Sunday 24 November 2019

Through the Looking Glass

At last week's Staff Development Forum Conference in Gateshead, there was a very thought-provoking presentation by Chris Watt and Albina Shashyna, called Looking glass logic: Free your inner Alice.

It was clear from the start that this was to be no ordinary conference presentation. The presenters did not introduce themselves, nor the purpose of the session, but launched straight in with a dialogue from Alice: the dialogue between Alice and the White Queen:
"I'm just one hundred and one, five months and a day.""I can't believe that!" said Alice."Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things.""I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Chris went on to explain the link between the ability to believe impossible things and creativity, adaptability and flexibility etc.

The presentation continued in a somewhat unorthodox fashion: thought bubbles appeared on the screen showing what Chris was thinking when Albina was talking, and vice versa.  We played an interesting game in which we had to make up stories, using the Alice jigsaw pieces we were given (and Albina kindly gave a passing plug to Shifting Stories, mentioning that it was reading that which made them suggest naming our stories).

Chris mentioned that some of our own stories - the ones we tell about ourselves - were like the drink in Alice that makes one very small; whilst others are like the cake that makes us big and strong.  And yet, somehow, we continue to tell ourselves the stories that make us small.

They had a disconcerting slide that asserted that we were not going to learn anything from all this.

And they ended with a clip from the film of Alice, in which, in order to slay the Jabberwock, she has to belief six impossible things: including that she can kill it. There was no summary or conclusion, they didn't stick around for any applause (or questions) - they slipped out while we were watching the film clip.

And I have been thinking, since, about this unorthodox presentation.  On the one hand, it made me realise why it is helpful to start with the purpose, conclude with a conclusion etc. - it was discomforting not to do so.  But on the other hand, I have been thinking about, and remembering, this presentation more than many I have sat through...

And recognising, on reflection, the art that concealed art: for example the beautiful circularity of ending where we began, with the need to believe in six impossible things.

So if the purpose was to leave me thinking, reflecting, remembering... then it was certainly an effective (as well as enjoyable) presentation; and much more so than most more typical conference keynotes.

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