Discovering the link between your internet connection and your emotional connection

Mead 2

I have a picture framing the famous Margaret Mead quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world . . . Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” hanging in my apartment. This quote serves as a constant reminder of the influence each individual holds in shaping their environments. When we think of how movements have historically evolved over time, the enormous amount of energy dedicated to creating results is all too clear. Martin Luther King, being an obvious (and relevant) example, faced an undertaking that ultimately cost him his life. The process of collaboration and influence in our society can be extremely daunting as one contemplates the countless hierarchies, rules, resource planning, emotional energy and other implications that make action so difficult.  However, the first and foremost problem in inspiring action is finding the support, the first follower, the human support base, to even attempt to do so.

If you watch this video, you will see the transformation that takes place from one individual expressing himself (literally and physically) to recruiting his first follower to establishing a small social movement. What you will notice is that so much of this process is physical. It’s emotional. It spreads because of place and presence and face-to-face interaction. The leader and his followers have created an environment that is contagious, a space that is hard not to engage with.

It is fairly easy to identify the point in this video where this event almost instantly transforms from a couple of dance enthusiasts to a full out dance party (social movement).  Malcom Gladwell calls this the Tipping Point, or the critical turning point, “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” wherein an idea, behavior, product or message effectively goes viral.  Gladwell even reiterates Mead’s message, “There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them.”

So how easy is it to find these exceptional individuals across technology channels? And furthermore . . . how do we begin to trust them without a shared physical space and face-to-face interaction to build off of?

At first, finding and connecting with people  across technology channels doesn’t seem to be so daunting. After all, we all have hundreds of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook connections that we interact with almost daily. In addition, there are online communities of practice for just about every hobby or interest imaginable.  However, what leads to the identification of an “exceptional” leader and the dedicated support or buy in from others – and ultimately real time team collaboration?  John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid comment on the complexity of identity and recognition in social environments. “Learning, in all, involves acquiring identities that reflect both how a learner sees the world and how the world sees the learner.” In other words, you are only a leader if other people decide to recognize you as one.

So how does this process take place?  Where is the emotion? How do individuals establish interpersonal relationships of trust through a computer screen?

My Creating and Sharing Knowledge course this term tasks me with diving deep into a specific element of knowledge management of my choosing to explore and blog about in depth throughout the term (which I will be conducting here over the next couple of weeks).  My curiosity lies in this concept of buy-in, or what triggers individuals to first of all participate in foreign technological communities (Twitter chats, discussion forums, Personal Learning Networks, corporate intranets) and more importantly, what fosters individuals to act on these experiences to develop actual professional and personal relationships? Specifically:

  • What is the tipping point that drives not just participation but also ongoing collaboration?

  • Are there specific technological environments that foster increased engagement  between a small group of individuals who share a passion to take the leap towards real time collaboration in a start-up?

  • What transforms a divided corporate culture into one that reaches out through technology to connect, share best practices and knowledge and invest in fellow employees?

  • How do individuals develop trust over technological platforms?

  • What causes two people to fall in love over an exchange of written messages having never interacted face-to-face?

In effect, what factors lead to the humanization of these technology portals?  More to come!


The Five Whys . . . Why Not.

Most of us are familiar with the three year old who can’t stop asking the question “why?” after everything we say. 
Why do I have to eat dinner?
“Because you’ll get hungry otherwise.”
“Because you need food to live.”
“Because your body needs nutrients that come from food”
And before you know it you are too deep down the rabbit hole and are explaining the differences between the evolution and creation theory of existence to a three year old.
As adults we look upon this “why phase” with a sigh and hope that it transpires quickly to a less irritating endeavor like Lego building or coloring books.  But alas, kids are once again wiser than their twinkling toes and button noses let on. It’s of course the kids who have got it all right.
As adults we stop asking questions. We find it takes too much effort. It requires talking to people we would rather not talk to and often we are so comfortable in our construed and altered bubbles of existence that we even prefer to not know more than we already do. We crave our own ignorance.
When I began my graduate program this past Fall, my leadership coach provided me with some invaluable advice. She called it “The 5 Whys”. In response to a statement or problem, you would ask five why questions, with each why question linked to the previous answer, until you ultimately arrive at the root of the problem.  My coach counseled that every time I’m in a discussion and feel that tugging urge to challenge someone’s idea (usually without thinking through my own reasoning first) I need to ask them “The Five Whys” in order to break down their argument and gather a robust picture of their line of thought. Once I have a full picture of where the other person is coming from, then and only then can I thoughtfully and empathetically respond.
In the same way that a kid questioning his parent about having to eat his dinner can lead to the very biology of our bodies and the concept of evolution, we can gain that much more knowledge about the environments others inhabit, whether they be organizations, households or other relationships, by taking a step away from our own judgements to truly understand the full extent of others’ thinking patterns and motives.
One of the greatest lessons from my personal and professional worlds thus far has been to never make assumptions. As someone who has a tendency to think that she’s right more than she’s wrong, you can imagine how dangerous it might be for me to act on my assumptions (Spoiler – they’re usually wrong). “The Five Whys” is the way I can keep myself in check, challenge my own assumptions and better understand the full extent of a person’s thought process and argument in work, life and everything in between.