Ireland is a place that has marked me forever. It has been the backdrop to my coming of age (a year in Dublin), happy moments with my family (holidays in Kerry), and where I met the girl I hope to spend the rest of my life with (if she’ll have me!).
The door is always open in Ireland, although, this may have more to do with my name than the politeness of Celtic folk; type Martin Cahill into Google and you will see what I mean. I haven’t always liked Ireland though. In fact, I used to hate it when I was younger. A trip to Ireland typically meant cold rain, scary aunts who would plant those sloppy kisses on your cheek, and extended stays in Kate’s (the local pub). My patience (at the age of 8 or 9) was bought with Club Orange, Tayto crisps and coins for the pool table. These days I visit Kate’s for the same reason my Dad did before. The Guinness is great, yes, but more than that – it’s the conversation. Local farmers walk through the door and into the warmth of Kate’s bar. The atmosphere can sometimes be quiet. Subdued even. There is no hurry to engage in wit and banter. Sometimes a period of reflection is the first order.
Kate also maintains a kitchen behind the bar. I don’t know how she does it, but she can go back there and within a few minutes provide a plate of steaming hot stew, potatoes and veg. Most surprising, is the customer did not even ask for it, but they certainly welcome it. Kate then communicates events from the day. What has been said by Farmer Connolley and the latest prices from the mart. She is a knowledge hub. An RSS feed in traditional Irish style. Another customer arrives and the conversation continues. A community of neighbours all ready to highlight changes in the market, economy, and even the weather. The local radio sits in the corner relaying the local news and the death list (those who have recently passed and the time of the mass and burial). Comment is passed, drinks are finished and people are back on their way. Back out to the land. Back to practice.
Kate’s bar – A School? … And the only piece of technology in sight – the radio.
The experience was reflected in London some time ago. It was my first visit to the Apple Store. As I walked through the door teenagers were typing and clicking on the new range of Mac laptops and iMacs on display. They were emailing and facebook’ing. To my right was a genius bar. A whole workbench of Mac geeks ready to fix your machine or answer your Mac related questions. I walked up the stairs and entered a creative zone. A place where photographers and movie-makers could learn and share tips in relation to their creative pursuits. Further along was a lecture theatre. A speaker was clicking through the latest features of iWork. Some were listening, others were posting online, networking, thinking.
Apple Store – A School? … Technology is on sale, but the centre-piece is people and knowledge.
I arrived in Sydney six months ago. In those early months I was looking for work and networking across the city. I was using both traditional and modern methods. One evening, over too many bottles of Cabernet a new friend asked me “If you could do anything, what would your working week look like?”. Great question, I thought. My response surprised me. “Well”, I said, “If I could do anything then I would like to open an Alternative School of Business. A place where talented folk across Sydney’s new and emerging industries could meet and a space where those looking for work could ‘hang-out’. People would be presenting – perhaps a new business idea. Others would critique and hopefully offer new ideas or routes to making it happen. Industry Pecha Kuchas would play out, events, and possibly corporate off-sites. It should be a hive of learning. A place where folk would come, enjoy a hot meal, and go back to the land. Back to practice. There are no corridors. No offices and no static zones. Just movement, progression and space”. “I would spend my time there”, I said, “and the rest of the week I’d pick up my camera and notepad and go venture” (that though is another story).
An Alternative Business School? Perhaps not so dissimilar to what we have now, you might say? Still, since talking to managers, analysts and talented folk across Sydney’s media, hi-tech, and social innovation scene I still hear a call for change. All cite the importance of an MBA and how they would benefit from such an experience. The good stuff like learning from other industries, making new connections, challenging their thinking, tackling tough problems etc. However, I was reminded of the gulf (supposed) between academia and practice, the pressures brought to bear on families and marriages, the untimeliness of case based learning and the fees!
I think the sector is ripe for great change, but we must avoid the McDonaldisation of education, just as Ireland must avoid the McDonalidation of its Celtic ways. Technology should never replace our human needs for social contact and social spaces. Technology should only ever fuel the conversation, peoples understanding and our overall pot of knowledge. It should only ever be the radio in the corner. What is interesting about today’s technology, is it makes the alternative business school self-organise. There is no need for administration or administrative teams. The school is open. Groups gather around themes. People subscribe. People unsubscribe. This is the magic of new social technology.