I have written about openness before in a more theoretical sense. I have talked about open as “the space between.” And yet, I never explored just what that idea of openness actually looks like and how we can strive for the balance of openness in our work every day. Defining what it means to be open, should exist in a context. It should be a part of the objects, situations, and people who are open.
So, I start with a story:
My introduction to anything like a blog was Karl’s Corner. Originally (in about 2000 or 2001), it was just a list of all of the happenings that the band Weezer were doing across the world. It spoke about how they were gearing up to record “the green album” and had lots of pictures and music to listen to. Karl updated the site nearly every day. He was incredibly transparent with almost all aspects of the way the band was progressing.
Karl is open. He shares the space between me (as a music fan) and the band (as the creators themselves). In many ways, I have tried to emulate Karl in my years of writing. I have tried to find the space between education and myself and explore that space. I have tried to ask the questions that will lead to figuring out the inner workings of that education, whether it is mine or someone else’s.
A few weeks ago, I went to Nebraska to work with some teachers at an online school, ESU 13. I was being paid to come out and talk about what I always talk about: Authentic ways of teaching and learning. After the two 4 hour sessions in which we discussed Moodle, Google Apps, Screencasting, and the learning that happens after you ask the question but before you receive the answer via the submit button in Moodle; they said that they probably would want to continue working with me on these ideas. The principal of the school said that he would like to be able to pay me for doing work on an ongoing basis with the school.
For most people who do consulting full time, that isn’t a weird request. For me, it was incredibly odd. I was going to work with those teachers whether he paid me or not. I was going to keep the conversations going on Twitter, in Buzz, and in any other way that we wanted to continue them because the truth is that I am learning too. To me, the conversation has to be out in the open, if we are to advance in any way. Openness is the space between teacher and student. It is the space that we can both exist within and neither of us needs to be paid to exist in this space. If it happens that we are paid to be a student sometimes and a teacher others, then so be it. But, we must make contracts with ourselves and not some “third-party” so that we can learn and teach.
I am applying to a startup incubator called Techstars. It is incredibly competitive and like over 700 applications will be sent in this year. I am planning my journey to apply out in the open. I am figuring out the itch that I want to scratch, and the itches that other people are interested in scratching too. No piece of information or idea is too small to be included in the journey. I want to always be able to see the iterations I have gone through (including changing names and directions completely).
So, this is the space between revisions. It is the space between now and the next now. It is the space that allows me to be wrong over and over again as I work toward being right, or at least right for someone. Doing this out in the open means that I will actually be able to use this data and not hold everything hostage until I finally can release version 1.0 of my idea. That is why open matters. It allows me to focus on being better with others, not being the best alone (because that will never happen).
We make openness tangible by giving others the space between creator and consumer, the space between teacher and student, and the space between this version and the next. If we can do these things for one another, we will be bringing about the most change for our ourselves, our schools, and our companies.
What if I want something? What if I want something from my students, my employer, someone who contracts me to speak? What if openness decreases or eliminates my chances of getting that? What if openness means me saying, “The way you're doing things is harmful to kids.”
I know my response would likely be, “Then those aren't people you should be working with or deserve to work with you.” Hat tip to my mom on that one.
Still, I think in some situations that answer is bunk.
What if holding my tongue gets me in the door so that I can affect the change that is necessary?
What if open closes doors?
Openness is the space between choices too.
We are always bound by the decisions we make. If we want to keep ourselves
open to other options, we have to feel free to contradict ourselves as well.
Sometimes, it really is okay to make something better from the inside, and
that requires a little bit of tongue holding.