Personal Learning Networks: The power of WHY

Start with Why

Why.  It’s such a simple word.  But often overlooked while we place our focus on the “What” and the “How”.  So as we enter week three in Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln), “Why?” is where I find myself going.

“Why does the CEO in our problem want to leverage PLNs?”

“Why does he/she think PLNs will help with company success?”

“Why do we think we need to place a structure on PLNs?”

“Why are some organizations successful with internal PLNs?”

“Why do other organizations fail?”

These are just a few of the questions that come to mind for me.  And then of course, they generate even more questions.  According to Simon Sinek, author of the book “Start With Why” and TedX presenter in 2009 with “How great leaders inspire action,” I’m starting with the right question.

Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek – Author “Start With Why”

Every organization knows “What” they do.  Some even know “How” they do it.  But very few organizations really know “Why”?  The same could be said for implementing PLNs.  While the decision-makers are asking,

“What are we implementing?”

“What is the structure?”

“What tools need to be in place?”

“How will we do this?”

“How will we make people live in to this?”

The employees, the receivers of the latest change, are asking,

“Why should I care?” (WSIC)

“What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

So now my question is, “Why don’t we answer these questions first?”

In our reading Intranet strategy: Understanding the impacts of networks, power and politics, I think Gordon Ross nails it with identifying power and politics as the major barriers. He talks about how their workshop had “…intended to surface the question of “WHY?” a social intranet.”  With some of the things identified as organizational effectiveness, recognition, innovation, even trust.  These are the potential results of implementing a social intranet.  While some of the barriers to achieving these things are “people don’t know what’s permissible” or “knowledge is power.”

Again, why are these barriers?  The interesting thing is that this article could have been describing any number of organizations of which I am familiar.  And the answer to this question is usually the one that Gordan Ross identified – “us” – meaning the managers in the “room.”

Then as I read Tapping Into Social Media Smarts, I clearly saw an absence of even considering the question “Why?”  The author states as part of the title, “Employees share information in their personal lives. Companies can use those skills to improve workplace collaboration.”  Rather than jumping to the skills (the What), I would ask why employees are more comfortable sharing information in their personal lives and not in an organization.  Why are behaviors different?  Yes, I have the skills to leverage internal social technology.  But why should I?  What would the benefit be for me?  Recognition?  Job security?  Promotion?  All are external motivators that rarely have “sticking” power.  Meaning, they don’t motivate many for long and are rarely applied consistently.

When we start with “Why”, we tap in to personal purpose – our reason for being – for existing.  And if what we are doing aligns with and supports our purpose, our motivation comes from within each of us.  And there is our motivation to make it work.   Which leads me to Helen Crump’s blog posting, “Personal learning networks: the value proposition, work as service and a general foray into unknown territory.”  Helen shared a link to another blog that was quite interesting for me, WORK AS A SERVICE – IS THERE A PEOPLE CLOUD?  In this post, Terri Griffith talks about Work as a Service (WaaS).  I love the idea of this!  From personal experience I can say that when I had the opportunity to work on something, even for another organization or company that aligned with my passion, my purpose, and allowed me to meet like-minded people, I was even more engaged in the work.  I then found it easier to continue with work that I might not have been as interested in.  Or I found a way to leverage what I had learned in support of my other work.  However, it always seemed that politics would get in the way.  And my motivation would diminish.

Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  Tapping on the science of the brain, he poses that when we communicate from the “inside out” of the Golden Circle, we speak directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior – the Why.  Imagine what we could accomplish to advance change if we just took the time to really understand “Why”, to tap into the values that people believe in.

We could fuel a revolution for democracy- Spring Awakening: How an Egyptian Revolution Began on Facebook.

We could contribute to world knowledge: A Brief History of Wikipedia.

And we could help provide disaster relief: The Impact of Social Media on Medicine: Expanding the Scope of Treatment

Bottom line, if we take the time to understand why people will or will not embrace a change, why people willingly share knowledge and information in forums such as Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, but hesitate, even avoid, social options in organizations, then we might be able to make the appropriate recommendation to our “CEO” for, or against, personal learning networks in our organization.

And when we make our recommendation, we could start with “Why.”

Image courtesy of Flickr.

1 thought on “Personal Learning Networks: The power of WHY

  1. Hi Jennifer, great questions. You’re right- really thinking through the WHY behind an organisation initiative / project / implementation is critical, but often neglected. Or if it is considered, the answers don’t always stand up to scrutiny (“because I heard it’ll give us a competitive advantage/promote innovation; everyone else is doing it, we’ll fall behind if we don’t…”). And in the rush to “deliver”, they often forget to think about why they’re really doing it, or what value it will really add.
    Will be interesting to explore the ‘whys’ further with you!

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