A new year and the marshmallow challenge for students

Another academic year has started with a wonderful new  group of MSc students, so this year I have introduced the marshmallow challenge (which you can  watch via a Ted talk in the first  link), to get them all thinking about groups and team work.sept dawn

The principle involves a team competition to build the tallest freestanding structure out of 20 pieces of spaghetti, 90 cm of string, 90 cm of sticky tape and one marshmallow which must be placed  on the top of the creation, and the tower must be completed in 18 minutes. A tall order in many ways.

Anyway after some incredulous looks my new students got down to work.

A couple of groups drew and planned first before starting  to build.

planning the tower

Another group built and then adapted whilst a fourth group focused on the foundation of the structure.

helping each to build

tower team work

There were many exchanges of ideas,  much listening to each other and quite a lot of task allocation and a lot of hands on construction!

The winning structure, see below, measured approx  60 cm but started to lean rather alarmingly. When questioned about the design, the inspiration had come from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

winning marshmallow tower

A wonderful website, www.marshmallowchallenge.com and community exist around the marshmallow challenge,  with a great gallery of various teams’ attempts including fantastic creations from kindergarten children who ,apparently , create the most imaginative and very robust towers as they constantly prototype ideas and adapt as they go along.

Discussion on research ethics at the British Library

If only most of  my days could be spent at the British Library. Just passing through the gate and arriving in the courtyard is uplifting.

Anyway, I was here about a week ago to listen to various learned bodies discussing to what extent research ethics in social sciences should be different from that of the traditional medical sciences, where research ethics had originated. The Academy of Social Sciences had called this event after a period of reflection about the changing research landscape within its subject areas. The academy now wishes to change the prevailing culture of research ethics in the social sciences from one of compliance with universities and funding bodies rules and regulations to a culture of professional responsibility – whereby individual researchers take responsibility as to the integrity of their research and acknowledge the social responsibilities of their research.

There was much heated debate over the nuances of the five new prevailing standards which will be published later in 2014 from representatives of the Market Research Society, Sociologists and university ethics officers. An intense and interesting day and it was reassuring to see widespread acknowledgement of how technology has changed the research environment.

MSc Marketing 2013 begins!

We have a wonderful new cohort of MSc Marketing students from  a wide range of countries and subject backgrounds – welcome.

During induction they managed to find the correct rooms.




They all tried to stay awake and listen even when they were very tired.


The boys even  proved their yoga flexibility when working on the floor.


Catching enthusiasm from students!

I was given an unexpected opportunity to deliver some guest lectures on digital marketing strategy, consumer behaviour and the social media environment to a group of delightful American summer school undergraduates here in Oxford this summer, being taught at Trinity College.

The students all hailed from St Bonaventure University in New York State and comprised a mixture of Journalism and Business students all eager to learn and think about the digital state and the digitalised economy.

Their enthusiasm and eagerness to ask questions and probe the assumptions I gave out during my talks caused my to reflect on the different styles of interaction in the classroom that I have experienced during undergraduate, graduate and executive teaching and across different cultures and in different countries. The enthusiasm and high level of energy fizzing off the students was infectious and I came away from the experience with renewed energy and engagement with my subject. I hope they benefited as much as I did.

My best achievement this year so far – Teaching awards nomination

What do teachers need most in the world – a mug! I was amazed and surprised to hear from the Student Union at Oxford Brookes university  that I had been shortlisted for an annual  teaching award  for – ‘going above and beyond for students’. A wonderful colleague  in the law department actually won this, Marc Howe, but it was great to get a tiny bit of recognition and of course my wonderful new coffee mug  as a prize, seen  below. I try to keep an open door policy for all my students in the hope  that someone else would do the same for my own student children in their universities. Thank you to whichever students nominated and voted for me. Coffee time now seems much more cheerful with my great mug.

Management versus leadership

We  were fortunate enough to have  Mike Bernard, Director of Large Enterprise Marketing from IBM come and share his insight with  our MSc Marketing students this week. Mike outlined his thoughts on leadership and management and how to encourage positive outcomes when working with other people. There were some excellent questions from the students regarding an off-shoring scenario which they were given to work on and the appropriate management styles that might be used.  Trust, clarity of communication, costs,consistency for brand, planning and culture were all emphasised with regard to managing projects involving major change. In addition, Mike gave practical advice on developing skills and competencies to enhance  the students’  graduate profiles. Thanks Mike for taking the time to visit and share your wisdom.

Guest speaker with added extra sparkle

This week the MSc Marketing students who have sensibly chosen digital as an elective were given  a glorious insight into the life of a digital strategist at a major advertising agency. The extra sparkle was that is was Di Caplinska an alumnus of the marketing department here at Oxford Brookes. She was a star student whilst here and has gone on to great things largely through hard work, creative approaches to problem solving and early forays into creating a digital persona in order to market herself. Di can be followed @ThatCuriousOne.

Di gave a humourous and honest account of life within  an agency such as TBWA, for which she now works. Even more importantly she outlined her views on the key themes of successful digital and integrated/multi channel marketing (including respect your consumer – don’t treat them like idiots even if it is toothpaste you are marketing, be interesting to make consumers interested, invoking curiousity is important). The illustrative examples she used of the good, the bad and the ugly, will go down in Brookes history – not least because of the language used.  I am sure that the Skittles brilliant rainbow campaign and the Fem Fresh lack of thinking will remain in the students’ memories long after their graduation.

Di demonstrated to the student audience what it is possible to achieve in the competitive environment of the advertising agency world, words of wisdom freely shared to a slightly surprised and awestruck audience.  It was great to have you back Di, thanks for visiting.



Live company projects 2013 – bring it on!

February 4th sees the 2013 roll out of the popular, yet demanding, live company projects on the MSc Marketing course at Oxford Brookes.This year we are fortunate enough to have  organisations such as ECCO, the RNLI, Ventyx and The Marketing Practice joining us to challenge the students’ and assist in developing marketing strategies for those firms.  Newer  companies such  as The Green Unit (sustainable construction), A Strand of Silk (Indian e-commerce) and local businesses such as Campenergy (activity camps for children) and Oxford Brookes Racing (the most successful student race car team in the UK) are also participating.

The students will work in international teams to answer the briefs created by the organisations and provide solutions, through market research, to the specific marketing challenges faced by those businesses. In the next 12 weeks  the teams will find the projects fascinating, hard work, stimulating, tiring, frustrating and ultimately hugely positive. Updates will be posted here!

Improving collaborative research success

Attended an insightful workshop at Oxford University last week looking at how to improve collaborative research success funded by Vitae (www.vitae.co.uk) which encourages the development of researchers across disciplines and RCUK (www.rcuk.ac.uk) which wants more impactful research outputs. Here’s what I came away with.

1. The personal relationships between members of research teams and groups are paramount in determining the success or failure of the research project.

2. The need to be respectful to those perceived as being above, equal AND below you in the research and  institutional context in which you operate.

3. The establishment of common goals at the outset, albeit informal ones to avoid crushing creativity.

4. To define roles, tasks and responsibilities according to specialist knowledge, past experience and other commitments.

5. That conflict, if managed can result in creative and productive output.

6. To consider the role that culture plays. Institutional culture, subject/discipline culture, personal culture.

7. To appreciate the difference between meeting expectations and going beyond expectations and the ratchet effect this can create.

8. That leadership in research  may incorporate  establishing trust in your self and others, holding your nerve to defend your ideas, demonstrating curiosity to envisage the bigger picture of where the research collaboration could go and finally energy to sustain the project and those working with you.

We were asked to build a Noah’s Ark in 2 teams, one designed the interior and one team designed the exterior. 2 meetings of 5 minutes were permitted but no other contact.  We had A4 paper, 2 straws, sellotape and some wooden lolly sticks. A picture tells a thousand stories – here is our ark below  – and we had two renowned animal researchers, 1 on each team!  We performed well on communication and team cohesion but less well on role clarification and incremental staging post testing. Noah would not have been impressed.




The lowdown on the Journal of Marketing from the editor’s lips

Several colleagues from my department at Oxford Brookes attended a helpful and lively presentation from Prof Gary Frazier, from USC, the current editor of the Journal of Marketing (one of the elite 4* Marketing journals) which was held at the Said Business School, here in Oxford.

The talk was in the new building , so new in fact  that tape was still being removed from windows by the decorators when I arrived and the smell was reminiscent of a new car interior. A small  group of us absorbed the numbers of papers submitted and rejected annually (800 submissions, 35% desk rejected) whilst Gary explained the editorial process and also called for more theoretical contributions to the Journal of Marketing  to help drive the Marketing subject forward. His three main critieria for inclusion were; the paper must be interesting and creative, it must be valid with conceptual rigour and it must have broad appeal to engage the readership. Many questions were asked by aspirant researchers and  we left the session feeling informed,  hopeful and reassured that 4* publication is possible, though the journey to paper acceptance is challenging.