Where are the edges of a Personal Learning Network?

In class last week, we read about Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). One of the exercises was to define a PLN in a single sentence, and also to read and respond to definitions written by classmates. After I finished the exercise, I found myself reflecting on my week. I realized I’d been thinking about PLNs specifically in terms of professional development, and in doing so had missed a very critical piece – personal development. Some of the best “teachers” in my PLN are not those I cultivated specifically for professional learning. Don’t get me wrong, I have many friends who were first in my network as business relationships; people I knew I could learn a lot from. But here I’m referring to people I first thought of as friends and only later realized how much I had actually learned from them.

And going down this unconventional path a little further, there are also people in my network that I wouldn’t categorize as friends at all. People I don’t even necessarily like, but whom I stay in touch with as a reminder of things I don’t want to learn. Is that a kind of learning on its own?

If PLNs are intentional, how much of the building that we do is conscious? And how much of it is actually serendipitous – tangential meetings or discussions with people you don’t think of as part of your PLN, but from whom you gain significant insights or learning?

No, I don’t have answers. This post is an exercise in thinking out loud – sharing half-baked ideas – born out of practicing what I preach. Thanks for the encouragement, @JeffMerrell.

Is trust the key to improving collaboration (in an ESN)?

To set the stage here, I’ve started a class in a graduate certificate program at Northwestern. It focuses on learning and organizational change, and as part of the class, we are required to write a series of three posts on a topic of interest to us individually. My original plan was to just post my first blog internally to the site we use for school and then post subsequent ones externally. But a little birdie reminded me that sometimes it is helpful for others to see the whole process, so here I am, starting my own external blog. About time, perhaps? Anyway, here it is, with some minor editing for a different audience.

Supporting an enterprise social network is my day job, so I naturally do a lot of thinking about what I can do to help build engagement. We’ve done well, but appear to have hit a plateau. Many people I talk to seem focused on the platform – if it only did this, if we could only change that. I think I was in that same place mentally for a long time when I first started in my current role. And to be fair, I still go there sometimes. But being in class – doing the reading, listening to people talk and ask questions and poke holes – I keep hearing references to trust. And actually, I heard it in a community managers’ webinar I attended recently. Our speaker (Michael Sampson) mentioned that if people don’t believe that what they say will truly be heard and seriously considered for action, they stop really trying to collaborate. At that point, they instead pay lip service to the process. And I recognized my frustration with certain supposed collaborations in that statement of his. I can see times where I’ve pretended to collaborate because I saw the end was already decided; or others where I’ve been frustrated because I thought that it was an honest collaboration and put a lot of time and energy in, only to find out that my input was ignored. So in terms of what I am working on here, I would define trust as a lack of fear – fear of judgement, fear of repercussions, fear of disappointment, fear of being ignored.

Because of this, in my series of posts for class, I want to focus on trust. I’m looking for a variety of articles, books, blogs, etc. that reference trust in relationship to collaboration and social networking. My goal is to hopefully tease out what it takes to build trust within this context. I’m certain the answer will be, “it depends”, and so in the end what I hope to come away with is a new series of tools. Perhaps I’ll be able to start to craft a playbook. I know that when companies feel or genuinely find that they’ve hit an engagement plateau they are often all too willing to use the tool as a scapegoat. Setting aside any personal feelings I have for the platform, I know that focusing on the tool is missing the point. Sure, having a “better” platform could help move the needle a few percentage points. Good design and excellent user experience is important, after all. But in the long run, people need to want to participate, to feel safe participating, and to feel that participating will help improve work in some way. Removing a false barrier, an excuse, isn’t really going to make a significant, sustained difference.

I’ve already spotted a few good references in our textbook, and in one or two other articles. But I really want to dig in and flesh this out. What things can be done to build trust in a way that frees people of the fears they have about collaboration? I’m very curious to hear of any great resources that I should be including in my quest.