December 20, 2011

Tim Mahon and the Training & Simulation Forum (Part One)

Some of you may remember Tim as the European Correspondent for Training & Simulation Journal, for others he’s the Editor of the new Training & Simulation Forum. For all of you, he’s a creative and insightful journalist. The new Forum is quickly evolving with a distinct focus on industry discussion and collaboration. Read on to hear what Tim has to say about the new site and how you can get involved.

Name: Tim Mahon
Title: Grand Poobah, Editor of TSF, industry consultant, and freelance writer

Publication(s): Training & Simulation Forum

Home Base: Cheltenham, United Kingdom

Twitter: @TimMahon1


Pets: Several species of small furry mammals grooving in a cave with a Pict, a (now slightly fading) picture of a long-lost girlfriend – and a Wolpertinger!

Quirks/Hobbies: Quirks are too many (and too embarrassing) to enumerate; hobbies include GREAT food and drink (though no longer, sadly, to excess), leading the local church choir, military history and an abiding interest in really fascinating and honest, genuine people, be they politicians, gurus or ‘just’ John and Jane Doe…

Contact Info:
DTP:  Have you decided print is dead Tim? What inspired you to establish an online news site and Forum?
TM: I don’t think print will die in my lifetime. It will, however, continue to change. Outside the daily press – and perhaps weekly – the inability to keep up with the news cycle that the Internet has given birth to – or, at least, the expectation many of us now have of that cycle – means that print media will have to focus on adding value in order to survive and succeed. Individuals of all generations will still need something to read on the train, in the plane, in the bath or in bed. Nothing will quite replace the tactile and physical nature of a print publication, but it will need to focus on providing content and context that is not time-sensitive. I cannot quite imagine reading the National Geographic online and getting the same feeling of satisfaction and personal involvement, somehow. Print publications fuel dreams because they provide a more intimate communion with the subject than a computer screen, I believe – though today I have joined the iPad generation, so I may have a different view in a few weeks or months! I am also fascinated by the fact that many of the sci-fi authors that I read (for sheer escapism), predicting lifestyles in the distant future, frequently contrast the luxury and enduring nature of the printed word while extolling the immediacy and vibrancy of electronic information resources.
As to the inspiration, I would like to claim Deep Thought and Clairvoyant Insight, but the truth is that, like many of the finer things in life, the original idea was a combination of frustration with existing media, a desire to do Something Different and Worthwhile and copious quantities of alcohol. Couple that with a passion for the training and simulation community – at first limited to the military sphere but increasingly focusing on other areas of T&S activity – and, most important of all, perhaps, being fortunate enough to find a business partner with innate faith in the concept and the complementary skills to help me make it all work – and you have a recipe for a business idea that is huge fun to work with, is an intellectual and managerial challenge worthy of addressing and will, I hope, become a worthwhile contribution to raising the level of debate and discussion in an industry poised on the verge of immense opportunities.
DTP: What is TSF all about? Can you tell us why you’ve incorporated a blog, Forum and news feature?
TM: TSF is intended to be an interactive, embracing and engaging Forum for the T&S industry in which members can participate, share, pool, discuss, benefit, research, find inspiration and help their fellow professionals. The industry faces massive challenges as well as considerable opportunity, but we are unlikely to see those challenges resolved or opportunities realized unless we dismantle the barriers of distrust that still exist between supplier and consumer in many areas. The situation has improved in military procurement in recent years, that’s true, but we still have a long way to go, in my not so humble opinion.
The original idea was a Forum. One of the industry gurus, when he first heard the idea, told me “you give us the forum and we’ll populate it; it will go viral.” Building a business model around a forum was, however, tricky to say the least. Without the ability to make the service commercially viable, it wasn’t going to be anything but a pipe dream and – unlike Samuel Coleridge Taylor with Xanadu – I had never been able to produce anything remotely enduring from a pipe dream. So the question was how to provide a value added service that would draw people to something that will work best with their active participation. The answer was simple: it’s the content, stupid!
So before we got the Forum component off the ground (this is being written 24 hours before the launch of the discussion channels) we focused on providing a timely news service, which the print publications serving the community are unable to do, simply by virtue of their publishing schedules, and ensuring that we never, EVER, merely recycle a press release. Our mantra is to add context and value wherever we can and to build an archival resource that will become a treasure trove for new and not-so-new members of the community alike.
That service had to be allied to additional information resources, so we built a directory of the supply side of the industry to begin with and are now working on additional directories and resources that will supplement it: who buys T&S solutions, services and equipment? What is the current scale of issue of T&S equipment in xyz-land? How many Level D-certified full flight simulators are there in the world? The creation of these resources is taking a long time, but they will, I hope, become invaluable to the community as membership of the Forum grows.
Other components are being researched, too; a repository for white papers, conference proceedings and thought leadership; a ‘who’s who’ of the industry and ‘people on the move;’ a contracts and tenders service. The full list is quite long and quite possibly insanely ambitious, but a boy has to dream, doesn’t he?
The blog was an easy add. One of my frustrations in writing for other people was quite often that I had to limit my contributions to relatively sterile and, in my view, ‘also ran’ writing. The blog gives me the freedom to express an opinion, stimulate discussion, raise the level of debate or simply rant about the latest idiocy that has popped over my radar horizon. I haven’t actually succumbed to the temptation to rant yet – and that is one of the great benefits of working with a business partner who keeps me honest!
DTP: Can anyone join in the discussions in the Forum? Any guidance you’d like to offer for those wanting to post?
TM: Anyone can join in. Chief Executives, flag officers, unit training officers, sales engineers, professors, authors and students. If they have something worthwhile to say, be it provocative, innovative, inquiring or simply observational, our simple philosophy is “come one, come all.”
Guidance is perhaps too strong a word. We don’t want to prevent anybody from saying anything that is on their mind, provided it’s relevant to the training and simulation community and abstains from ad hominem attacks or unfocused meandering. This Forum isn’t ours – it’s the community’s, and the community is made up of thousands of individuals with differing experiences, beliefs and aspirations. We want this Forum to give them all a voice and a place in which that voice can be heard.
In order to prevent abuse we have had to decide that we will ask anyone who wants to contribute to sign up as a member. This isn’t a nefarious method of obtaining huge swathes of personal information – and it isn’t a clandestine method of extorting money from anybody; membership of the Forum is free, gratis and entirely risk-free. It’s simply a method of ensuring that anybody who engages in the Forum’s activities does so as a professional individual with a legitimate purpose in engaging with his peers. So do join up – you might even enjoy it!
When I lived in California I would occasionally listen to Garrison Keillor’s radio show “Lake Wobegone Days.” One of his memorable quotes has stayed with me for ten years since I left the land of E Pluribus Unum. “God writes a lot of comedy... the trouble is, he's stuck with so many bad actors who don't know how to play funny.” You don’t need to be funny to come join the Forum – but we sure don’t want any bad actors.

Photo Credit: WoW

…. Check out TSF and join in on the conversation! We’ll have more from Tim in January about his interview aspirations, recommendations for PR people, and why the defense industry continues to be a passion.


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