Exploring analogies: living abroad, maths and Sherlock Holmes

Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass

Recently, with much delight, I’ve been watching BBC’s Sherlock television series (2010) that brought us a contemporary view of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s universe. Having grown up with my eyes glued to the original books and Jeremy Brett portraying the famous detective (1984) – I was initially quite suspicious of the modern interpretation. Old trick, one would say, to re-wrap the family heirloom, cherished on the shelf for ages, into a shiny new paper – and call it innovation. In this case, it worked, at least for me. I was impressed and amused. All the well-known features, so dear to my heart, were translated and empowered in a parallel world of 21st-century London with taste, elegance and surprise vignettes. Mobile phones and Internet technologies instead of letters, nicotine patches instead of a pipe, blogging instead of writing for newspapers… just to illustrate.

Then I thought more about the smart use of analogy and my relationship with this creativity technique.

I realized that I was unknowingly exposed to it from a very early age. Namely, maths was always my favorite subject in school because I almost never needed to learn anything by heart (I guess that’s why I later went on to study it at university). For most of my childhood, I spent Saturdays in classes for gifted children, solving mathematical puzzles, and I loved it. All I had to do is to recognize categories of problems and apply a trick-of-the-trade I learned fighting similar quests. The battle was never the same, but I could win it if I recognized the enemy’s disguise, by reflecting on my previous fighting history.

Another factor that I believe contributed greatly to my love of analogy is the experience of living abroad. I come from Serbia, but have spent a certain amount of time living in Austria, Germany, Italy and now, England. My experience tells me that when one moves abroad, as an isolated entity, one has to intensely search for analogical items to fulfil this universe that is new and unknown. Trains: Zeleznice Srbije – OBB – DeutscheBahn – Trenitalia – National Railways. Television: RTS – ORF – ZDF – RAI – BBC. Sounds uneventful, but it is actually a challenge to simultaneously find equivalents of grocery items, favourite cafes, home, transport… and everything else that has been making the previous world. Now imagine doing that in a country whose language you don’t speak. That’s the advanced level of the game.

I would say that when one is once used to do mappings all the time, it is easier to switch domains and even go out and invent parallel worlds, in case of a creative need. I read somewhere, “logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere”.

The fun part is when all the equivalents are found, and you start to discover in that parallel world categories of things and interactions that are completely unknown to you, but yet relevant. The ones that lack a mapping, and bring the glitter in. “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards“, says Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’.

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Game On

Screenshot of the online game "Dreams of Your Life"

Screenshot of the online game "Dreams of Your Life"

Wherever technology leads us, one of our most fundamental impulses is to play – through advances of mobile devices and social networks, technology is shaping the brave new world where limits between work, free time, making profit and personal relationships are blurry. New rules apply. Surely you have noticed?

Jane McGonigal was one of the first researchers to explore the question of how games could change the way we think and act in everyday life. Her revolutionary talk on Games Developers Conference 2008 presented an argument of how reality is broken, and we need to start making games to fix it. Industry reacted with an explosion of “games for personal and social change”, “positive impact games”, “social reality games”, “serious games” and “leveraging the play of the planet”. What is this all about?

The idea is that we should not aim at making games that are better and more immersive alternatives to reality – but rather at making the world become a better and more immersive reality. Quest is to explicitly design games that improve quality of life, by providing opportunities to solve problems and intervene in social situations in surprising, inventive and effective ways. Now, that is what I call true entertainment.

This month, Jane and her team set out an example by releasing a game called SuperBetter. This platform helps one achieve his health and life goals – or recover from an illness or injury – by increasing personal resilience – staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.

Another recent example is a subversive online experience Dreams Of Your Life, developed by London-based game company Hide&Seek. It supports Film4’s documentary film about 38-year old Joyce Vincent, whose skeleton was discovered in her bedsit three years after she had died. Game aims to engage player in reflection on subjects such as society, friendship, love and loneliness. Play is continued afterwards via email, by challenging player to undertake small, rewarding actions in his everyday life.

Here at the Centre, we are developing a reality fix of our own. The happiest man is the one who manages to unify work and play, do you agree? With my PhD research supported by MIRROR project – incorporating creativity, serious games and users’ professional needs – I would like to contribute to creating such working environments. Game on.

Play It Again, Sam

Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (1972) is one of my favourite films. Have you seen it? Only recently I realized its story features an insightful creativity technique application that relates to my current PhD research at the Centre.

By day, he is Woody Allen. But when night falls and the moon rises, Humphrey Bogart strikes again. Bogart’s Casablanca persona is appropriated as the fantasy mentor for Allen’s troubled character in the film, named Allan; throughout the plot, Allan is encouraged to take advice extracted from a familiar, but distant parallel world to solve his issues with dames in real life. Looking from the semiotics point of view, as Umberto Eco notes: Thus Casablanca is not just one film. It is many films, an anthology. […] When all the archetypes burst in shamelessly, we reach Homeric depths. Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.

I will be relying on that power of stereotypes to evoke emotions in order to create a good game. My PhD work, supported by MIRROR project and supervised by Prof Neil Maiden (School of Informatics) and Prof Julienne Meyer (School for Health Sciences), aims to inform relationships between creativity and games, with application in dementia care domain.

Last month, thanks to Registered Nursing Home Association (RNHA), I took part in an induction for carers in Ipswich. During the role-play exercises, I noticed that carer should at some point act as a sort of detective, understanding residents’ actions and emotions, in the context of its causes and implications. Namely, reasoning in such a deductive way aims to help carer predict and resolve challenging behaviours occurring daily in a care home for people with dementia, which is a fast-paced, flexible and non-deterministic environment due to the nature of the residents’ condition. This approach empowers person-centred care, which is a priority for good carer practice. Furthermore, reconstructing events requires managing information from both personal and other people’s reflections, and therefore supports reflective learning, which has been the main topic of the MIRROR project. Parallel world is being chosen to correspond with its mechanisms to the original challenge.

Ideas found their shape during my last week’s visit to Imaginary, a game development company from Milan, another partner of ours in the MIRROR project. Using direct analogy as implicit creativity support, we are about to create a parallel-world game environment to support carers in discovering their inner detective skills. To spice up things in addition with some tricks of the trade, there will be explicit creativity support injected as well. These are just the initial clues I am giving you – keep in touch to find out more.

After you try my game, I hope you’d wish to play it again. Until, as time goes by

Bogart: That was great. You’ve, uh, you’ve really developed yourself a little style.
Allan: Yeah, I do have a certain amount of style, don’t I?
Bogart: Well, I guess you won’t be needing me any more. There’s nothing I can tell you now that you don’t already know.
Allan: I guess that’s so. I guess the secret’s not being you, it’s being me. True, you’re – you’re not too tall and kind of ugly, but – what the hell, I’m short enough and ugly enough to succeed on my own.
Bogart: Hmmph. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Reflections on Reflection

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I was asked recently to prepare and deliver a talk for Business Studies undergrads at Cass Business School on the topic of Reflective Practice.  Pulling strands together from my current academic endeavours, my career to-date and my busy family life, I realised just how important it is to being a fully rounded human being!  How I wish someone had introduced me to Reflective Practise as an undergraduate or even earlier in my education.  It seems to me to be a life skill we should all learn early so that it becomes second nature.

I started my own blog a few months ago to help with my own personal reflection.  During our recent Technologies for Creativity and Innovation module, we were required to write reflective tweets and I’ve carried on doing it (@AlisonDuffyMICL).  I’m also putting together a reflective journal for assessment as part of our Creative Industries module.  I’m finding all of this activity fascinating, energising and really helpful.  I’m discovering who I am and what I’m capable of and I’m listening to my ‘inner voice’. 

Looking back on something to examine what went well and what didn’t is so important in all aspects of our lives.  Recognising feelings, behaviour patterns and mental models is relevant to relationships, team working, leadership, creativity, innovation, self-awareness, confidence, motivation…

Why is it then, that very few organisations seem to encourage it? 

Reflection requires time, space and a desire to discover how things really are.  And it’s personal.

Have I just answered my own question?!

 

Microblogging in a Care Home Context


Can microblogging be used to improve the richness and quality of care notes made by care staff?

Screenshot showing test data – not real data.

In our research project MIRROR we are working with the Registered Nursing Homes Association (RNHA) to support the capture of more reflective observations by care staff through the use of microblogging tool to improve sharing of work relevant information and collaborative work as well as improving the data capture processes for information about a residents daily activities, health, mental health and needs.

Carers already make notes about the care they deliver, the health and the mental status of the residents in their care. This is often still done entirely on paper. Only a minority of care homes currently use digital care plans, and where these are implemented there are usually only one or two computers available for carers to use to enter their notes – resulting in a queue to type up their notes at the end of each shift. Not exactly ideal for encouraging rich care notes. Also, in their current form, the care notes are not easy to review and it can be difficult to identify a very gradual change in a resident’s condition which may occur over a longer period.

So in MIRROR, we are planning to use mobile devices running apps that enable care staff to record information about care in situ at the time that it is generated. As a proof of concept we ran a 3 day trial using protected Twitter accounts and the free Twitter App running on an Apple iPod Touch locked to provide only the capabilities needed by care staff during a shift.

Unlike regular tweets that can be followed by members of the public, the observations captured could only be accessed by the other devices being used by care staff and the shift supervisor who monitored the tweets throughout the shift. And unlike the current process with paper notes, each observation was shared in real-time, which increased communication between the care staff in the residential home.

For the next phase we are implementing an enterprise microblogging tool called Yammer. Unlike Twitter, which is designed to be a tool to broadcast public posts that can be accessed by anyone on the web, Yammer is designed to be used internally within an organisation and is accessible only to members of that organisation. This provides a closed, encrypted network where carers can post observations and care notes for their residents. These posts will be monitored by the shift supervisor for patterns in resident behaviour and changes in mental or physical condition. The posts will also be incorporated into a daily or weekly summary for each resident, which the nurses and senior carers can use to track changes over time and to input into revisions of care plan for each resident.

We’ll be trialling this later this year, and we’ll keep you posted. We’d love to hear from you about your experience using micro-blogging tools in an organisational context.

Author: Kristine Pitts