What Have You Learned?

It is with great trepidation that I gingerly re-open a can of worms that I inadvertently opened a couple of weeks ago. The blog flurry around mandating use within an organization of social media, generally, and blogging, specifically, was one I didn’t anticipate, but did find extremely educational and (after a while) a little exhausting.

So what encouraged me to overcome my reluctance about jumping back into the fray? A thoughtful post by Mick Leyden entitled, Is that a Tumbleweed. He too was drawn to the potential benefits of mandating blogging, but his approach is nicely-nuanced and bears repeating. Here are some snippets:

Initially I supported the idea and promoted it within our team. I reckon there is a lot of value in encouraging your team to put an hour a week aside to blog about their successes, challenges and random issues from the week.

…if we look at it as part of a personal learning strategy I see immense value in regular reflection for an individual’s practice….

He makes an important point that I want to endorse. Personal reflection is critical to the growth of every person and every learning organization. However, it is in the nature of most of us to be “human doings” rather than “human beings.” ** It is a rare person who stops regularly to review what has happened and why. In the context of social media and knowledge management, those folks willing to reflect spend their leisure time burning the midnight oil to write blog posts or contribute to wikis. They do it for the psychic rewards.

Those of us too busy doing stuff to stop to reflect sometimes just need to be given the time and space for reflection. Too often, that happens only when someone or something interrupts you long enough to stop the perpetual motion. What if that someone were management?

But what happens when the reflection is “forced” by an employer? Here’s what Mick Leyden (citing Karyn Romeis) has to say on that issue:

To come back to the point, you have to ask, is an individual going to gain the value from a reflective experience if they feel they are being forced to do it? This is where we come back to Karyn’s story, if we force adoption of a learning tool the learning experience will be tainted and the maximum value is unlikely to be obtained. More advisable, yet more difficult is – you guessed it – articulate the value to be obtained from the experience and make time available to the team to take up the opportunity.

So here’s my stab at (re)framing the proposal:

Ask each employee or employee group to use social media tools to record what they have learned each week.

This seems like a legitimate request for management to make. If employees have learned something, this request will encourage them to record that information where it can be shared and used by others. If they are given the time to reflect and the tools to record their reflections but don’t have anything to record, that’s an important indication to management. Are folks engaged in mindless activity that does not promote learning and growth for the organization? Are they failing to see opportunities for business process or work product improvement because they don’t stop long enough to really think about what they are doing? Does management need to take a closer look at the organizational culture that permits this approach?

As I said in an earlier post, work sometimes involves lots of things we wouldn’t otherwise choose to do (e.g., time tickets in law firms). That’s why it’s called work. And, our employers pay us to cooperate and produce. Social media tools are not sacred. Once they are imported into an organization they undergo changes as they adapt to a more constrained enviroment. At bottom, they are a means to a business end. This may seem far too hard-nosed to social media purists, so I apologize for being blunt.

I close by quoting the comment I left on Mick Leyden’s blog:

Mick: Thanks for advancing the conversation in such a constructive manner. It’s hard when a tool used initially for primarily social purposes is moved within a corporate environment. There inevitably is a restriction of freedom that comes with that transition. While I understand and sympathize with the social media purists, I’m also cognizant of the needs of the organizations that adopt these tools.

Your post has caused me to think further about this. I’ll be back blogging about it shortly. This topic seems a little like a visit to the dentist — not always fun, but definitely necessary.

Now I’m off to arm myself with a little laughing gas before the next round of conversation on this topic.

[**Credit goes to Deborah Twigg for pointing out to me the distinctions between a human being and a human doing.]

4 thoughts on “What Have You Learned?

  1. I think the key is to get a few dedicated willing people to do personal blogs. Keep going at it till a success story happens. http://engagedlearning.net/?p=158It has to happen naturally and virally, people have to want to do it…I think a bottom-up approach is best.And it’s not going to be for everyone, some people are just not inclined to blog.This is not an easy thing, I think we have a long way to go.Not even sure if you need change management to be culture-readyhttp://michaeli.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/04/culture-is-a-de.htmlBut I agree on the possibility of changing the email vehicle for blogs and forums for typical email announcements and email chain conversations. Hopefully this in-the-flow can get some above-the flow happeninghttp://michaeli.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/12/in-the-flow-and.html

  2. Mary,My response to your comment on my blog rapidly grew from a couple of lines to a few hundred words, unfortunately it is still in my drafts folder!I think it’s going to become a post in it’s own right! As I read your post I found myself wondering if are we doing ourselves a disservice to describe the blog as a ‘social media’ tool in this context? While there is value to be gained if others read the reflective blog, the primary motivation is not a social experience. So the question is, is a blog classified as social media simply because it is a blog or because of how the blog is used? Ok now I’ve got far to deep and meaningful for my liking… I guess I’m just trying to fend off the offensive! :-)cheersmick

  3. In considering this question, you need to consider the strength of feeling in the ‘other camp’. Have a look at the comments from Juliet le Fevre on this recent article in the TrainingZone ezine.Oh, and thanks for the shoutout, by the way!

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