Question 67 of 365: Why is time theft so seductive, and in many cases, productive?

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I am a time thief. I take away time from my current employer in order to work on things that are not in my job description. I will admit that freely, even to the people I work for. But, up until recently, I have been able to keep it under control.

Until recently, I have kept my Twitter habits down to asking questions and sharing resources. I have kept my blogging to a few times a month. And until very recently, I have not tried to create brand new communities on the fly. In other words: I used to be an undercover time thief. I was able to couch everything that I was doing in the guise that I was working very hard on some specific project that someone has asked me to do.

Now, though, I brandish my time theft, hoping that people will catch me in the act. I blog daily. I have set up a new twitter account, and I have been creating a community of folks who are interested in working through the creative process as I am.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I get my job done. I answer my e-mail and all of my deadlines are met. I work on the things I have been assigned and even take on “official projects” that aren’t tasked to me.

But, here is the difference: I used to cultivate resources and ideas just in case the opportunity arose that I (or someone else I worked with) might need them. Now, I build those resources and explore those ideas and see if they are worthy of exploring further. I used to wait upon future productivity, and now I am productive, constantly.

This is the virtue of Google’s 20% time. It is the virtue of being 80% done.

I am now a firm believer in the idea that no authentic conversation is isolated. I believe that everything that I create can be used for multiple purposes and that the knowledge that I gain from stories in one arena directly benefits me in all other arenas.

Now, I can say this because all of the things I am interested in are in roughly the same genre. I am not, for example, working on crop dusting instead of building an online school. What I am doing is figuring out how to better ask questions, create networks, garner feedback, and create buy-in. All of these things are ones that I have needed to figure out in my school district, but I have lacked the audience necessary to get them done. Because I no longer have a group of kids that I get to think things through with on a daily basis, I must turn to figuring things out within a network.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure out that I had to be a time thief in order to create that network, though. I’m also not sure why I hid it for so long. I believe that we should all be time thieves. We should all be looking to create something new that could directly benefit the work we are doing if only someone would ask us to do it. I believe that doing these things within my daily work schedule allows me to see what is coming and to create an environment that is ready to receive it.

I now believe that doing your job as it was created is tantamount to disloyalty. Stealing time should become an honored tradition. It should be something that we should tack up on the walls of our companies and schools.

“This is what I did, when I was finished with all of the other things that I had to do!”

“These are the conversations I had.”

“This is what I created.”

Because, let’s call Twitter what it is: Time Theft. It isn’t a required function of your job, and yet you do it anyway. Let’s call blogging what it is too, and facebooking and recording videos, and doing Google Chats with colleagues across the country. All of these things are time theft and until we celebrate them, we will never truly understand the power that doing something “else” will bring. We will never get the authentic environment we all crave. We will never learn to be better.

Question 57 of 365: Who is doing the asking?

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As I have been asking a lot of questions of late, I thought it was time for me to see who else is doing the same. I should have something in common with those other who are also looking for answers, right? A kind of community could be formed around this practice, and in time, we would be able to figure out what makes each of our questions important.

However, after quite a little bit of research, the community may have to wait. It seems as though each site that helps people ask and answer questions isn’t really trying to create a community of practice so much as they are trying to create a database of answers or a platform for connecting questions with answers rather than people together.

This somewhat disheartening notion came from these facts:

So, I guess I am just a little disappointed with the platforms currently available. More than that, though, I am disappointed that more people don’t seem to be noticing that they are connecting with a system rather than with people when they ask questions. I am surprised that they aren’t clamoring for a better community of practice, but perhaps they don’t know how.
Perhaps, the people doing the asking don’t know that they can ask for more. Perhaps, they don’t know that they can get an answer and a network. Perhaps they aren’t aware that the process of asking the question and iterating on that question to find a better one and debating honestly as people instead of avatars can be one of the most rewarding experiences online or offline.
So, who is doing the asking?
Well, right now it is those who have a need, but don’t see what that real need is. It is people who will may find an answer, but won’t find an experience. It is just individuals, and it will remain that way until something allows them to come together and find real solutions, rather than just words.
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Question 53 of 365: Who are our board of directors?

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All organizations have a Board to govern them. They check in on what the org is doing and they have a unique perspective to see the whole rather than having to worry about the everyday. Board of Educations guide policy for school districts and Board of Directors guide companies and non-profits. In many cases, Boards are looked down upon as meddling in the affairs of an institution or issuing directives that are absurd or counterproductive. Often decisions that must be “run by the Board” are ones that we agonize over. The Board has the power to kill our projects of passion or redirect our efforts with their ability to fund or unfund at will.

However, this is not the kind of Board that I am trying to invoke. What I am talking about here is a form of mentorship that you can’t get without actually stating who your mentors are. You can have friends and family and you can get advice from them, but if they don’t know that they hold a pivotal role in helping you to envision a direction and a future, there is a lot of unfocused pushes toward nothing.

As I have embarked on answering questions and figure out the next steps for my career and my life, I have enlisted my Board of Directors because they are the people who I want to share my future with.

Here is how I chose my Board:

I looked for the people who have a passion for getting things right, those who are not satisfied with a first attempt. I chose those who will not let me be an expert for too long. I chose people who have something to teach me, or who will let me learn with them.

My Board is all older than me. While this isn’t essential, I mention it because I think that people who have the experience to put things into context for me are essential. I looked for those who take pictures. I watched for people who could express themselves, and express frustration well.

(An aside: Frustration has to be the hardest emotion to express well. We mostly give off noises to show it. The people that can really do this well, however, are capable of getting genuinely mad in the face, describing their frustration and letting it flow through them as they work out their next action. They never put their hands up in the air and then never write someone off. They see opportunities for frustration and pursue them in order to alleviate other’s frustrations. They express frustration with steady pressure and focused fanaticism for the way things should be.)

The people that I wanted to elect to my Board do not have everything figured out. They are failures sometimes. They are disinterested at others. They are honest about both.

What I wanted were wrecking balls for my thoughts.

I wanted writers. I wanted people who go out for coffee. I wanted people who use pens and paper.

And that is what I found. I found mentors who I talk to on a regular basis and whose conversations I cherish, save and come back to quite often. My mentors change my perspective on a regular basis. They make me better at asking questions and finding answers. And, they are the reason why I learn.

Finding people to push you to learn is the best thing you can ever do, no matter the workflow, tool or job at hand. It is the people that will prevail, no matter what.

(And perhaps, that is why so many organizations struggle. Their Boards don’t push them to learn, just to work harder.)

Question 52 of 365: How do we unfollow in the physical world?

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We have embarked on exploded the word “friend” with many new online connotations as well as redefined the word “space” to mean anything we want it to. We have made completely altered the concept of characters (as in 140) and manipulated “a conversation” so much that is almost unrecognizable in some of the ways we use it. In all of this, we are taking things from the physical world and bringing them into the virtual world in order to play around with them. We are taking what is that we know and making it apply to the unknown. This process changes our ideas and expands what is possible. On the whole, I quite like it.

However, going the other way has not had as good of a track record. Trying to take the concepts of networked learning and make them applicable without the online component falls kind of flat. If you are in a room with people and you are not accessing your wider network (or even the internet), those people are the resources you have at your disposal. And to a certain extent, the people in the room will always matter more, even if you do have access to your larger network.

The people in the room are the ones who can literally grab you (and intellectually get hold of you as well) and bring you to where they want you to go. The people in the room get to dictate the protocols, the time spent, the level of awkwardness, and the amount of competition. The people in the room are the ones who will bore and engage, inform or dilute, attack or join in.

And yet, we haven’t figured out a way to unfollow the people in the room. We have created this function perfectly well in the online world: when someone says something that we don’t like or when they stop being relevant to us, we unfollow them. Why is it that I can’t unfollow someone in a meeting? Why is it that I can’t engage with only the people who will push me to think farther and better and ignore the rest of the people that just happen to occupy the same space as I do?

The ultimate unfollow would be at a conference. If we were able to permanently break up into a small group of people that were interested in figuring something out without exposing ourselves to distractions and efforts that don’t lead to further reflection or solution, I think we would be better off for the process. If we were able to unfollow in real life, we would be better equipped to engage in acts of creation and specificity.

Now, I do not mean that we should attempt to only hear the voices that agree with us or have conversations only with our friends. Rather, I would like to have a protocol where I can scoop up all of the conversations that are relevant, both for and against my viewpoint, and just filter out the ones that are clutter. It also isn’t that there is information overload, either. In face to face communication it is very hard for me to get overwhelmed with the amount of stuff being thrown at me. Instead, it is about the amount of time and effort it takes to be mentally present with every possible idea offered within a conference or meeting.

While this may not be a radical notion, I do believe it holds true for me: Some ideas are not worth being present for.

So, I am suggesting a signal of sorts when you would like to unfollow someone in real life. I suggest that we make it something as inoffensive as possible. I suggest that we try to approximate the level of loss that comes from not following someone on twitter anymore (while we may not have the benefit of their witticism anymore, we also don’t have to hear their blather). It isn’t that you need to be “saved” from the situation and you need to have someone come over and take you away from the conversation. I would just like a way to break up with the people in the meeting that are no longer providing value to your thought process.

Something like a reverse handshake, perhaps.

Something that says: “It is no longer nice to meet you.” But, a little less mean.

I believe in the power of good conversation to change practice, and so I guess I have to believe in the opposite as well. The power of bad conversations is ever present and it is how we find ourselves doing things that we aren’t passionate about. It is also how we end up with unfocused and confused workflows. It is how we end up with a lot of regret for the things we can’t get done.

And yet, this sentiment is incredibly selfish. Telling people that they are no longer interesting, engaging or purposeful in our lives is something that isn’t easily done. We will be considered elitist. We will be considered jerks. Indeed, we will be those things.

So, unfollowing is not without a sense of peril in the real world. Being rude, of course, is never the right way to go about engaging with others. The unfollow process, though, is not about being rude. It is about making sure that we are constantly assessing our ability to engage. If we feel as though we can’t be a part of the collaboration as it is currently constituted, we reserve the right to excuse ourselves.

So, the next time that the conversation takes a turn toward distraction or irrelevance, I reserve the right to unfollow you. Without too much absurdity, I will stand up, unshake your hand and leave the conversation behind. I hope that it will be implied that anyone else can come with, and I do not need to be followed to be validated.

This is hard in application, but if enough people adopt the in-person unfollow, the stigma of engaging only in conversations that matter will slowly go away. Or perhaps this idea is just as ridiculous as any other way of bringing what makes sense online and forcing it to make sense in the physical world.

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Question 47 of 365: To whom are we beholden?

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I ask this question on the periphery of a lot of the questions that I pose. I would like to know just to whom we owe our talents and our learning. To whom are we beholden for our knowledge, for our engaged relationships and open-ended conversations. I believe that we are required to be beholden to one another simply by the structures that we create within our own environments. We construct a platform just so that we can rely on others for its use. We create steps forward that require us to use the hands of those that go before us in order to pull us up.

While this level of metaphor is nice, I would like to dig into the concrete. I believe that we are beholden to the people that offer us a taste. We must lean upon the people who give us the first introduction into an idea and then allow us to engage further. We are beholden to the early adopters, the fanboys and the mascots. We must believe in these people in order for them to give us their insights. These insights are non-negotiable fore us. We need them in order to survive. It allow us to not have to be on the bleeding edge all of the time.

We are beholden to the people who show us twitter, and how to use it in our own organizations. We are beholden to the people who show us how to screencast better. We ware beholden to those who show us how to remix (especially the ones who make us rethink our conceptions of what a remix can be… like creating a song-like discussion on Jamglue or do a remixed voiceover on a mathcast). We owe a lot to those who showed us how to not use bullet points in a slideshow. We are indebted to those who figured out backchannels before us.

We are beholden to these people because they have shown us what is possible. I want to contribute to this thinking. In fact, I want people to be beholden to me. I want them to look at me as a pioneer at something that will allow them to point a finger and say that I started them on the path toward better engagement or learning. While I don’t care why they point at me (even if it is to just laugh), for some reason I want that to be a part of something that can be an example of what to do next.

We are held together in a network and we are beholden to one another, but I think that we need to start working the tools and workflows back into their originators hands. We need to figure out just who the most important nodes of our network are and then work to figure out why they are so essential. We need to make ourselves that essential. We need to become those nodes. Those really hard questions about interdependence need to be had now, and we need to make sure that the answers we come up with do not take the relationship out of the picture. We need to be beholden to one another. We need to create the space for leaning on one another for what we need.

The real question is: Can I let myself be beholden? Today I would like to be beholden to @mwacker. I know that he will pick up where I leave off, but there is some part of me that still struggles because I can’t hand off the conversation and trust that there are other people who will take it up. I need to know that the people that I am going to put my faith in, will continue the work that I have started. But, I guess that is a part of being beholden. You don’t quite know what will come afterwards. You have to trust that the plans will be there. You have to trust that your engagement will be enough to draw out even the biggest skeptic. You have to engage in the process of coming together and learning from one another.

So,stated simply, we to figure out who the hubs are in our networks, become the hubs ourselves, and engage one another in the process of reliance and collaboration. We need to create networks where everyone is needed. We need to create spaces that actually have space for users. We need to have the facilitators spaces, and we need to have the back-channeling expert. We need to share far and wide about these spaces and who we need in those spaces to make them complete. We need to be beholden to others, but we need to pic who those “others” are.

Question 5 of 365: How can you eliminate noise within your network?

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I am constantly reminded of just how many people are following one another. Daily I get messages from twitter telling me about someone new who is choosing me to follow along with 4000 other folks. While I don’t doubt that some people could have 4000 contacts, the regularity with which this occurs makes me think that there are more and more people who are living with an immense amount of noise within their network. So much noise that they probably have to tune out almost everyone and they use their network only for brief moments of consumption or creation.

Now, the easy answer to this question is that you can eliminate noise by simply following less people or having fewer “friends”. The brief explanation would include ideas of pruning back your contacts and really focusing on people that actively engage in the kind of thinking or discussion that you would most like to take part in. But, I am not interested in this answer because it doesn’t get at the bigger problem of having too much information to consume and too little time to consume it. What I am looking for are better filters. What I am after is a real way to channel all of the good things going on in my network and make it more usable than just turning on a fire-hose and pointing it directly at my mouth.

PostRank does a good job of saying which RSS feeds to pay attention to as well as which posts to read, Filttr lets you limit the number of tweets to words you want to hear, and things like Nambu and Tweetdeck allow us to create our own just-in-time searches, but the noise still exists. It is still the human process of eliminating waste from our networks.

So, what is the answer? Do we just wait while other people invent ways of pruning or should we remain vigilant and cut back our Reader accounts once a month? No. Instead, we must redefine the noise. We must take a look at the 4000 followers and really think about how it is that the network has changed what it means to “catch up.” The true noise of a network is in the things that actually “seem” important but are not. They are the things that take a lot of time to read and digest but in the end, they lead to no better solutions or ideas. I believe we are getting very good at being the filter for tweets about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So much so that this now only makes up the gentle background hum of the everyday network activity. What we need to take a closer look at are why we are in the network in the first place.

If you are using a network to broadcast your latest blog posts, your noise may come from comments or in tending all of the thing that you “could” write about. If you are using your network to check up on your family, your noise may come from the distractions of of “long lost friends”. If you are using your network to ask questions, your noise may come from the debate rather than the answering of those questions.

Whatever your noise, the only way to eliminate it is to adhere to why you are taking part in the network. Everything else stems from that. I believe that there are too many people who are traveling aimlessly through Facebook and Twitter. They follow and friend so many people because they lack a purpose for being there in the first place. They are there because others are there. So, the filter I am looking for is simply an understanding of purpose. If I stop to ask myself why often enough, I don’t find myself frustrated by the noise, I find it relaxing and invigorating. In fact, I find that I just might need to make some noise of my own.

If my network is a fire-hose, I plan on putting out some fires.

Response to Paul (on PD must be better)

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This post is in response to a comment on my last post which went something like this:

As I read your list I went back and forth agreeing with you.

Do you ever question if it is not how we do PD but the audience that we have hired and put into the “seats?”

Do you think we could stop “doing PD” if we simply hired a different caliber of professionals?

Do you worry that we have to “give(!!!) context, meaning and perspective” to teachers?

Here is my response:

I do think that it has to do with who we are talking to and what messages they will accept. However, I really do believe that if given enough reason to change, everyone will. I believe in the power of people to see something great and to become a part of it.

I also think that we could stop “doing PD” once people start thinking about networks as PD, but I still think we need to give people time away from their classroom responsibilities to actually create that network and to do their learning. We are passionate about learning what is “new”, but not everyone is. Others have to be given the time to do so, even if they are able to be a networked learner. They need to have the space to network.

All learners need to be given a space that has context, meaning and perspective. While I may create a lot of the context for what I do, I live it every day. I cannot expect people who do not blog to understand the context of blogging. I cannot expect people who do not use twitter to understand the context and meaning of a twitter conversation. And, I cannot expect people who do not use wikis and revision history to create a perspective to gain that perspective by doing anything other than actually using wikis and looking at revision histories.

When I say give, I believe that I am giving an experience. The experience is what matters to me. It is what will allow them to start creating context, meaning and perspective. Nothing else will do this and expecting them to create that experience on their own is just a little to harsh for me.

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Conflict of interest

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I accidentally posted this too soon, but here is the official version
of this idea (which is bound to change at some point).
 
What does it mean when you are faced with the following challenge:
 
The place that you work has given you the freedom to explore different
learning platforms, work with creative people, collaborate on process,
policy, and pedagogy, and the means to not have to say no too often.
 
The future you see for education is different than what is being planned.
 
The opportunities to branch out and create your own learning spaces
have never been more numerous or more engaging.
 
The community you actively engage in advocates for open communication
and documentation of every move forward that you make with your own
learning.
 
The boundaries on that communication have never been more clear: “Some
meetings are secret.”
 
The platforms for learning and support that you use are at odds with
“having someone on the other end of the line” when something goes
wrong.
 
So, what here is a conflict of interest. Can all of this coexist and
not create chaos, unrest or animosity between my job, my network, my
living, and my passion?
 
(Too vague? Give me a few months, and perhaps specifics will surface.)

Posted via email from olco5’s posterous

The most trusting of folks

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We trust that things will happen , that the projects we are working on
will eventually see the light of day.
 
We trust that by sharing our information and learning, good things
will occur. We trust that feeds are freedom and voice if virtue.
 
We trust that when we create something of value, that others will
recognize that value.
 
We trust that tomorrow will, in fact, be another day.
 
We trust that change will occur if we will it into being. We trust
that learning isn’t static.
 
We trust that a great many things will be stable, though too.
 
We trust that networks are not based upon the platform they were
created in. We trust that people will still be humane when faced with
the possibility of being so.
 
We trust that truth still matters.
 
Or, at least I do.

Posted via email from olco5’s posterous

Honest with myself…

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An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

Where I to be totally honest with myself:

  1. I would stop whatever I am doing and find the nearest classroom to teach in.
  2. I would continually say to those that ask for my advice on such matters that I have never taken nor taught an online-only course.
  3. I would admit that I care about the number of followers I have on twitter for reasons that I do not completely understand.
  4. I would realize that not having read an entire novel in over a year is not okay with me.
  5. I would tell everyone that I don’t have the ability to follow through on all of the projects to which I have currently committed myself.
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