Surviving…or not

I’m currently doing the ‘How to Survive your PhD’ MOOC run by the Thesis Whisperer.  It’s been OK, probably not what I expected from a learning perspective but it’s interesting to connect with others (all 12,000 or so doing it.) I wish I had started it once in Melbourne as there have been physical meetings where I could have connected with other sufferers (I choose that word consciously today.)

I’m in the final stages of finishing a conference paper, due today, which I’d hoped to have considered for the attached special journal issue.  But I have to be realistic and expect not.

Today has not started well.  And I note that this is not just a PhD post. I was contemplating a social media rant, but I generally oppose self conscious statements on facebook or twitter about how wretched your current state of mind is, as it’s a little too attention seeking for my taste.  I could call my husband, who is in Melbourne this week trying to find us somewhere to live, but he’s under as much stress as I am right now with adjusting to a new workplace and all the real estate challenges – which tends to bring out the worst in both of us.

So instead I’m posting here. My own confidence about actually completing this PhD has plummeted recently. I just keep getting rejected at every turn. This morning it was the Australian Journal of Career Development, who rejected my article.  I completely understand why they did, the response was quick and justified (unlike my previous journal experiences), and they did say they thought the project was a valid one. But still.

The outcome of all this stress, I realised yesterday, is I’m angry at everything.  I’m angry at my husband for not being willing to see ‘non-perfect’ properties when we’re about to be homeless, for academia for rejecting me, for myself for not being good enough or for choosing to do something that will likely offer me no tangible benefit in the long term, at the fact that I don’t think I’ll ever find employment again, at friends for letting me down (and my unwillingness to express how mad I was to be cancelled on last minute) and even my bloody dog who decided to abandon his favourite ball in Sydney harbour yesterday.

And when I realised I had all this anger, and tried to let it go through yoga, I just switched anger to a great mix of sorrow and hysteria which has lead to me crying in public (and at home.) A lot.

So right now I’m not surviving my PhD at all. And no amount of MOOCs are going to help.

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Where leadership resides in my thesis

My research question is “How do practitioners in the Australian creative industries develop their leadership skills? And what is their relationship to leadership?”  Clearly leadership is central to the whole shebang, but where it actually resides is becoming less clear to me.

If you’ve read my themes, posted through August, there was little talk about leadership within it. It was more about environment and how this influenced communities of practice and learning.  The current paper I’m writing on is a bit the same.  Leadership has been lost a little through the cracks. I’m wondering if this is a mistake on my behalf, as the idea of defining a creative industries based concept of leadership has always been in the back of my head (aligned to the idea of a book post PhD.)

I’m currently transcribing an interview conducted in Melbourne in August.  And it specifically brings up a leadership idea that I haven’t touched on: the idea of the organisational/taste gatekeeper. The positions of power in the arts scene that control most of the power, often most of the money. My interview subject talks about how power lists published in the press always show the same people, often related, often married, who all come from the same schools. There’s a perception that if you “didn’t go to Scotch and play the cello” you want get the key fellowships (and by extension jobs and positions of power.

While I don’t want to swell on gatekeepers as subjects, and I don’t think I have many in my subjects (maybe one or two) I am talking to a lot of those who are bouncing up against them.

The same interviewee says that those who are emerging are doing something exciting, they are playing in the spaces between organisations and power. The operate in the margins, and they demonstrate the power of networks and distributed leadership.  This is something I have seen, even in organisational practice (like theatre.)

My comparison between visual arts and theatre, the subject of my current conference paper, may not only demonstrate the power of environment to shape leadership identity (I argue theatre practitioners lean toward a distributed concept of leadership given their collaborative approach while visual arts people tend to have a more hierarchical old school view) but also show how networked leadership evolves amongst some (theatre) but maybe not so much in visual arts  – where the gatekeepers are strong and prominent.  Or, and I’m ‘typing out loud’ here, the networked leaders in visual arts are not yet seeing the power of what they do, or calling it leadership, in the shadow of the gatekeepers?

Either way I need to ensure that the definition of leadership doesn’t get lost in the learning concepts.

Thoughts on Disruption

I’m writing during the lunch break of Disrupt Sydney, a one day conference run by University of Sydney on digital disruption. I was invited to attend by a recent person I met via Twitter, and as I like to shake my brain up every once and awhile it seemed like a good idea.

Like all conferences it is a mix of entertainment, networking and the occasional snippet of useful information.  With 8 weeks left before I leave Sydney the networking aspect is low on my agenda, hence hiding out writing when I could be collecting Linkedin profiles. I think two years of PhD work has made me a little too orientated toward being alone with my thoughts, which is going to be interesting when I have to go back into the workforce. (I also ignored the standard conference food for Mary’s, but that is just the fact that I’m not often in the city and because MARY’S…. Here’s a tip disruption conference organisers: disrupt the standard food and we’ll love you more.)

Disruption.  It’s big.  Thanks to our new PM it will be bigger.  It’s all about agility and innovation now isn’t it.  I do a lecture on cultural leadership and disruption (badly) in my course so I’m not immune to the trend.

While it has been touched on, very, very, very briefly, there is little critical analysis of the concept of disruption going on, here or more generally. And I can’t help asking to myself as I hear each speaker “is this really disruptive or the natural evolution of technology use?” Skip Rizzo gave a fantastic talk on the use of virtual reality technologies in the clinical environment including treatment of PTSD but is this really a radical departure? It’s still clinician driven, only the mechanisms have changed.

In my mind I keep thinking about Bespoke, Marcus Westbury’s recent ABC series.  This showed some great examples of a return to traditional making, along with examples of using technology for distribution and production, that to me is more disruptive than encouraging girls to study STEM.  I’m not critiquing the speakers, who have mostly been very engaging, but predilection for attaching the word ‘disruptive’ to a whole mess of stuff that has always happened.

Of course we’re in a business school, and mainstream organisational thought is where it’s at.  I signed up to a ‘workforce of the future’ workshop led by a Macquarie executive prior to attendance and I knew by lunch I was probably going to hate it.*  There’s a lot of language about creating community and bringing organic farming into the workplace (CHICKENS!) but not enough reflection on the fact that all this is designed to make people work harder/longer/smarter for the benefit of owners and shareholders.  Antony Funnell from Radio National reminded everyone in his keynote that the digital world is not a meritocracy and a tech genius with a laptop does not have everything necessary to build a world changing app- power structures still play a part. I just wished that level of critique was leveled at some of the other concepts.

True disruption is not just about finding new uses for technology to make more/save more money, it’s radical thought that changes the world. Most of the speakers today have talked about work that helps people, great, but disruptive? Not to me.

*I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t get any useful information from it.

Update: This was in The Guardian today and I agree wholeheartedly.