From Public to Private – What is your PLN?


Earlier this week, as my daughters were getting ready for bed, as usual, the evening did not go smoothly.  The following occurred,

“Mom!  She’s reading my diary!”

“It was just laying on her bed!”

“It’s mine!  It’s private!”

Just listening to this exchange about something totally unconnected, and considering that as we wrapped up the course, Exploring Personal Learning Networks (#xplrpln), we were asked to crystalize our thinking, I did just that.

There is no doubt that PLNs are “personal”. There was a great amount of discussion within the course in our community trying to define what PLNs were.  How were they characterized?  And how do they fit within an organization?  Many participants in this course felt that there was no place in an organization for Personal Learning Networks because they were … well … personal.  But does this mean that an individual’s PLN should be private – like a diary?  Is a PLN something that is owned, possessed?  Is a PLN more along the lines of being public?  Or is it somewhere in between?

Obviously that really depends on the individual.  But for me, I consider my PLN closer to the public side of the continuum.  There were a few realizations I came to as I progressed through this course and had the wonderful opportunity to get to know some very interesting people from around the world.  As a part of the course, we were asked to create an artifact that addressed this problem,

Your CEO (or equivalent organizational leader) just heard about PLNs at a cocktail party and is excited about gaining a competitive advantage (or improving impact on mission) by leveraging PLNs for the organization’s success. But, she/he knows little about PLNs or what to do with them to support organizational success and strategy. Is the organization set up to benefit from and support PLNs, so it is more than just an individual thing? She/he is going away on vacation for one week, and upon return wants you to explain what PLNs are and to provide guidance for what to do. You have a one-hour meeting to facilitate a conversation.

Through the course of conversation, and seeing what artifacts were being posted, I realized that my PLN is a core part of who I am as a professional and as an individual.  When I have the opportunity to leverage my network to help others, either by finding an answer, pointing toward information, or connecting two individuals within my network with each other, I feel I’ve accomplished something of value.  I’ve contributed to a larger purpose.  And this makes me feel good!

What I found interesting is that while the course was focused on discussing how participants defined a learning network, and the sources that were shared to support the discussion, perspectives were for the most part very positive.  But when we turned our focus to the problem we were asked to work on, much of the conversation was tinted with suspicion.  Suspicion for the motives of the “CEO”.  Suspicion about the potential for exploiting an individual’s PLN.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not saying that this perspective is bad or wrong.  There was a lot of healthy, idealogical conflict (as Patrick Lencioni would say) in our discussions because of the differing perspectives.  And without this, I may not have crystalized my own thinking as I did.

According to Stephen M. R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust, the opposite of trust is often displayed as suspicion rather than a complete absence of trust.  And a lack of trust is often a result of fear.  So this line of thought, and additional discussion, led me to wonder what was the fear about?  Judgement?  Exploitation?  The potential for being inaccurate?  Some past experience?  Or just a lack of understanding?

Through this whole experience I recognize, acknowledge, and accept that each person has their own perspective of whether their PLN is closer to private or closer to public.  And even though I consider myself a life-long learner, and thrive when learning from, engaging with, and building my network, my learning has never really been just about me.  It’s about who I can help with what I learn and who I learn it from.  It’s about the potential I see in others and doing whatever I can to help encourage their success – their possibility.  The reason I learn is to help others learn in return.  That is who I am.  And this is why the final artifact for the course that I submitted with the help of a few course “team members”, PLN Artifact: CEO of a Global Company, was advocating for the support of Personal Learning Networks in the organization.

So I ask, “Who are you?  Where on the continuum do you place your PLN?”  

I would really like to know!

Image courtesy of Flickr

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.