Women and apes, savage animals and smartphones and extinction

This is not really a finished thing, more a series of jottings.

Playwork and primates
AFAIK, only Penny Wilson and myself have looked at primates for clues about the practice of playwork (as opposed to what it tells us about play). Penny has a glorious interview with a zookeeper at Howletts in Kent, about the gorillas she cares for.

“At one point, Laura is called away by a fellow keeper because one of the gorillas appears to have his head stuck in the bars…
She comes back to the phone…’sorry about that.. He was joking’,
Penny ‘The keeper?’
Laura ‘No the gorilla’.”


And she got to do a TED, curses. It was only a TEDx though.

The science behind play
Here’s some cool stuff about play, including
Isabel Behncke’s TED Talk about the glorious bonobo:


Women and primates
There seems to be a thing about overexcited women and bonobos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge bonobo fan, but if you think Isobel is overexcited, you need to check out the bonkers sex therapist  who makes Isabel look like a newsreader lady announcing the death of Princess Diana:


(Not disapproving BTW, I’m a big fan, but she is on the bonkers end of the quirk continuum)

Not to mention Diane Fosse. Theory: women zoologists love primates because they are tameable beasts, unlike men.

Male zoologists like Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox —not made up names, googlem— adore their savage namesakes. (Yes, this includes the robin, vicious little territorial bastard).

A lesson that I wish were valid
But I want to strangle Isabel when she says that bonobos hold the key to human survival, because they are about to go extinct, courtesy of humans.

Confined to a u-bend in the Congo river in the DRC, therefore a deme, their lifestyle depends on an abundant supply of highly nutritious food. A bit like UK hippies before the 1974 OPEC oil crisis. Their extinction is due to the conflicts in the DRC: bushmeat for rebel forces in a conflict over territory and therefore mineral rights, fuelled by the global demand for Coltan for smartphones.

(If you don’t recycle your mobile, you are part of the problem. Whenever I see Jason Borne or any bad guy in any thriller or cop show, lob a ‘burner’ mobile into a litter bin I think of dead bonobos. The primate equivalent of those dead fairies piling up at the bottom of a politician’s garden.)

Told you it was unfinished. There’s a lot more to be said about applications to management and child development. Later perhaps…

So, playful chimpanzees,

Why children shouldn’t sit all day

Maybe 22 out of 30 kids don’t have ADHD

“I recently observed a fifth grade classroom as a favor to a teacher. I quietly went in and took a seat towards the back of the classroom. The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Kids were tilting back their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.

This was not a special needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular art-integrated charter school.”


Why performance appraisals fail their appraisal

The original title, ‘Why the days of performance appraisals should be numbered’ is probably a weak pun on measuring, doing the numbers and so on. Ho ho. Or am I missing a much better wordplay?

I’m a fan of performance appraisal, but…

Only if it is ‘360’, delivered live, face to face, without forms, and with the peers, reports and seniors selected by the appraisee. No forms, but the use of postits and flipcharts on walls is greatly encouraged. This ‘documentation’ belongs to the appraisee, copies are not made, and the appraisee takes them away with them.

(I’m thinking of a method deployed and devised by Frances Storr and Peter Fryer)


Interesting nevertheless…

Knob gags: mirror neurons and social learning #47 in the insights for managers series

An apology
This isn’t intended to be broad or authoritative. The writing is a bit rough and ready. There are holes in it. It’s a bit (first) drafty.
Why have i written this?
Study of social primates• can provide insights into human behaviour which may be of relevance to managers. (•aren’t all primates social? Must check)
What causes trolling! What maintains it?
Trolling and flaming is fascinating. It reminds me of a thing that has emerged in comedy clubs.
The science bit
There is a monkey see monkey do thing in primates. Humans are primates. Mirror neurons provide a social learning mechanism which has survival value for a species.
Applying it to a human phenomenon: heckling
In non survival situations, like a night out, it becomes toxic. Fairly stupid bloke observe heckling in comedy clubs. Fairly stupid bloke ‘learn’ that thing to do is heckle and that this ‘helps: the comic. Ugg shout heckle. Yet the comics hate it, and the vast majority of the audience, apart from his mates on the stag night, hate it.
The victim speaks
Stewart Lee has described in his book how he found it impossible to do material that had anything in it other than crude reinforcement of stereotypes and knob gags. (Knob gags* could be fitted to any knob who heckles). He now refuses to do those venues, which is why you wonder what happened to him or why you haven’t heard of him.
Applying this to the world of work
If I were writing a book which would, in part or in whole, be about ‘consensual communication’ (a term that I believe I have coined, so hands off), it would take the above exposition and apply it to a management context.
A book
I am writing such a book, a successor to my lost cult classic, Navigating Complexity.
An appeal
I appeal to you dear readers, for further examples, and please, examples of contexts at work, in which you have observed the toxic effects of mirror neurons and social learning.

Triggered in part by Tom Hitchman, aimed at an audience which contains Tom and Ben Taylor and Rory Heap amongst others.

                                                 *and there is my punning title

Buy a gun! Stop children playing!

Why not buy a gun?

Watch the video… it will blow you away…

The technique of highlighting your cause by doing the opposite has yet to dawn upon the literal minded and unplayful ringleaders of the Notional Play Day.

I have changed the name to protect the guilty but here it is: http://www.playday.org.uk/

Every year they,  the High Command of the National Ludocratic People’s Community Committee for the Inclusion of Children’s Cohesion, come up with a vague slogan, slightly behind the current children-related issues of the day. Like a school end of term disco playing last summer’s dancefloor filler.

But hold on! We also find this: http://www.nationalchildrensdayuk.com/

A quick glance at the aims and the supporters of both organisations and we discover that they have many in common. And, we must ask, why aren’t those who support Playday not also supporting Children’s Day, and vice versa?

Is it like the conflict between the National Ludocratic People’s Community Committee for the Inclusion of Children’s Cohesion (NLPCCICC) and the People’s National Children’s Community Ludocratic Cohesion Inclusion Citizenship Campaign (PNCCLCICC)?

This is why I often propose:


A day during which any playful activity, such as  newsreader’s and politician’s so-called jokes, playful chat at work, jolly comments in the pub, banter from gameshow hosts, loud joketelling in the street, giggling over coffee, singing along to the radio, playing pool, opening a door with a smile, laughing, smiling, being happy, is outlawed, forbidden, punishable. Squads of ordinary people will volunteer, wearing NO PLAY armbands and will seek out offenders.

Yesterday was International Happiness Day. Google it, I’m not making it up.


Next Thursday is:
Join me in celebrating it by staying in bed.

Celebrate National No Play Day, and take that smile off your face. Yes, you. Didn’t you see the sign?

Playwork in The Context Of Community (consultants, this also applies to you)

(This is here partly in response to m’learned friend Professor Benjamin P. Taylor saying “I must ask you to explain what playwork is sometime”. This piece does that, a little bit.)

Some people aren’t playworkers and they know they aren’t. Some people think they are playworkers and they aren’t. Some people are playworkers and they know they are. Many more think they might be and they are.

And some have no idea that they are not only playworkers, they are also playwork advocates and theorists, yet they have no idea at all.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you playworker Tom,  a bloke who understands playcues and calls them invitations, a term that I prefer in some contexts.

Here’s a sample of his wisdom:
“What I do know is that they are learning because what we are primarily about is building community which is the environment in which humans have evolved to learn.”

This splendid blog has wisdom in every sentence and every photo caption. Read it slowly and deliberately and ask yourself how it might apply to management consultancy, to organisational learning, to organisation development and all that. Read it slowly and, take notes. Because it totally does apply to all that, big style. And don’t forget to take notes.

Go now! Read!


Schools failing kids. Schools failing.


From this excellent piece…

“My second grade teacher, Miss Cockfield, had this Confucius quote on the wall: “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”

“But school can’t be like that any longer because it has become serious business, big business, with corporate profits and losses at stake. If too many kids fail, a school loses funding, teachers get fired, school doors get closed. Just as my baseball coach yelled at me because I accidentally “cost” his team of 8-year-olds an out, we’re all now yelling at our kids to take it seriously, to buckle down, and win, because the “failure” of a 5-year-old is now a matter of grave consequence.

“Human children are simply not designed for this. They are designed for sports, they are designed for learning, they are designed for education, but without the freedom to fail (and often), without the freedom to make it up as we go along, without the freedom to try new things and have new ideas whether or not they fit the conventional wisdom, then it’s a cruelty, a robbery. When we take away their free play, we take away their ability to learn life’s most important lessons: to take responsibility, to persevere, to create, to make agreements with others, and yes to get back up when we fail without some grown-up yelling at us for having fallen.”