Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education


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Boss Bike Rides: uncovering the darker side of creativity and collaboration

Our July Boss Bike Ride pedalled out from Market Bosworth in Leicestershire on this year’s Independence Day, namely Sunday 4th July. Whilst this marked my 5th birthday as CEO at The Mighty Creatives, my co-rider Dan Lamoon from Colab Creation and I soon came across a site where independence, sovereignty and the right to set our own laws was marked as an impressive site of historical significance.  No, not the squalid cupboards where the Brexit deals were done and dusted, but Bosworth Field where the last major battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought. 

Duly named the Battle of Bosworth, the field allegedly was the site where the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York reached a grim conclusion.  Over 1,000 poeple were killed over one day on the fields that swept before us (the same number of deaths caused by Covid-19 on 8 April 2020 incidentally).

I say allegedly because the exact site of the battle is disputed.  Whilst the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre was built in 1974 on this site, it that has subsequently been challenged and another research team suggested in 2003 another location 2 miles away at Ambion Hill.

Be that as it may, what wasn’t in dispute was that Dan and I cycled to the top of Bosworth Hill and then duly cycled back down again in the best Grand Old Duke of York tradition.

There may well have only been two of us (100,000 Boss Bike Riders is still some way off) but the ever-present reminder of warfare, and the recognition that a collaboration was needed between the Lancastrians and some disgruntled Yorkists to win that battle prompted a lot of Boss Bike Ride discussions along the rest of the route on the nature of power, warfare, collaboration and the disconcerting presence of creativity in that mix

Back in the 2nd World War, collaborators were shot we reminded ourselves over a cappuccino whilst taking stock of the stocks, invitingly placed so as to encourage us to stick our heads and hands through them. Whilst we declined that invitation, we did engage with the challenge that presents itself when thinking about the role of creativity in politics and power.

How would you design the perfect hand grenade?  This was a question students at Furness College were posed whilst exploring the airfield and gun ranges of Fort Walney in Barrow in Furness as part of the Fort Walney Uncovered project I managed for Art Gene in Cumbria a few years ago.

Clearly, you have to be able to hold it comfortably, get a firm grip and be able to pull the pin and not have it explode in your hand which would be completely counterproductive. It should also, to be a truly effective hand grenade, cause the maximum amount of damage to whomever you throw it at: again, it would be a pretty pointless hand grenade should it just fizzle out. That’s why the surface has all those groove marks in it: when it explodes, the grooves provide natural fault lines for the explosive to detonate meaning that it fragments into thousands of pieces of shrapnel which will guarantee the maximum amount of damage possible for a weapon of its size and weight.

Apparently, the guys who designed the original hand grenade also designed a grenade to fit into rifle barrels. They would be shot out of your rifle and travel a great deal further than the ordinary hand grenade would be able to. Also, distinguished by deep grooves in their surfaces, these rifle grenades were the progenitors to latter day mortar weapons, the kind you see being used in Syria, Afghanistan and all those other theatres of modern-day warfare we are accustomed to seeing.

So, our art and design students learnt that the weapons of choice of the early 20th century were designed in much the same way as the sewing machine or horse drawn cart: paying full attention to form, function and effectiveness. There may even have been aesthetic considerations at play when it came to designing the hand grenade although it’s hard to see what they were.

It’s also hard to imagine a thought process in which earnest young men and women would sit down at a table and engage in some blue sky thinking about what it would take to design the most effective hand grenade. Did they talk about body parts? Mortality rates? Bang for your buck? Or did they do it with one hand over their eyes, pretending not to know what they were doing and perhaps imagining a use for the hand grenade which didn’t involve blowing people to bits? Is there somewhere, in the Ministry of Defence, a portfolio of uses of hand grenades which weren’t deemed appropriate and so have been confined to the dustbins of history?

We shall probably never know that but one thing we do know is that the religious-military -industrial complex that was evident in Bosworth Field over 500 years ago, is still alive and very much kicking today. 

Our worship at the altar of creativity and collaboration is all very well and can generate many great things in our lives: but it has its darker, annihilistic capabilities too and we’d be well minded to take that into account as we go about extolling the value of creativity in our work places.

More on creativity and forces of destruction here.

More about the Boss Bike Rides here.


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Boss Bike Rides: exploring Market Bosworth on Sunday 4 July from 12 noon.

 Set up with Nottingham’s Switch Up! Boss Bike Rides provide informal opportunities for CEOs, founders and senior managers of any business (family business, small and medium to corporate or even sole traders) to meet, network, socialise and become a peer support network  – all through the medium of shared bike rides around the East Midlands and beyond.

 Our next major ride will be on Sunday 4 July, starting at the Market Square in Market Bosworth in North West Leicestershire.  The ride is a circular one and lasts about 3 hours and is suitable for riders who want to take it easy and have plenty of stops along the way!

 The route is here.

You are very welcome to join us for some or all of the part of the ride: it’s not a race either so you’ll be able to go at your own pace too with like minded colleagues.  It’s as much about sharing your experience of being ‘the boss’ as it is about riding a bike!

 If you would like to know more, or would like to join up, please get in touch any time.


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Boss Bike Rides: how to create a bit of Urban Magic.

The basic premises of Boss Bike Rides are that you spend time on a bike with someone else and that you then share your experiences of boss-ness, boss-dom and boss-icity or a combination of all of the above.

But what if you don’t have some-one to ride with? And what if you’re not sure about how to start up a conversation with someone you may have known a long time?

This might sound an odd supposition but given many of us have just spent 16+ months in various degrees of isolation and separateness, it’s not surprising that perhaps our previous confidence in social settings may have taken a bit of a shaking since the onset of social distancing.  So perhaps we could do with a bit of help in getting those conversations going again.

One way of doing that is suggested by the venture Street Wisdom who describe themselves as a “social enterprise that offers mind-opening WalkShops on streets all over the world. Run by volunteers, our immersive public experiences turn the city into your creative playground – a place to unlock fresh thinking and set new direction.”

Now, whilst their focus is on walking, the principles apply to cycling in general and to Boss Bike Riding in particular.

“All you need is to turn up with a question you’d like some fresh answers to. It could be a business-related question, a personal one. Or both. Come by yourself, tell your friends to sign up or even enrol your whole team – this is a great way for business colleagues to hit the refresh button.”

You can keep your question secret if you want, but it’s good to have something in mind. Nothing as big as ‘when am I going to win the Lottery?’ or as small as ‘Left or Right Lion?’ – but something that matters to you, right here, right now.

What happens next on a Street Wisdom walk is that you ‘tune into’ the street over four shorts walks: each walk you can make alone or with friends, and each walk had an instruction to guide you:

“Look for what you’re drawn to.”

“Slow right down.”

“Notice the patterns.”

“See the beauty in everything.”

When I undertook a Street Wisdom walk in Nottingham with a group of five complete strangers, the walks and the focus given by the instructions generated for all of us on the walks a quite astounding set of responses.

I found myself being drawn to the fountains on the other side of the square, feeling quite wistful about the lack of water features in the city and the distance we were from the coastline.

The instruction to Slow Right Down had me stopped dead still in my tracks for over fifteen minutes which enabled me to see how fast everyone rushes around the city: always with intent and a job to do or a place to go or a person to visit. Staying much longer under this instruction would have seen me draining away through the concrete, I was relaxing that rapidly.

It was on the third walk – Notice the Patterns – that I really started to feel the effects of the process. Normally I brush off patterns or pay no attention to them at all: but given ten minutes just to look at them made me hugely aware of just how patterned and ordered our city scape is: it was intoxicating to see patterns in every nook and cranny and in every small piece of iron railing, shop window and bus stop. Had this been after a Friday evening at the Cross Keys, one might have explained this with 15 pints of IPA: but no, this was Friday lunchtime and I was technically still at work.

The fourth walk – See the Beauty in everything – was the peak of the afternoon. It meant that it was impossible to go anywhere with stopping to marvel at everything. I found myself marvelling at all of modern technology when I overheard a couple of tourists extol loudly the wonder that was Skype, which had allowed them to talk to a long lost aunt in Australia that very morning.  Fast forward five years to the middle of the pandemic, and our familiarity with Teams and Zoom makes that appreciation of Skype has a warm cosy nostalgic glow woven through every strand of that moment.

After the four short walks, you’re encouraged to go off on a journey by yourself: your own street quest.   You do this with your own question at the back of your mind and later on meet up with the rest of the group to share your experiences and improved wisdom. I can’t tell you whether the question I had posed was answered other than to say that your first question may not be the right question; but I can tell you that all six of us were swept away by the experience and promised to go divining for more Nottingham in the weeks to come.

“It’s urban magic on your doorstep” say Street Wisdom and for once in your life, the reality lives up to the promise.

You can  interpret these Street Wisdom walks into 4 phases of your Boss Bike Ride of course and we look forward to seeing how your Boss Bike Ride can generate it’s own brand of urban magic.

Why Boss Bike Rides?  Here’s an answer.


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Thinking About Dance Action Zones

The metaphor of the Zone is a recurring element of educational discourses in which space and time is structured in such a way as to generate learning spaces whose properties are thought to magnify, extend, or transform a particular aspect of learning. 

Drawing on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), – the process by which children learn with the support of significant others – the transformational capacities of Zones have been well documented in the field of music, creative writing and educational aspiration and attainment in general.

Zones can generate additional, magnifying effects and produce outputs which are more than the sum of their individual parts.  Specially they can:

  • contribute to academic standards
  • engage learners in ‘real world’ educational challenges
  • engage low achievers and challenge high achievers
  • develop artistic, social and interpersonal skills
  • increase the fun of learning

Action Zones can offer regionally responsive programmes to children and young people with least opportunity to participate in quality dance-making activities.

Traditionally, funding for educationally focused action zones (including Youth Music Action Zones)  has been focused on those with least access to opportunities, targeting those affected by social, economic, geographical or cultural deprivation and has led to very high levels of involvement and impact.

YMAZ’s also worked within Youth Music’s own strategic priorities of Early Years, Young People At Risk, Transition, Singing and Workforce Development: priorities (perhaps with the exception of singing) which could be sympathetic to many dance educators.

Possible Model of Youth Dance Action Zones (borrowing heavily from YMAZ’s!)

Youth Dance Action Zones (YDAZs)  would be a regional network of organisations dedicated to providing quality dance-making experiences for 0-25 year olds who might not otherwise get the chance.

YDAZs would be unique in bringing together a range of organisations across the voluntary, public and private sectors for the benefit of local children and young people.

Each YDAZ would designed to respond to the particular needs of their host community. Their agenda would be broad – from providing pathways for young people to develop dance skills to supporting the training of dancers and educators working within the sector.

Each YDAZ would deliver a wide range of high quality activities covering a broad range of dance styles and genres.  The activities, which would take place mainly outside school hours, include workshops, rehearsals, performances, one-to-one teaching and mentoring. 

As engines of strategic change and pioneers of innovative dance making in their regions, YDAZs would build local and regional partnerships to ensure a sustainable future for their activities. At the same time, their most significant partnership is with the young people themselves, ensuring that the YDAZs remain in-touch and relevant to their most important stakeholders.

YDAZ Aims

•          To establish a legacy of dance-making opportunities in areas of high social and economic need and geographical isolation

•          To improve the overall standards of dance-making across all dance styles and genres

•          To champion the value of dance making in advancing the educational and social development of children and young people

•          To establish dance-making opportunities as a force for regeneration in communities, fostering social inclusion and community cohesion

Target audiences

YDAZs  would work with the hardest to reach children and young people, including young offenders, those at risk of offending, young people out of mainstream education and looked after children. 

YDAZs  would also offer CPD opportunities to their dance leaders, ensuring the highest quality practice.


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Boss Bike Rides: it’s all about the CRM (creativity, relationships and magic)

Our first ride in June 2021 saw us cycle off from the Beans café on Nottingham Embankment just shortly after sunrise (well, 8.30 to be precise), destination Leicester.

Before too long (just over 6km to be equally precise) we had shared thoughts about what creativity was all about and what role it had to play in innovating business.

Creativity: H, c or M?

We read in the literature of Historical  or ‘H’ Creativity in which creativity is solely the domain of ‘great’ individuals (John Gardner), or alternatively the writings  of  Anna Craft who refers to the notion of ‘little ‘c’ creativity in which creativity is demonstrated in the personal sphere of possibility thinking and problem solving for example. Might we now talk about M creativity (as in Mmmm? Creativity? ) – or molecular creativity, the phenomenon by which creativity is present in all aspects of human endeavour in all moments of the day – and means whatever we want it to mean?  Might magic be a better word?

Creative accounting, creative engineering, creative gun play. The word creative these days has ended up in so many odd phrases and at times that unconstructed old fashioned creatives who believed in the power of paint or performance despair at how promiscuous the word has become.

The Creative Process

Nevertheless, our discussion continued unabated and we discussed how difficult creativity can be to discuss, abated or unabated.  It just is, and no amount of discussion, reading or writing will ever satisfactorilty describe once and for all and finally what the damn thing is all about.

We did agree though that creativity wasn’t just about having a glorious generative good time.  It’s as much about convergent thinking as it is about divergent: it’s as much about ‘killing your darlings’ as it is raising them.  I’m not sure who the first creative was who coined this little motto, but it points to the uncomfortable fact that  creative act is as much about destruction as it was generation and that at the heart of the process, there is always a moment of supreme annihilation.

The important thing is to know where you are in the process.  If you’re converging when you need to diverge, diverging when you need to converge, then this just leads to a very unhappy time for every one around you.

Creative Relationships

Just outside Hathern on the A6,  we encountered the Old Curiosity Book Shop and this prompted some speculation on what role curiosity has in the creative process.  I was reminded of my days in Hull, studying the intricacies of creative relationships (funded by Creative Partnerships back in the day) and developed an understanding of the role of curiosity in these processes through what turned into be the ‘golden thread’ running through the thesis. The nub of this proposal was that the emergence of a creative relationship went through several phases:

Phase 1:          Non-alignment. The phase in which A and B are in no relationship with each other; are unaware of each others presence, needs, interests or desires.

Phase 2:          Alignment.   The phase in which A and B have been brought together by the presence of a third party – a catalyst (which may be a project, initiative or challenge) which acts to bind the responder and stimulus.

Phase 3           Curiosity. The phase in which either one of the two agents exhibit curiosity in the other; if both parties become mutually curious then the relationship response demonstrates a mutually reinforcing amplifying feedback loop, the response becomes more intense and the relationship shifts to the next phase.

Phase 4           Interest.  The phase in which curiosity has been superseded by a more intense attraction in each others presence, needs, interests or desires.  The two agents come closer together, whether this be either physically or emotionally. As with the phase before, if this interest is reciprocated then another mutually amplifying positive feedback loop is established and the relationship shifts to the next phase:

Phase 5           Intimacy          Where the relationship is marked by strong emotional, intellectual or physical connections and feelings relating to love (storge, philia, agape or eros) is demonstrated.  This may be the point at which the impact, or the results, of the relationship can be witnessed not only by the agents in the relationship but by the wider world in which those two agents are situated.

You could tell by this point that the unrelenting weather was turning us both a bit stir crazy so we thought it was about time to ride those final kilometers into central Leicester and complete the ride: which we did.  Not especially triumphantly  (we were too wet for that) but certainly relieved that our joint 106km could be notched up on the giant Boss Bike Ride Target Board.

If you’d like to join in a future Boss Bike Ride, you can do so here.

Or, if you’d like to support the campaign by donating and sharing it, you can do so here.


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Day 26 of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: spinning for England.

As with the numbers, as with so much in life, it depends on how you tell it.

Faced with the last day of the Challenge today, what better way to finish the project than with the perfectly symmetrical outcome of 26 baskets in 26 minutes?  Not too many, and not in too short a time.  This may seem easy but in actual fact it’s trickier than it sounds.

Given recent history, overscoring was a distinct possibility today. The real challenge was to get the tempo just right, so that the 26th shot would whoosh through the hoop with just seconds to spare, meaning that there would be no time available to over shoot the target.

This was a tall order but, I’m pleased to say, everything went according to plan.  There was just the right number of plain terrible shots which didn’t go anywhere near basketball nirvana (27); the ideal number of near misses (127) and the precise number of shots which underlined the symbolism of the project as a whole (26).  And guess what? Accompanied with a mere 30 seconds to spare. And Yvonne, my independent invigilator has the figures to prove it.

The timing presented its own challenges.  Performing in doors for the first time in 26 days (thank you especially to the Priory City of Lincoln Academy Sports Centre for dedicating their superb facilities to me for the entirety of the evening), I was faced with a new court, a bewildering set of floor markings and critically a new hoop which made it clear from the off that it wasn’t going to cooperate with any fundraising campaign any time soon.

So, it took a good few minutes to understand the dynamics of net, hoop, ball, stand and court such that I was able to time – nearly to perfection – the precise completion of the target of 26 baskets in the regulation 26 minutes. 

So after 26 days, 4,062 shots of which 2,357 were near misses, 709 on target and an overall success rate of 17.5%,  this part of the campaign has come to an end. Job done.

The campaign though to provide young people with Let’s Create packs – the fundamental reason behind all this counting, ball and story spinning still has some way to go.

You can help tell our story by sharing yours here.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this campaign and for helping improve young people’s creative lives. The numbers of beneficiaries, income raised and targets surpassed will tell us something about that, but there will be many more testimonials of your support which we will never hear about, but which are nevertheless as real as any numbers on a spreadsheet.

And for that, we will all be eternally grateful.


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Day 24 of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: Ball seeks Hoop for satisfying up and down relationship.

The demise of Hoop on Day 23 left Ball feeling bereft.  Little did we know that an intimate relationship had flourished between the now deceased hoop and the size 7 Opti Basketball.  All those no-where closes, near-misses, and holes-in-ones had brought the thrown and the catcher closer together than either could have imagined 24 days ago, and so the premature ending of the relationship led to Ball moping in surprising and poignant ways.

It wouldn’t lay still on the floor anymore and kept popping up in surprising locations around the house; its bounce became rugby-ball like and even the Opti logo – normally assuming a cheery emoticon smile- assumed a downward frown.   All was not well in the world of Ball.

So, to try and shake Ball out of its misery, we thought what better than other to provide it with a new stimulus and a new view of the world so set off to look for a new hoop, new free throw line – and who knows, perhaps find a new net into the bargain.

Happily, the search didn’t take long and before we knew it, Ball was re-establishing a new relationship with a new Hoop and a bonus Net.  The presence of Net was particularly beneficial in distracting Ball from its sadness, not least because it was composed of metal rings which didn’t so much ‘whoosh’ as the ball went through it so much as clank their appreciation of the introduction to a new ball.

To cap it all, Hoop was installed in a public recreation park so once its endeavours were over, Ball was able to relax and recuperate with some fun filled moments on the children’s swings and zip wire.

If you’d particularly like to see the Zip Wire exploits, you can click here: and if you’d like to see me repeat the humiliation all you have to do is donate £20 to the campaign here, tell me who you’d like to dedicate the Zip Wire ride too and I shall repeat the exercise and publicly dedicate the ride to you.

Ball will be delighted to participate, I’m sure.


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Day 23 of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: RIP Hoop.

It’s been coming for a few days now but on the 113th throw from the free shot line on day 23 of 26, the hoop finally gave up its stubborn resistance to the painful attentions of the ball and failed spectacularly and fell gracelessly to the ground.

Any significance in the number 113?  It is, after all, a prime number and has 13 at the end of it. Perhaps this signals the end of the world to some people?  The coming of a New Age of Aquarius to others?  Or just the incremental failing of a series of material relationships in which grip was lost, thread laid bare and a fond parting of the ways resulted in gravity having the final word on the connection between brick, rawl plus, screw, back board, hoop bracket hole and ground.

Perhaps it was shooting the first 26 in a record beating 9’ 15” which did it.  Perhaps it was just old age and metal fatigue.  Perhaps as they grow old, basketball hoops get weary of the pounding, the bouncing and the whooshing and just want to retire gracefully and spend their days staring at the sunsets, pent up in thought about what happens when the final moments arrive.  Will they be quick? Painless? Ridiculous?

There have been a few occasions in my own life when I realised, I was within inches of my own demise.   Missing a wayward fireworks rocket by a few inches one Guy Fawkes Night flying along our road (rather up in the air) was one of them.  Not being in Vauxhall when a helicopter fell on a passing cyclist and killed him was on another.  I’ve felt since then that death, for all its sting, can be surprisingly farcical.  A case of would’na, could’na, should’na perhaps.

So, the search is on for a hoop and net which could withstand my attentions for the next three days.  All suggestions gratefully received.


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Day 22 of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: One hund-red and eigh-ty! As if.

“One hund-red and eigh-ty! “Not that I’m going to reach those heights in the remaining five days but I remember mid-shot of how we celebrate numbers so joyfully.   That particular shot consequently went completely wayward and was a sharp reminder of the need to find a point on the wall, fix on it, follow through and not go off on a reverie of how we celebrate numbers on popular TV shows.

We can’t help but recognise Len Goodman’s ‘It’s Ten from Me’ in possibly every single episode of Strictly Come dancing though. And the cry of ‘One hundred and forty seven!’  in snooker as the maximum score available is potted once again.

Hitting those maximum scores shows us there’s no where else to go; that we’ve hit the pinnacle of achievement and in our small way have beaten our nerves, our competitors and the best of all, gravity.  It gives us a brief moment of invincibility even if it doesn’t last for very long and the next round, game or episode sees us crashing back to earth as our nerves, competitors and gravity reassert their dominance.

Be that as it may, having a modest target of 26 (“Twenty-six!”) does at least allow you several moments of invincibility, especially as you get nearer to the previously unimagined golden heights of 78 (“Seventy Eight!”). 

Speaking of which, why don’t they make records which spin at 78 rpm any more?

DayAttemptsNear MissesBasketsEffort (Baskets/ Attempt)Baskets/ Minute (BPM)FeelGood FactorTotal timeTotal ShotsTotal BasketsSuccess rate
1N/A08N/A0.308N/A268
21940157.73%0.577N/A5219423
31898721.06%0.07746.03%78383256.5%
419010773.68%0.26956.32%104573325.6%
5192105115.73%0.42354.69%130765435.6%
616710863.59%0.23164.67%156932495.3%
7174114148.05%0.53865.52%1821,106635.7%
9180108168.89%0.61560.00%2341,286634.9%
101661181810.84%0.69271.08%2601,452795.4%
111811212011.05%0.76966.85%2861,633975.9%
121761152413.64%0.92365.34%3121,8091176.5%
131791112413.41%0.92362.01%3381,9881417.1%
141761251910.80%0.73171.02%3642,1641607.4%
151671013219.16%1.23160.48%3902,3311928.2%
16147903523.81%1.34661.22%4162,4782279.2%
171541023724.03%1.42366.23%4422,63226410.0%
18170944828.24%1.84655.29%4682,80231211.1%
19167845432.34%2.07750.30%4942,96936612.3%
20157747044.59%2.69247.13%5203,12643613.9%
21163796640.49%2.53848.47%5463,28950215.3%
22178857441.57%2.84647.75%5723,46757616.6%

You can find out why I’m taking the 2.6 Basketball Challenge here  Any help you can offer is much appreciated!.


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Day 21 of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: the comfort of the spreadsheet.

There’s only five days to go now and the beauty of numerical modelling means that rather than having to go outside and risk catching Covid-19 (despite what the stats tell us) , I can lay underneath the warmth and comfort of the spreadsheets (it’s a shame Excel don’t make duvets) and predict what’s going to happen today. 

Five days ago, y = 1.8393x + 2.019.  This was, as you can appreciate, was a bit of a surprise.  A pleasant surprise I grant you, but still a surprise.  So, imagine my response the day after when y = 1.9618x + 1.325!  This was obviously not a flash in the pan.  It’s always an adventure at the free-throw line as they say in basketball circles.

And guess what happened next?  Yep, you’ve guessed it: y = 2.23x – 0.2426.  You could have blown me down with a feather.  Clearly a matter of now having a hot hand.  As they say.

Followed by amidst much Shakespearean sturm und drang y = 2.24727x – 1.8235.  Nail that trifecta!

And today I’m looking at y = 2.8649x – 4.4386.  Say no more. We’re really gonna light up the scoreboard today.

And in case we’ve forgotten: you can find out why I’m taking the 2.6 Basketball Challenge here  Any help you can offer is much appreciated!.

Epilogue

Drat.

y = 3.0526x – 5.7526.

Need I say more?

Drat.