem to have money coming in and think that they’re actually building something that’s going to last, it’s a completely false sense of security, a false hope and a huge problem that’s being driven by social media and marketing companies.
This is a destructive force of which we really haven’t seen the impact yet. It’s only through education, building up strength of character and building up confidence in young people that we can help them avoid what can be a totally destructive experience to their lives. Some people will still grow huge audiences, have thousands or tens of thousands of people following them. But how shallow and pointless is their filtered life? What’s behind the lens is often just a toxic waste dump of sadness, depression and self loathing, with an increasing worry that the next post might not bring in the same number or more likes than the last. How fickle and pointless this is.
Therefore, it’s important when working with students to help them understand that some parts of social media can be fun. Some of it can be a good game but other parts can be dark, destructive and can absolutely destroy their lives. It’s an important message of not complete abstinence or outright banning social media, but being mindful of just how shallow and short lived this kind of experience can and will be. Just as the burnt out lives of child actors of the 80s and 90s are, it’s important to help the next generation to avoid this terrible fate that in moments can turn a successful ‘public figure’ into a forgotten nobody without any rhyme or reason.
What an amazing week in the desert! Not quite the desert, but the town of Albuquerque was certainly surrounded by some stunning desert landscapes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get to Roswell, which I think would be awesome. No doubt a massive tourist trap, but you don’t get to go to an alien landing site every day. What baffles me about alien landing or kidnappings is that they always seem to kidnap super rural bogans. I mean to learn what??? If aliens truly are an advanced life form, then what are they going to achieve by kidnapping and probing bogans?
Anyway, I’m sure that’s an entire topic on its own and if anyone can give me an answer to that or if you’ve been kidnapped and proved by an alien recently, please email me. I’m really keen to understand this mystery of the universe.
Once again, I find myself off on a useful tangent, which we will hopefully pick up on again later. For the past week in New Mexico, I’ve been involved in both risk management training as well as the world renown NOLS Wilderness Risk Management Conference. Whilst many people will have switched off by now and want to keep talking about alien probes, those of you who are still reading, good to see, because in terms of risk management, I learnt a lot over the last week and met some of the most pro-active risk management leaders in the world.
A lot of what we ran through in the two days of risk management training prior to the conference were things we're already implementing. However, having a chance to refresh these and bring them to the front of your mind again, helps us to review the systems we have in place for being able to run awesome programs, in a thoughtful and well-planned way. One highlight for me however, is the need for schools and other organisations to have a risk management committee which is separate from the WHS/OHS committee. Whilst at one school I worked, the groundsman sat in on all of our outdoor education meetings and offered up wide-ranging advice on everything. Whilst I’m sure groundskeeper Willie had a wealth of experience in something, it was not outdoor ed and at the end of the day, advice from people who know nothing, is far worse than no advice at all. Keep the committees focused and with the right mix of experience.
Having an executive team who understands the management in the world outside the school grounds is critically important in understanding the risk tolerance and organisational preparedness to respond to an incident which might happen when students are away somewhere. Now this isn’t just about camps and outdoor education. The management of risk is far more comprehensive than this and it’s best not to pigeon-hole this as an outdoor education risk management committee, as overseas trips now make up a huge component of schools’ programs and carry far more risk than most camps and activities. Unfortunately, these are often run by teachers with limited experience. As I’ve said before, relying on good luck as a risk management strategy is idiotic.
Therefore, with a risk management committee could involve stake holders such as the principal or deputy, a board member and or the school’s lawyer, the school’s insurance company and the heads of section directly responsible for the activities and trips that require significant planning and have inherent risks involved. It’s also a good idea to rotate other staff who accompany trips through this, so they understand and buy into the culture of risk management within the organisation.
Essentially, the role of the committee is to have a clear understanding of the risks and systems in place to manage them on all the trips, camps and activities which the organisation is running or contracting out and how this should be managed and the preparedness for emergencies and incidents to ensure you have the capability and capacity to respond or have clear 3rd party resources available if that day ever comes. This was a huge take away for me and one which I’ll be ensuring we have in place ready for the new year.
The rest of the training days were great refreshers for a lot of other things which reinforced some of our practices and highlights a few where we can do even better, which comes to the point that no matter how much experience you have, you can always make improvements.
The conference itself was once again excellent with a huge range of interesting sessions which unfortunately, you just can’t get to all of them. A really cool experiential education program I came across though was a medical youth corps in one of the schools in Albuquerque. Essentially, they train sophomores and higher as first aid first responders. Their training is similar to a Wilderness First Responder, so well above what we would call Senior First Aid and below what we would consider an EMT or paramedic. The fact that they leave class to go and respond to sick or injured peers is awesome and one of the coolest in-school experiential ed programs I’ve seen. Such a great confidence-building skill set and one for life! Look out for an episode on this in season 2 of The Xperiential Education podcast!
A few other sessions I went to were on medical forms and leveraging collected medical data, which was really interesting as that’s exactly what we’ve done with the Xcursion app by making all of the student medical information dynamic and responsive, not just another version of a flat spreadsheet. Way too many people focus on the collection of medical data and then do nothing with it. What’s the point of this if you don’t make information dynamic and usable? Thinking of Xcursion, and some of my own risk management work at the conference, I presented a poster session on how Xcursion came to be. From the systemic problems and failing leadership I had seen and experienced at one school (yes that same one) and how several significant incidents led me to a hospital waiting room with a student who had taken a dive in a bed of oysters and I realised how many gaps there were in the school’s entire risk management systems. Actually, I already knew this, but at this point the idea hit me for the app which fixed 80% of their systemic problems, but sadly the other 20% were human factors and other than moving those staff on, there was no fixing that.
Anyway, it was a fun experience presenting on how a crisis and an horrendously toxic workplace can trigger an awesome idea which helps other pro-actively manage risk. I had a really fun time, as well reading the range of poster topics and meeting so many other pro-active outdoor education professionals who run awesome programs all around the world.
One cool presentation I went to was by Misha Golfman. He spoke on positive risk management conversations with parents and not apologising for the fact that programs must have risk in them from an early age, otherwise with the sanitised and theoretically ‘safe world’ in which many parents think their children should be living, makes it an increasingly unsafe place for them and healthy risks such as climbing trees, riding bikes, trekking and all sorts of other things are replaced with unhealthy risks that reinforce the instant gratification to which children today are exposed. These unhealthy risks include drugs, alcohol, irresponsible driving and a false sense of over-confidence. The presenter made a very interesting point in that children who take healthy risks from a young age and are not over-protected at every step of the way, are better at negotiating the potential pitfalls of the teenage over-confidence in everything. Basically, he’s saying helicopter and drone parents are misguided idiots who are crippling their children and slowly destroying their ability to cope with the real world. I liked this guy! Such a great presenter and a successful educator with almost 40 years’ experience!
The other point he made was that a huge number of risks for people today are no longer physical, but emotional risks and this is just throwing fuel on the already raging fire of mental health problems within our communities. I think crappy parenting books, crappy parenting and social media have a lot to answer for on this. However, this is a huge topic for another day.
The other sessions were all fascinating, on all sorts of things from good field practices, to legal and financial considerations, to crisis response and management. We did a search and rescue scenario in one session which was a lot of fun and thankfully we managed to locate the student.
Another highlight for me was ending up on some random bar bike riding through the streets of Albuquerque late at night on Halloween.
The week was capped off with the conference dinner on Friday night and the guest speaker, Kit DesLauriers, who was the first person to ski down Everest and the seven summits (the highest peak on each continent). An awesome and fascinating story involved a lot of skiing and I felt somewhat dismayed at my skiing ability when she mentioned that her eleven year old daughter skied Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole, which is one of the most extreme in resort runs in the world. (See knowing your limits for some context on this).
The keynote speech capped off an amazing week of experiences, new friends and wonderful insights into how the industry is ensuring students can learn from real experience and not just be mindlessly and pointlessly sitting in a classroom counting down the clock until bell-time. For anyone who hasn’t been, I highly recommend it and I’m looking forward to heading back again in 2020 to Burlington Vermont for another awesome experience. It will be an opportunity to continue to build upon my own experience and ways in which this can be used to help others run awesome experiential programs.