Infinite series, remarkable results, and personalisation in social care

There are many astounding things to be found in maths. One of my current favourites (brought to popular attention by Kottke) is:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + … (to infinity) = -1/12

That’s right. Adding all of the positive integers to infinity equals a small, minus fraction (and thus the joke of the tweet at the start of this post).

If you’re interested in how/why, the video below is a good starter [1].

So what?

Without wishing to make too much of a leap, I think this has two contradictory lessons when it comes to personalisation in adult social care.

  1. If you follow rules and/or processes absolutely rigorously then what you might end up with could confound nearly everyone and what they would sensibly or understandably expect. In some cases, it would be reasonable to suggest things like Resource Allocation Systems could also fall into this category.
  2. If you pursue something in an open-minded way, trusting the way in which you go about it and where the process takes you, then you might end up with a surprising, unexpected, but still wonderful and valid result. Again, in some cases, it’s reasonable to say things like co-production fall into this category.

[1] – Note the word starter. For a brief overview of why the video isn’t rigorous read this excellent article at Bad Astronomy. If you want the maths try this from John Baez (pdf) or read up on the Riemann Zeta function. But be warned: it’s a rabbit hole.


“No news is good”: the practicalities

A couple of weeks ago I posted “No news is good”, which captured my plan to opt out of news, social and other media in order to:

pursue the things that interest me and my mind – giving myself chance and space to be curious, to think, to create and to be.

It was great to have various exchanges with people about the move, and I really would recommend taking the time to read Rolf Dobelli’s original essay (pdf).

A couple of people were interested in the practicalities of what I was going to do instead. This post briefly summarises the things I’ve put in place or am trying to help make my opt out a reality, broadly by media type. It’s not at all a riveting read, but shared in the hope it may be useful to others thinking about this topic.

Spare Slots grid

My "Spare Slots" grid - things to do if in a spare ... on Twitpic

By far the most important element of my approach is the Spare Slots grid above. This simple grid enables me to make proactive choices about what I might want to do depending on what sort of time slot is available. The things that are in the grid are aligned with things I’m interested in or trying to prioritise – arranged by the 3 headings of Create, Consume and Cardio – including things like writing more or opportunities to read/study.

The time slots are truly ‘spare’ time, i.e. when family time or work responsibilities are done (or as done as they ever can be!).

What the Spare Slots grid does is provide a menu of things that are important to me, and that are an alternative to the default of opening up my laptop/phone, which often leads to “sink” activities.


  • The first and main thing I’m doing with Twitter is to use it according to my Spare Slots grid. This means I spend no more than 15 minutes at a time on it, and so help manage the overall time I spend on it
  • I tend to focus much more on interaction rather than tweets. So the first and second columns in Tweetdeck are @ replies and Direct Messages, rather than my timeline
  • I’m being clearer with myself on who I am following/unfollowing and why. Hard as it is, I’m also being a little less English and unfollowing people rather than hesitating over it all the time
  • Lists are very useful – it enables me to separate specific work people / things and other interests
  • I use favourites a lot
  • Another useful trick is to schedule tweets. This means that I can only be on Twitter for 15 minutes but still post stuff over a period of a few hours / days without necessarily having to be on Twitter myself
  • I use filters, especially with some website links. Thus, I now very, very rarely see Daily Mail or Guardian links (for example) in Twitter
  • The main tool I use to do all of the above is Tweetdeck. This works best on my laptop, and haven’t yet found the best app to use on my phone that allows me to do as much as I want.


  • I didn’t use Facebook much anyway, which is fortunate because it’s in no way as customisable as Twitter is. The key here appears to be (if you’ll excuse my phrase) “selective vision”. Thus, if I see a picture with text on it, I just don’t read it.


  • YouTube is more customisable than I’d realised, especially using a Chrome Extension that takes a lot of the noise away (some ads, suggested videos etc. – search for “YouTube” in the Chrome Extension Store)
  • The main thing I do here is use subscriptions to channels
  • Similarly, I use Watch Later a lot, and this is the landing page I go to when first visiting YouTube.

Feedly (RSS Reader)

  • I still don’t get why Google discontinued Reader because I find RSS the most effective way of managing sources of information
  • Feedly is my RSS Reader of choice LINK, which allows me to aggregate all sources of information I’ve chosen. This means I then don’t have to visit those sites and so reduces the possibility of wider distraction
  • My RSS feeds are categorised and arranged by certain topics
  • I’ve particularly added blogs / sources of info that explore issues in depth, are high quality or are from sources I trust/respect
  • Even here, I filter the aggregated information quite quickly by using star item/read later systems.


  • I’ve basically switched it off! I’ve done this in the following ways:
  • I use a website/URL blocker as a Chrome Extension, which means that, even I have clicked a link, I still can’t see actually see it
  • I don’t buy newspapers or periodicals
  • I very rarely watch television. If there is something I’d like to see I use YouTube or, for flims/series etc. I tend to use Netflix (other streaming services are available)
  • I’m still considering the possibility of a subscription to a quality print periodical. The ones I’m thinking about at the moment are re-subscribing to Prospect or the London Review of Books, but I haven’t done this yet. Good as they may be, I won’t be getting a subscription to something like The Week, New Statesman or The Economist etc.

Personal email

  • The number of emails I deleted without reading was amazing. If I found myself deleting an email without reading it I would instead unsubscribe from the mailing list if at all possible. This has left me with around six newsletters from organisations I like (for example, Policy Network and Nesta).


  • I’ve removed some apps from my phone
  • I’ve turned off all notifications
  • I use airplane mode quite a lot (partly a battery problem, and much to the annoyance of my wife. Ever the diplomat, it’s only a matter of time before I get a mobile battery pack and not use airplane mode.).

So, those are most of the practicalities. After a bit of time seeing how it goes, I’ll do an update on what difference this has made, as well as reflections on the bit that I think will be the hardest: balancing all of the above with the responsibilities of work.

Paulo Freire: “I am a curious being”

This is a tremendous interview with Paulo Freire:

There’s so much good stuff in there that I’m not going to highlight particular parts, but just encourage you to watch it all. (Thanks to CR for the link.)

Why? Follow

A few thoughts about followership – as opposed to leadership – have been kicking around in my mind for the last couple of days.

This post is nothing more than a holding post, with two videos that I’ve found particularly interesting on this topic.

The first: “Leadership lessons from the dancing guy”


The second is Simon Sinek on “It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it”:

Snippets from a study on #personalisation

Yesterday, I cross-posted a blogpost on learning from Personal Budgets for Personal Health Budgets. The learning comes from general experience, as well as from the results of a 3-year study I’ve been involved with looking at the long-term impact of Personal Budgets on users.

I opened my post as follows:

Personalisation – and Personal Budgets in particular – are making a positive difference in the lives of lots of different people of different ages and impairment groups.

I did so deliberately: personalisation seems to have been getting quite a rough deal over the last 18 months, especially since its benefits aren’t being felt equally by all groups and seems to mean less is being spent on people. Personally, I think such views conflate a number of issues, including implementation, budgetary pressures and a lack of appropriate support.

If I had to summarise my feelings, I’d say the following: there is a legitimate debate to be had about how best to ensure personalisation is implemented such that it benefits everyone equally; in my view, that’s a different debate to one that challenges personalisation per se.

Still, it’s not good enough to have these debates in the abstract, or to talk about disrupting or innovating a system to within an inch of its life without really understanding what’s going on, and the 3-year study is one attempt to explore the issues fully over a period of time (rather than a snapshot)

The full report and 5 briefings will be available soon. In the meantime, below are 3 videos which capture the stories of 3 people and the impact Personal Budgets have had for them, now they’ve been receiving them for a long period of time.

You can also see these videos with subtitles and more background / description here:

Riot shields / voodoo economics

I did enjoy thinking about the contemporary relevance of this lyric in Radiohead’s “Electioneering” from 1997’s OK Computer. To help understand it’s relevance, I’ve included some links for each of the lyrics below (which could equally apply to any government of any colour):

Riot shields /
Voodoo economics /
It’s just business /
Cattle prods and the IMF /
I trust I can rely on your vote

Video here in case you want to see the original:

Preview of Disability LIB’s video library

Disability LIB – the alliance of organisations that has provided capacity building support and advice to Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) in England – has published a video on why Disabled People’s Organisations are important.

The film explains how disabled people have brought about significant social change in the last 30 years.

The film is part of the Disability LIB’s video web resource that contains 30 short films about Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and Capacity Building. The films will be launched at the Disability LIB legacy and learning event to be held on Tuesday 6 September.

The films are divided into 4 sections:

  1. Disabled Peoples Organisations
  2. Human Rights, Equality and Campaigning
  3. Running a Disabled People’s Organisation
  4. Leadership.

The films highlight work undertaken by Disability LIB over the past 3 years (June 08- May 11) and contain a number personal stories about organisational change. They highlight some of the challenges facing Disabled People’s Organisations and celebrate the unique value they have in making sure Disabled People are at the fore front of running their organisations, directing services and influencing and delivering social change that creates inclusive and accessible places to live, learn, work and play.

What does Saint-Saëns’s opinion about The Swan tell us?

I bought a hard-to-find hardback copy of the composer Saint-Saëns’s biography as a present to my PhD supervisor. Although I didn’t know who Saint-Saëns was then, and only do so now because my wife knows her stuff when it comes to classical music, a little story I heard about him has stuck in my mind.

Apparently, Saint-Saëns hated “The Swan” – one of the most recognisable parts of one, if not the most famous, of his compositions: The Carnival of the Animals. It goes like this:

Saint-Saëns’s hatred of the piece stems from its popularity: he detested the fact that what he considered to be so simple a piece was so popular with the public.

This set me to thinking about elitism, populism and perceptions of these from the different standpoints they represent. There’s a parallel to be drawn between the purveyors of policy and the practitioners of politics, too.

The thing is, I’m not quite sure what it is yet. But I know that Saint-Saëns’s views resonated for some reason.

If anyone cares to enlighten me, therefore, please do…

Being first, or executing?

You don’t need to be first with an idea, you just need to be able to execute well.

This is the essence of an idea from James Gardner discussing the theme of innovation, as picked up by the ever wonderful Dave Briggs. It articulates, in one short sentence, something I’ve felt for a long time and which I’d articulated in a much worse way (i.e. that the world doesn’t need new ideas; it just needs to take the stuff that we know works and enable it to work at scale).

A fascinating discussion on the topic, led by Gardner, is embedded below: