Explore Your PLN's Purpose - When the Gods Ignore You #tecsig

What is your fundamental purpose in blogging, building a PLN, etc.?  One of the funniest movies I saw sometime in my youth included The Gods Must Be Crazy. There's a connection to a topic that often gives me heartburn, if only for a millisecond--When the Gods Ignore You. To get in the right frame of mind, watch this clip from The Gods Must Be Crazy:

(BTW, did you know you can watch this movie in its entirety via YouTube.com?)

Often, when I consider professional learning networks (PLNs), and how they are supposed to work, I can't help but laugh. Tim Holt (HoltThink) describes the process I've seen work a few times in this way:
  • Someone with an  community floats a question or has a problem.
  • The collective community can answer the question or help solve the problem
  • Rainbows and unicorns then appear.

  • Allow me to share the PLN Process--or, Six Steps to Self-Reliance--the way I've observed it from my own experience:

    1. Problem Awareness - In my learning, I've encountered a problem that I desperately need to solve. This could be just about anything, whether technical, procedural, or informational. Having learned from my pantry searching experiences that you don't find what you're looking for until you admit to everyone in the house you can't find it, then it magically appears (this is why public embarrassment is a blessing for politicians, right before they recant or make amends, and run for office and win in a landslide victory), I decide to take the next step.
    2. Ask for Action - Encapsulate the help request into 140 characters, and post it on a social network (e.g. Twitter, G+, Plurk, Facebook) and hope for the flash of insight that will point one in the right direction.
    3. Experience Benign Neglect - Wait, wait, wait...perhaps neglect isn't the right word...it's more about being ignored by those who aren't interested in what you've asked. Hence the, "When the gods ignore you" title of this blog post. The gods? Oh yeah, that's you, who know all about this...you know, the "node" on the network that serves as an online storage device waiting to offer me help at a moment's notice from anywhere, anytime provided you're awake and "tapped into the stream."
    4. Re-dedication to Problem Resolution - Begin again to search, but this time, with renewed vigor and determination after having re-focused my query. After all, getting complex questions down into 140 characters focuses your search to laser beam intentness.
    5. Share Your Discovery so you can never forget it. You share the results of your research with a global audience, which, by the way, has been successful or an utter failure. By blogging it, or tweeting it, you put it out there so that someone will find it useful and remember, "Hey, this person solved that problem I had just begun to notice but hadn't decided to do anything about."
    6. Achieve a Self-Reliance - This is the step where you realize while it's nice to have a PLN, you're the one who has to slog through your mind's muck to achieve enlightenment. A million people retweet your discoveries, and you wonder, why the heck, if these people had questions about what you were also trying to find out, they didn't speak up sooner, if only to help eliminate some of the dead-ends you had to knock your forehead against in the great maze of life. The problem is, you realize they were probably in the same situation you were--you didn't know what you had until after you slogged through it.
    Sometimes, the PLN process works exactly the way it's described. When it does, it's magical. I've given plenty of examples of this happening in this blog, and I won't recite them.

    However, I often wonder if the longer journey isn't the more rewarding one. Ok, it IS the more rewarding since I find myself asking questions that seem to require this approach more and more. Tim Holt hypothesizes that "I believe that people with very large PLNs which require years (or a coup) to develop have a significant advantage over those just jumping in. "

    I'm not sure this is the case. The factors that influence responses from your PLN don't have anything to do with the size of your following. Rather, I'd like to suggest it has to do with how your PLN--regardless of size-- perceives you.

    For example, the people who compose the "MGuhlin PLN" are probably more interested in passive lurking, reading, and know that I publish stuff around a variety of interests. Simply, the majority of my PLN isn't about responding to questions I ask, leaving comments, etc. Rather, for them, it's about tagging along on a journey and hopefully learning something...they figure that if I'm writing about it, it's pretty well developed, whether it's a junk blog entry (no research) or something else.

    Active commenters in the PLN probably move on to other people if they want active participation. I'd bet that my "active" followers are active in multiple areas, but for the most part, the rest are passive readers. When I say passive, that means they may forward my blog entries to colleagues as finished products or conversation starters, or curios, but do little more with them.

    However, other bloggers have cultivated active PLNs that focus on active commenting and participation. These folks--Will Richardson, Dean Shareski, Tom Dembo, David Warlick, Dr. Scott McLeod, Wes Fryer-- want to have active discussions (I don't usually...I'm ruminating,share something, move on to another item of interest, skimming the surface). In fact, I'd bet that the secret to their success as vendors, education consultants flows from their ability to engage others in conversation. For them, the kind of blogging and sharing I do is the start of a vigorous conversation. 

    For me, it's pretty much over when I publish. I forget what I write as quickly as I put it out there, remembering it only if I need it for later. My blog is about creating an external repository of knowledge and reflections that I can mine much better than my memory. My brain is google-powered since I blog as much of what I learn as possible and can then search it. Is this a bad thing? Not really. But what is your fundamental purpose in blogging, building a PLN, etc.? 

    Is your purpose to build a PLN that will result in action (e.g. spreading your message, answering questions) or serve as a network to facilitate information/idea sharing that becomes dated the farther it gets from time of origin? 

    Of course, like anyone else, this sharing ranges from one end of the spectrum to another. Some days, I wish I had an active PLN. Other times, it doesn't matter and I simply lack the time or will to make the time. Hmm...it might be fun to explore this in relation to the strength of weak ties.

    Are the strong, more active PLNs examples of strong ties and cliques that are problematic? Which is more desirable? That's a whole other blog entry worth exploring!

    What are your thoughts about this? Am I way off? (I figure I won't get many responses except from outlier commenters who happen to catch this blog entry by accident).

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    Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


    Sandy Kendell said…
    Loved the video clip, Miguel! Have not seen that movie before. The jeep trip is such a good metaphor for what we have to do so often in edtech when it comes to solving problems.

    As to why I blog, I think it falls somewhere in the middle of the example you give of yourself and the Fryers/Shareski's/etc of the world.

    My blog has become a place for me to share my thoughts and record learning from conferences and meetings so I can easily access the info again in the future via a search. If it benefits others, so much the better! I also find that blogging tends to cement the ideas in my brain so I don't have to search for them as often to recall them. Writing has always done that for me.

    I also use my blog at times to "poll" my PLN for ideas or information on topics when I am at a loss as to where to begin researching or where I know the voices of many will enhance what I am trying to learn. I find my queries get answered most of the time. Maybe not a million answers, but usually even one contribution can set me off the the right direction.

    The "how-to" questions tend to get the lion's share of responses. Loftier questions which require more extensive thinking tend to get few hits. I chalk that up to maybe the question isn't as interesting to others as it is to me right now or maybe folks just don't have the time/energy to put into a good answer. But hopefully the question got them thinking, even if they didn't take time to type a response. I know the ideas of others that I read in blogs often stir new paths of thought for me, even when I don't take time to comment; the thoughts are usually so new I can't crystallize them into a decent response so soon.

    One last thought - when someone such as yourself or Tim Holt who is seen as very knowledgeable about their field floats a question, I think the folks who might possibly respond may be intimidated about sharing their ideas. Even though you are asking for input, those with less experience may not have confidence in what they have to contribute. I think that's just human nature.

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