• How does #thechairgame work?

    On: April 21, 2016
    In: culture, education
    Views: 1812

    We’ve had a good sign-up rate for The Chair Game tomorrow, Friday 22nd April, at the V&A Performance Festival.

    We gather at 1:45pm for a 2-4pm game, after which we’ll repair to a local pub. Come along if you can, and sign-up here so we have a sense of numbers.

    But how does it work many people have asked. So here’s a quick ruleset:

    1. Everyone sits in a chair, randomly distributed in the space.
    2. One player is “chair zombie” – they vacate their seat, walk to the other side of the space
    3. The chair zombie can only walk, at a steady pace
    4. They must try and sit in the empty seat.
    5. It’s everyone else’s job to stop that happening, not by blocking them, but by occupying the empty seat
    6. Which means vacating the one you’re in, so the zombie heads for that one
    7. Everyone else can move as fast as they like – e.g. they can run between seats.
    8. Once you’re up, you can’t sit back down in the same seat
    9. The round ends when the zombie sits in an empty chair
    10. Repeat, ad infinitum

    What happens as a result of multiple plays, as people learn the game, is the interesting part. We’ve trialling out two specific (non-playing) roles tomorrow to help this part of the game along…

    The Whatcher – the person who, at the end of every round, asks what went wrong, and what the group’s next strategy should be

    Waits & Measures – The timekeeper, who tells the group how long they succeeded for, and what interesting things happened (and when)

    See you there if you can make it.

    (previous post on what this is all about…)

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  • The Chair Game – Live at the V&A

    On: April 12, 2016
    In: culture, education, people
    Views: 2283

    This is the year of The Chair Game“, I said to Rob, over a pint after an evening’s play in London Bridge. He’d just spent two hours running the game for all of us who were new to it, save for Clarisa.

    It was her fault, apparently. She’d been in a workshop Rob was doing where he’d used The Chair Game as an exercise. “If you run a workshop that’s just The Chair Game for hours, I’d come to that” she told him. Hence London Bridge. True to her word, Clarisa flew over from France especially for it.

    The Chair Game is pretty simple. Everyone has a chair. They’re randomly distributed around a space. One person gets up, and walks to the side; they’re the chair zombie. They have to amble towards the empty chair. It’s everyone else’s job to stop them by sitting in the empty one. They can’t block them, but they can run as fast as they like. But once they’re up, they’re up – they can’t sit back on the same chair.

    Chaos ensues…

    Mexico - P1090203

    The first round is always really quick. Like, six seconds as an average. Then you ask the players what went wrong? And what their strategy next time should be. And you go again. And again. And again.

    It’s a game that is about strategy as much as you want it to be. You can stop, analyse, plot and plan, instruct and act. Or you can just play. It is compelling to watch, and addictive to play. Since learning about the game, I’ve been building it into various strategy workshops as part of the narrative, and prototyping workshops as part of the fun. We started calling it Karaisu, for fun – like karaoke; Japanese* for “Empty Chair”…


    Another thing happened after the night Rob showed us the game.

    James was there, and James works at the V&A in London. We joked on email that we should play it on all the very expensive chairs at the V&A. Ho ho ho. Wouldn’t that be a lark?

    Two weeks later, James emails again. We’re on. Not on the expensive chairs. But at the V&A. As part of the Performance Festival. Look, we’re even listed on the site.

    We’re playing next week, on Friday 22nd April, 1:45 meet-up for a 2pm start. We’ll be in the John Madejski at the V&A in South Kensington. We finish at 4pm, and then head to a pub to unpack what goes on.

    And we need some more players.

    If you are around, and fancy it, then please sign-up here. We need around 30-40 players. Send this on to anyone else who might fancy it too, and we’ll send confirmations out next week.

    So sign up, and come down and play.

    Because this is the year of The Chair Game.


    *I checked with a Japanese friend – it kinda doesn’t mean this, but also kinda does.




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  • Delaminating Reality – a week at IED Barcelona

    On: July 27, 2015
    In: culture, design, education, material culture
    Views: 2173

    I spent last week teaching on the first week of the Innovation & Future Thinking summer course at the IED in Barcelona with Scott Smith.

    You can listen to us talking about what transpired here on a little podcast we made there…

    …and I thought I’d just throw up a few photos on here too, to give to you a flavour of it (the whole album is here on flickr).

    Never have the Artefact Field Kits been so rigorously put through their paces… good luck to all the students and Scott in the final week as they prepare their projects to present.

    We might well be doing another one in the winter now too, but if not, well, come to Barcelona to dance round the streets and find the future in the fragments of the present.





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  • Folksy Summer School

    On: October 5, 2013
    In: education, making
    Views: 1059

    The folks at Folksy have just put up a lovely wee video which takes me back to all the brilliant people I met and things we talked about when I was up there…

    This was the Folksy Summer School 2013 from Folksy on Vimeo.

    Just the tonic as summer gives way to the falling leaves and dropping tempeatures of autumn.  Here’s my talk that I gave here too, on ‘A Certain Tone Of Action”.  I hope they have another Summer School next year, because it was one of the highlights of my year so far.

    John V Willshire at Folksy Summer School from Folksy on Vimeo.

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  • Cohort: Our Oxford Project

    On: September 30, 2013
    In: education, rivetings
    Views: 893

    We spent last week at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, taking over their innovation space, creating exploratory workshops and experiments with the folks there, and subsequent event with some alumni of the prestigious Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme (OSLP).  I mentioned it in a previous post.

    Here’s just a quick video of what we made last week… a fuller explanation will follow soon.


    ‘We’ in this case being a team of Chris Thorpe on 3D printing and code wrangling, Thomas Forsyth on Making Molten Brass Do Things, and in his last Smithery endeavour before heading back to Loughborough Design School to finish his Industrial Design Degree, Fraser Hamilton on general problem solving.

    A better team for talent, temperament and wit you could not wish for.  Thank you, gents.

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  • Oxford Residency with the Saïd Business School

    On: September 23, 2013
    In: education, work
    Views: 1908

    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.

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  • On learning – “Consider everything an experiment.”

    On: September 9, 2013
    In: education
    Views: 1532

    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.



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  • Noam Chomsky from #lwf12 – what is the purpose of education?

    On: February 1, 2012
    In: economics, education, people
    Views: 1338

    I was at Learning Without Frontiers for two days last week, a thoroughly brilliant gathering with a phenomenal lineup of speakers.

    All the videos are going up gradually now, and I’ll share the best ones as they do.

    But the first one is well worth sitting back for – Noam Chomsky on the biggest question we have to ask ourselves, what is the purpose of education…

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