Saturday, April 21, 2012

My own serendipitous opportunities

His friend, the butterfly
Serendipity has helped me discover a world that I would have never known before.

It is through many accidental intentions that I have come to realize that when I put myself in places I am uncomfortable is when I learn and enjoy the most. My lessons are learned not only from my online activities but those are the ones that I will emphasis today.

In 2007 I started blogging with the intention of learning and trying to determine if blogging and other online tools could be useful for my organization.

I did not ask my organization, I just did it.  At that time it could have ended badly for me because I was blind of what was possible. Blogging and connecting led to Google Analytics, Delicious, Flickr, Slideshare, Twitter, and now Google Plus. There are many applications that have been useful for a short while and then either their usefulness to me (not to all) died or they died (Google Wave, Buzz, Friendfeed).  I quickly learned the value of open sharing which led me to Creative Commons, open source, open education, and open science.

Early in my blogging, I realized that writing what I was learning was important because others, particularly for colleagues across the country, were looking how social media (was more often called Web 2.0) worked and wanted demonstrations of how being online was useful. Since then, many of my colleagues are online, but not nearly enough. Some of those online are in there because of direct or indirect influence I have had. Ironically, when I began I did not really intend to lead people to online engagement because I was not even convinced myself.

It is not logical nor am I egotistical enough to think that all of my colleagues who are online today were directly or indirectly influenced by me. Our organization is full of smart people, and obviously, many are savvy enough to see the writing on the wall.

There are those who have told me recently that in 2008 they thought I was crazy (really they thought I was crazy). One local colleague told me that when I mentioned those weird titles (blog, tweet, Twitter, Flickr, Delicious), I was off my rocker. She also indicated that they thought I did not understand their local work. She then hit me with the "however". Today, she, her friends, her mother, and her colleagues are on Facebook. They now see "Like us on Facebook" and"'Follow us on Twitter" everywhere.

I was glad to hear when she said that her closest colleagues admitted that "Anne told us first". I guess I am more vain than I would admit.

Yet, the most important development of being online and placing myself in unlikely circles is where I have gained the most value.

If there is one mistake people and organizations (all organizations-not for profit, for big profit, government, and education) make in creating an online presence, it is the idea that one will begin talking and people will immediately listen and react. There is so much noise that to be heard is hard, and it is even harder to influence people to react (to buy, read further, be convinced of your message, and change their behavior.).

But, the biggest loss is the opportunity cost of listening and learning. The foreign places-foreign in the sense I have never been there--are where I have the greatest leaps in understanding and grasping of the potential. I cannot imagine not knowing what I have learned in serendipitous encounters.

Some of the biggest realizations of personal growth that I have learned by being in areas that were once outside of my comfort area are:
  • There is power in sharing the work of others. I don't have to be original. This realization was a relief because I am not very creative. 
  • There is potential of growth, innovation, and connections in open sharing, education, and research. I use Creative Commons work quite often. 
  • I never know when I have been or could have been influential.
  • I never know how the next person I meet online or face to face will give me idea or influence my thinking.
  • I can learn from those who are at the polarized ends, though they are adamant, pushy, and sometimes obnoxious, and they gripe on my nerves. 
  • Hearing diversity in thought can give clarity. Listening and conversing with people who are not like me and who think differently than I and who have many different experiences helps me grow in understanding. 
  • It is hard, yet valuable, to cut through the emotion and focus on context and content. 
  • I have learned and dugged little deeper into Cynefin (because of Kevin Gamble). This means with any problem I listen for elements of the problem, and how people react. We want too often to make a problem simple or complicated or we try to make it complex when it is simple or complicated. We often to give a rule or a best practice when the problem is really complex and there is no simple answer. I met some very impressive people who range from consultants, high ranking government, and doctors because of my attending Cynefin workshops. I continue to learn from those who are in this community. I am constantly listening to stories for hints of domains.
  • What I learned does not always apply.
  • There is a difference in the first ones on the curve and the mainstream. Thanks to Thomas Vander Wall who helped me understand social comfort and discomfort of the mainstream. There is a real social reluctance of an all open environment. Thus, the earlier point about open sharing does not always apply.
  • There is power in the ask. When asked, most people will respond to your questions and are willing to discuss their work. In December 2007 I was looking for music for an Aminoto Christmas card video. Danny Maher, a retired musician in the UK, who I never met and more than likely will never meet, gave me his own music to use. Several years later, I am still grateful.
  • We could all learn from those who are good as sales. I know I will get grief from my research and education friends over this thought. 
  • I have yet to find a extremely negative outcome to trying a new application. And, there seems to be no negative outcome in quitting applications. 
  • I find out about new applications through strangers.
  • I have learned more about agriculture, financial, legal, marketing, public relations, sales, and music industries, as well as startups and consulting through connecting with strangers.
  • The best approach to connecting to someone is to listen (to read) and observe their interactions before engaging in a conversation. This is my approach is helpful both in my online and face to face introductions. 
  • A too conservative approach limits the opportunity for learning, understanding, and growing. I am not naive to believe every person is kind and gives helpful information with their every breath. 
  • Question people's statements if you dont understand or think they are too assumptive. 
  • There are limits as to how much I can comprehend in one time period.
  • Over time I have evolved and that is okay.
  • I rely more heavily on the work of and links from people I know to be credible and sensible than information I find in search.
  • The kindness and appreciation of strangers, acquaintances, and closer connections are always uplifting.
  • For organizations to transition takes time and that the length of time is probably no reflection of my inability to influence. 
  • Email is misused; email is necessary; email is not dead though for some activities it should be; and I need to adjust the way I use email. 
  • My advice to getting involved online has been all of the following: go where the people are, experiment, be yourself, share personal thoughts to be real, optimize dead time, set goals, match online activities to goals, match online goals to organization's goals, prioritize your time online, set filters, and downtime leads to creative thoughts. All of this advice is appropriate, and not appropriate, and not easy nor clearly defined.
  • Serendipity can result in hearing stories from strangers. These strangers may stay strangers, or become acquaintances, professional resources or friends. The fun is never knowing which it will be.  
  • I learned to "be the ball" (thanks to Kevin Gamble).
  • Before becoming the "the ball",  I realized that I have to get on the golf course (be the ball is a Caddy Shack reference) which is may or may not lead to serendipity. Without putting myself in places that are new to me, I would never have understood the value and joy of serendipity. 
Putting myself into places (online and physical places) where serendipitous discoveries can happen is not efficient, and of course, cannot be planned. Serendipity helped me discover people, concepts,  and ideas that I would have never known before. Relationships--online, physical, mixed, new and old--and time and space are not easily planned. Serendipity does not map to set goals or plans. Instead serendipity has surprised me with energy, thoughts, knowledge, ideas, concepts, realizations, experiences, and relationships.

I don't usually write in first person, but I can't describe serendipity in any other way.


D.R. Shanklin said...

Who knew you had all that 'thinking' inside you!

Unknown said...

Donna, :) Possibly because I haven't blogged in months.