Question 26 of 365: Is treading water dangerous?

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As far as metaphors go, there are no greater cliches than using treading water to represent staying in one given place in your personal or professional life. However, every once in a while, the metaphor is warranted, so I hope you will not begrudge me using it. I use it now not to describe whether or not treading water is lame or counterproductive. I think that it is fairly obvious that not having a direction or reaching for something is a universally panned activity. At the very least, we pay lip service to trying to find your passion, and swimming against the current as if they were they were virtuous in their own right.

My invocation of this metaphor is much more centered on the idea that treading water is quite probably dangerous in addition to generally being a bad tactic for achieving what you want in your life.

Imagine for a moment that there are two people in an office. This office has a number of IT professionals, trainers/teachers, management, and support staff. It is generally a high functioning office in that people show up to meetings on time, everyone seems to like each other enough to be civil, and people get paid on time. The first person in this office does not blog, tweet, podcast, post status updates on facebook or connect with anyone on LinkedIn in a professional capacity. The second person does have this kind of connected online presence. Both get a decent amount of work done within their teams and they have been reviewed well in the past few years. Up until this point, there is very little difference between the two of them.

I would like to make the case that the person who does not have an online presence is treading water. While he may be advancing his career, there is no record outside of the office that this is the case. His general direction is measured based upon exactly what the company’s general direction is. So, while the company may be moving forward (perhaps even as a result of his efforts), he is still really in the exact same spot within the company. The ocean waves are moving, not him.

I would also like to make the case that the second person has a direction. Through her daily tweets and weekly blog posts, she is reflecting on what has transpired within her job. She is asking questions and finding answers for what is going on within her profession. Her forward momentum always outpaces that of the company. Even when the company has a major setback, her network keeps her legs churning and her arms moving through the water with intense energy.

So, why is the first person dangerous for treading water?

This first person is dangerous because you can’t tread water forever. Eventually you have to reach solid ground or you will drown. This person is even more dangerous because he will drown others while he is trying to stay afloat.

If you have no external voice through a modern network, you are easily outsourced. If your company doesn’t know that losing you will have the effect of losing all of the experts that go along with you, you are sunk. If your work stays within the confines of the company, credit is easily obfuscated.

Treading water isn’t a strategy for the future, it is simply a method of keeping your head above water. The danger of not posting or preparing a presence online is that you cannot represent yourself or your company to the people that need to see it. You cannot be an advocate for the things that your school district needs in order to to keep on working. In essence, if you are not sharing what it is that is important to you and your office, you are going to bring it down. If you have other competitors (and you are kidding yourself if you think you don’t), they will win. If you can’t place yourself into the great evaluative system that is the web, there is little chance for people to see that you have any value.

While this metaphor may be wearing quite thin at this point, I think it bears repeating. If you are treading water in your job or in your life, you are a danger to yourself and others.

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0 Comments

  1. I like this very much. Then again, I'm partial to metaphorical thinking. Well, real thinking in a metaphorical way. Nevermind.
    My question, though, surrounds the second person. Her online presence doesn't give me a sense she's running. Her online presence gives me a sense she's in a bigger office than person 1.
    The key difference between the two is person two has personally staffed her larger office. She's going in the same direction as person one, but swimming in a much larger pool. Yes, I've now mixed my metaphorical thought.
    Having the network without leveraging it toward a goal undervalues what we can be doing with it.
    I like the image here. I also like the idea that person one is not just in danger, but dangerous as well. Inaction, ignorance, they harm those nearby.
    nice

  2. I'm pretty sure that we could probably just come up with a book of metaphors
    about networks, education, and learning. I'm pretty sure it would sell quite
    well.

    Anyway, I like your point about leveraging a network (or cloud, in your
    cases) for something greater. I have always thought that the most important
    things I have ever done are with my network and not with my district. My
    district has vacillated back and forth between a lot of different
    priorities, but remarkably, my network has really stayed focused on
    authentic learning (usually) with technology. I think that having that force
    driving me to work against the competition out in the network rather than
    the competition in my own district has made me a better employee and a
    resource for my district.

    If we want to stretch the metaphor even further, it is entirely possible
    that having a good network is like being pulled along by a motor boat on
    water skis. We are not treading water, we are riding on top of it.

  3. Is it the self-selecting in to your network that accounts for the success
    you feel there? Our districts are composed mainly of people who were there
    before we were and who we likely would not have chosen to work with. Is
    there something to the idea that selecting our networks leads us to feeling
    greater success? Probably, right?

    The question that raises is what to do with the people we don't mesh with.
    If my district is in danger of failing, but I feel more successful with my
    network, what's to keep me bound to my district? Why care if I feel like the
    mercurial nature of the district works contrary to the goals at which I'm
    aiming?

    Taking that a step further, how far are we from ignoring or avoiding people
    we don't particularly mesh with? Once we get there, what have we lost?

  4. Yeah. I do ignore people who are not working toward my goals. I work around
    them, rather than with them. I lose their buy-in by doing this, but as long
    as I am transparent about my intentions and try to offer olive branches as
    much as possible, I will garner support elsewhere. The major problem I see
    is when we underestimate the people are actively working against us. If we
    discount their force on the process or their ability to entangle us in their
    debates, we are fooling ourselves. The only thing we can do, though, is to
    prove that our network produces better results. While our network may make
    us feel great about direction and the change we are creating, the only thing
    that will prove skeptics wrong is results. I understand that results can
    look like a lot of things, but I believe that working out in the open and
    garnering support from other “experts” allows us to both have personal and
    professional validation.

    I was at a conference last Thursday and they kept bringing up the idea that
    “other countries” were ahead of us in Online Learning. It kept on striking
    me as really funny because I haven't felt like I was competing with “other
    countries.” I have worked with people from other places for as long as I
    have been in the online space. While they may have the official systems,
    they are still a part of the conversation and a part of making my system
    better because I am choosing to learn from their insights and not blindly
    compete with them.

    I feel like there is still a cold-war of information going on. Those who see
    sides of the argument and those who just see the value proposition of every
    person involved. I want to see value, wherever it exists and convince others
    to see that value too. And then I want to pursue the creation of more value
    with everyone who wants to take part. Yep. That's what I want.

  5. Yeah. I do ignore people who are not working toward my goals. I work aroundrnthem, rather than with them. I lose their buy-in by doing this, but as longrnas I am transparent about my intentions and try to offer olive branches asrnmuch as possible, I will garner support elsewhere. The major problem I seernis when we underestimate the people are actively working against us. If werndiscount their force on the process or their ability to entangle us in theirrndebates, we are fooling ourselves. The only thing we can do, though, is tornprove that our network produces better results. While our network may makernus feel great about direction and the change we are creating, the only thingrnthat will prove skeptics wrong is results. I understand that results canrnlook like a lot of things, but I believe that working out in the open andrngarnering support from other “experts” allows us to both have personal andrnprofessional validation.rnrnI was at a conference last Thursday and they kept bringing up the idea thatrn”other countries” were ahead of us in Online Learning. It kept on strikingrnme as really funny because I haven’t felt like I was competing with “otherrncountries.” I have worked with people from other places for as long as Irnhave been in the online space. While they may have the official systems,rnthey are still a part of the conversation and a part of making my systemrnbetter because I am choosing to learn from their insights and not blindlyrncompete with them.rnrnI feel like there is still a cold-war of information going on. Those who seernsides of the argument and those who just see the value proposition of everyrnperson involved. I want to see value, wherever it exists and convince othersrnto see that value too. And then I want to pursue the creation of more valuernwith everyone who wants to take part. Yep. That’s what I want.

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