Invitations? Not Anymore.

Running through a lazy Saturday read of the feeds and I noticed that my long-time colleague and friend, Chris Stubbs, has written another one of his great posts. I have to admit reading Mr. Stubbs’ blog is one of my favorite things to do. If you don’t read it, go on and give him a shot. At any rate, Stubbs has a particularly good post today titled, No Invitation Required in which he comes right out and says what so many of us feel — don’t wait to participate.

Its not so much that he says it, it is that he says it well. I was particularly interested in his closing paragrph (right before he goes and quotes John Mayer … not that I don’t listen, just surprised):

So if you are reading this and you’ve ever hesitated to participate in the web 2.0 world – to comment, to friend someone, to offer up your $0.02 or jump into a conversation, take heed: don’t wait for an invitation. Not only is an invitation not required, but frankly it may never come. Even with the best analytics, the internet is closer to a one way mirror than a transparent piece of glass. Just because you are interested in a web 2.0 idea, podcast, or post, doesnt mean that the creators know it. The web is too big for invitations. And if you are worried about sounding stupid, worried you don’t have anything important to contribute, or are not willing to take the initiative, to speak your mind and to join in the conversation, you will never be recognized. Your voice will never be heard. You lose a chance to participate. The world loses your contribution. No one wins.

I think too many of us forget that the spaces we live in are very new to whole bunch of folks and that they aren’t aware of the protocol — they don’t know the rules are different in the web 2.0 space and many are very uncomfortable interrupting their understood social norms. I hear it from people quite a bit myself, “I didn’t know I could participate in the [insert name of event/opportunity/space here].” I just never really took a minute to step back and think that I am contributing to the problem by not being more overt, by not going beyond assuming people know they have an open invitation, by not being more clear. For that I am sorry, but as Stubbs says if you are waiting for the US Postal Service to show up with an invitation to the conversation you could be waiting a long time. But with that said, let me go ahead and say it so those who are here can read it for themselves — You are Invitied to Participate!

Now, how to get to the rest of the world who doesn’t know I have a blog?

20 thoughts on “Invitations? Not Anymore.

  1. I wonder too, if some of the hesitation of people to get involved is having to unlearn what we’ve been taught our whole lives. “Speak when you’re spoken to”, “Children should be seen and not heard”, etc. I think also, that the people participating are in general.. the exception to the rule. I’ve had to almost coerce people into just making a Facebook profile so I *DO* think that some people still feel as though they need an invitation. Hopefully we can break that barrier by taking small steps, one at a time and remembering that sometimes, some people do still need to be invited and encouraged to participate… at least for now.

  2. I agree. My point is to figure out how to get the ones not participating to, you know, participate. How can we think about that as a community? Maybe everyone agrees to invite just one person to the party?

  3. Maybe so. Without new perspectives and ways of thinking, the community doesn’t grow. I think what we’ll find is that the people that haven’t yet accepted the invitation to participate have some really valuable things to say. I think we need to empower people and show them that their viewpoint truly is valued. I think a lot of people get stuck in thinking that they aren’t in a position to participate.. but if we can SHOW them that they are.. they’ll love being part of it.

    In terms of inviting co-workers to particpate, I think it’s a little more involved than an invitation. I’m thinking about the workplace culture and trying to engage and excite folks can be a challenge at times. I think we need dedicated “play time” in our work weeks where people are not only invited, but encouraged to converse, participate and explore.

  4. I am going to “simulcomment” here and post this on both Chris and Cole’s blogs. First off, I agree, Cole, Mr. Stubb’s blog is outstanding.

    And secondly, Shannon Ritter touches on a few things that are 100 percent spot on, so much that I want to reach out and hug her comments, if that is at all possible.

    I think we are so far advanced that the people in ETS and those I work with are the equivalent of an auto club in 1902, or a usenet group in 1993. We are way, way ahead of people in both technology and culture change that I think we often forget this point.

    I don’t care how cool the technology is, there are several points that I think need to address to grow the community that go beyond Web 2.0 tools:

    – Stubbs, I hear what you are saying about Gen Y, I am Gen X but find myself appreciating many of the views of the Gen Y crowd. The thing is, the best way to fail when you are trying to market something (and what is building a community but marketing at its core) is to focus too much on what you think. You must take into account others’ perspectives, and right now, you and I are well ahead of the crowd. We are dealing with not just advanced technology, but a vastly different way of thinking. Shannon touches on this. Not everyone is a fully connected gaming guy. Your posts on Spore were outstanding, but to many people, what you were saying is equivalent to jumping into a time machine and telling Ben Franklin about Which leads me to….

    – People are going to be reluctant to talk about what they know little about. No one likes to look stupid. We do a nice job of offering a friendly face, but we also, frankly, come off as so smart we are a bit intimidating. Not everyone posts Tweets from an iPhone while debating Web 2.0 ethics in Second Life. Adding to the frankness, I sort of felt the Web 2.0 Inner Circle at PSU was clique-ish at first. And no, I am not the only one who believes/believed this. I later found this not to be the case; we do a good job of being inclusive once you get people to come to us and participate. One the good side of things, again, we present a friendly, inclusive face. But the stuff we are dealing with is so bleeding edge that OF COURSE people are going to be reluctant to participate. It’s because people aren’t sure what the hell we are talking about.

    – One small thing we can do is lose some of the jargon. Explain a big more. And for God’s sake – AT LEAST EXPLAIN WHAT SOME OF THESE ACRONYMS STAND FOR. When I first started at Penn State, I nearly drowned in a torrent of acronyms. I hear “You need to talk to AIS and CSS about that and whatever you do, don’t mention CAC, that no longer exists” and I am all WTF and all I can do is LOL. I recommend in any blog posts, we either lose the acronyms or at least offer a first reference or even a hyperlink. People at least need to know what organizations we are referring to in our communications.

    And, some of the terms need to be explained. I had to research what exactly was meant by backchanneling before a previous BS breakfast. I breathed a sigh of relief when the very smart and in touch Stevie Rocco had to ask what it was during the breakfast. I didn’t want to ask anyone because I didn’t want to feel like an idiot, and trust me, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me (and others I work with).

    C’mon, folks, if an Educational Technology Services employee and someone experienced with learning technologies like Stevie has to wonder, can we assume people outside our community know? This is why I thought a good idea might be a glossary of terms to reference folks to.

    Anyway, food for thought. I hope I didn’t anger too many people, but I just read both of these posts and had to say what I said.

  5. Jamie … love the comments and really appreciate the perspective. I think your point is spot on! One of my goals for the Learning Design Summer Camp concept is to help level the playing field. As long as we are being frank, allow me to add that I am not interested in playing only to the lowest common denominator … my goal is to raise the level of the conversation. I know there are things that are intimidating, but I need to add that it isn’t all about technology. If we don’t put ourselves out there, how would we ever strike up a relationship with anyone? Everyone is really far in front in one area or another — I think we have to think about this as a stretch activity as well where we take risks and feel comfortable asking questions.

    At least I hope we can arrive at a place where the community is open and engaged enough where feeling stupid is a thing of the past. Know what I mean?

  6. I agree – the Learning Design Summer Camp is a great “first start” and I plan on coming to future meetings.

    And I agree it isn’t just about technology. It’s about a cultural change as well. Sadly enough, it is ingrained into our heads that taking risks = bad and not looking smart = bad in the workplace. I know exactly what you mean by getting an open community.

    The other aspect we probably should think about is getting buy-in of this sort of thinking with those who manage who we want to attract (and get them involved as well). I wonder if some people aren’t more engaged because they feel it’s not a smart thing to do given their work environment and that these things are frowned upon.

    We really are on the cutting edge here of not just technology, but a new way of working; it’s exciting and interesting to be a part of it.

  7. This certainly has turned into an interesting conversation! I completely agree with Jamie’s comments and allow me (as my comments) to *hug* you right back.

    I’m coming at this from my perspective (as we all do) and thinking about where I’ve come from in my current position. I started at Penn State as a staff assistant in a small department. Not only did I not really have anyone in my department to interact with, but I wasn’t even aware that any of these other resources were really out there to take advantage of. Several positions later, I’ve found myself in a place where I’m doing training – teaching people about Web 2.0, and virtual worlds, and community and conversations. In my work so far, I’ve found that the people that don’t necessarily participate in these things are incredibly excited and eager to be involved…. once I show them how.

    I love ETS and I think you do an amazing job of exploring new things, interacting and putting yourselves out there. I’m incredibly impressed by the job you all do on a daily basis. I think if we want to engage the community.. and I mean *everyone* then we do need to consider that ‘lowest common denominator”. I work with people that don’t even know what a wiki or blog is.. let alone know how to participate in these communities. These are smart people that would love to be involved, but they’re in a different world than we are.

    To engage the entire community and stimulate change and conversation, I think at least part of the effort must focus on the people that have to learn the basics.

    Also, on another note, I think maybe we should consider our jargon in conversations with the community as well. When I first heard about the Learning Design Summer Camp, my first thought was “Oh, well I’m not involved in Learning Design so I’m not sure I should participate in that.”. I’d like to think that almost everyone at the university, in some way.. is involved in learning design. Perhaps not in the classroom and perhaps not with students, but learning about these new technologies and these new ways of communication. Maybe we should have a session focused just on teaching our co-workers, and thinking about how they might best learn.

    I think it’s our responsibility to reach down and lift everyone up. People can’t talk with us unless we show them how. The power of community is in the teaching and growing.. together.

    I also agree with Jamie – I think we’re on the edge of something that could change everything here. Not just technology, but conversations. It’s incredibly exciting and I’m thrilled that I’m participating.

  8. Shannon … good points. Let me clarify my lowest common denominator statement — what I am driving at is that we all have something huge to share, just in very different areas. You bring an extreme and intense level of knowledge to the virtual world conversation — I am a serious newbie who is trying to get over the hump of seeing value. I talk with faculty who are the best in their fields in many areas — I mostly have to think really hard to engage with them … most of the time it is very uncomfortable, but I put myself in a place to let them share insights with me so I can challenge them back with my own perspectives. My point is that if we only stick to the baseline then maybe we create an environment where we can’t engage around bigger ideas. Again, I think I may be missing the mark with what I am writing … we may need to take this into “real space” for me to articulate my thinking, but at the end of the day I want so badly to get to the issues around scholarship (and that to me is the place where I like to think/talk/interact).

    Yeah, the name of the LD Summer Camp was my attempt to break out of the strict focus on the position of Instructional Designer. IMHO,for too long we’ve focused nearly all of our energy at the ID level — you hit the nail on the head, we are all part of the Learning Design community I want to be inclusive of everyone. It takes a whole bunch of people to attack problems and solve really good solutions and they need to come from diverse backgrounds.

    I am loving the dialogue and really enjoying the amount of passion so many people bring to all of this. It is a very good time to be a part of a University!

  9. I hear what you are saying, Cole, and as a former ETS employee who is now out in the big cold world of the “colleges” I see both sides of the situation; I know how hard we worked in ETS years ago to increase participation in “events” and how the Web 2.0 technologies and new ideas in the last few years have created new outlets and avenues to accomplish that. Just a thought, though, that a lack of an invitation is not the only barrier to participation that may be out there. Here are a couple others that occur to me:

    I really think that those who blog regularly, post twitter updates multiple times each day, and thus “participate” and become part of the community more quickly are of a different personality type than those of us who tend to be “lurkers”. It is just not that important to me to stop making dinner to post what I’m having on Twitter, for example. Maybe I have self esteem issues, but I just don’t think people care that much what I had for dinner or how late my flight was. I also don’t particularly enjoy writing , (this post is taking forever), so to write a carefully composed blog post about a new technology I’ve found would be a chore. Is Web 2.0 only for extroverts??? I’m not really waiting for an invitation…..I just don’t have the TIME or energy to devote to it. How do you reach people like me? Does that count out a whole category of people who now can’t participate in the Web 2.0 culture? I hope not.

    Related (maybe) to this characteristic is that some people are just much more “wired” than others. I’m not a gadget person. The thought of spending my personal (non-work) time figuring out some new technology just doesn’t excite me. I’d rather work in the garden or read a book. I’d like to admit right now (get ready for this) that I have never gone on the Internet from my cell phone! It wasn’t that important to me to find out that piece of information THAT fast. I know to some of you, that is almost impossible to believe. Since I am confessing, I can also say that I am rarely online in the evenings or over the weekend. After spending all day at a computer, I just really don’t want to look at one all evening too. So, especially in Twitter, an entire conversation could have come and gone before I even knew it existed. Maybe I had something to add, but it’s too late when I get to work in the morning. Many people really love the technology and enjoy experimenting with it, installing new stuff on their latest gadgets, and finding a quicker and easier and “cooler” way to tweet. I’m just not one of them. Does participating have to mean that I’m wired 24/7? Again, I hope not.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there needs to be room for all types of people with different interaction styles and personalities at the table. I’m not sure how you accomplish that. The conversation will be much richer, though, if multiple perspectives are truly represented than if the people that are talking are all looking at things in exactly the same way.

  10. Cathy … very good points! BTW, I’d love to know what you are having for dinner 😉

    To the point of what counts as participation … I think you’ve touched on an emerging challenge from a pedagogical perspective. I taught a course this past semester and had to really think critically about the fact that more than half the class participated in a huge way via Twitter, while the other half didn’t. It created a two tier environment that made grading really tough. It is a conversation that needs to be addressed if we are to promote these approaches to those we work with.

    These are tough questions and I have to say as my children begin to grow I am spending far less time connected to the machine … along with that admission comes the fact that I do tend to have my iPhone closer. I guess what I am saying is that I am not sure … I think at the center of what you are saying is the real challenge — how do we engage those that sit outside of our normal communication paths? A few years ago we mailed postcards and sent memos, then we jumped to email and posting events on a website, now we shoot out tweets to (what we hope is) a connected community. With all those methods we are missing someone — I routinely threw away the postcards while I was in IST for example.

    I just want people to know they are welcome and that these different perspectives and approaches need to be shared to enrich our identity as a community. Thanks for the comments and please join us in moving the thinking forward!

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  12. Glad I stumbled over this discussion while I was catching up on feeds! Jamie, your point about not knowing the “in circle” jargon speaks to the same sense of being an outsider that Cathy does. We speak of not having to invite people to a discussion that is ongoing but, quite frankly, the intimidation factor — EVEN FOR A GEEK LIKE ME — can be overwhelming. And if I can be intimidated by these discussions, there are many who will look on from afar, not willing to step up to the plate in the event (as Jamie again points out) they look foolish. Personally, I lurked for years before I could bring myself to comment on a post. Now, I’m obviously comfortable with looking foolish. 😉

    I have been thinking a lot about the concept of no invites needed, and I actually have to disagree. I would never have considered I could be a part of the BS Breakfasts had I not heard *specifically* from Cole that they were open to the community and we were welcome to join the conversation. Not just the ID community either, but everyone. Once this initial barrier was crossed, I was far more comfortable volunteering for opportunities discussed at the BSB, and that is the crux of the matter. I have been engaged and welcomed, but I would not have known either had I not received the invitation to join the conversation. While we transition from a walled garden and closed conversations to open dialogue and content, I believe we are going to need to continue to invite people into the open dialogue, if only for the fact that they don’t realize the discussion is open. It isn’t what they are used to and, as Shannon points out, many of us have to unlearn the traditional walled garden concept if we are to be able to embrace a new social norm.

    I think it is a good reminder to hear Cathy say that she’s on Twitter selectively, much like Allan. We all need to learn where our comfort level is with the technology, and can’t expect everyone to page back multiple times to catch up on what was missed. Everyone’s on a different part of the adoption curve, and some may never travel it as fast or as completely as others will. I very much think there is room at the table for people of differing levels of interaction, as long as the common denominator is that they want to be there and have a desire to learn more. I am happy to work with anyone who is interested in knowing how to do something, because that means they are willing to be engaged and open to discovery. Better that than the tech savvy guy who knows it all because, at that point, it stops being a conversation or a learning opportunity.

    I think Allan was dead on in sending out his email this week. It’s via a medium that the falls right in the middle of the bell curve, and it makes us smart to reach such a large part of our target audience through their current communication of choice. However, I still believe that to market the Summer Camp, it will be necessary to use a myriad of mediums (both traditional and non-traditional) so that we can touch a myriad of people. As long as they are willing to be engaged, and we are willing to teach them and expose them to these technologies we believe in, you have grounds for a dialogue and engagement. We must STILL invite people to join us because we are early adaptors, and it’s more fun when more people are involved. Taking that thought further, it may be that we ALWAYS will be inviting people to join and engage with us, because I don’t see this group being anywhere except at the forefront. It’s a great place to sit, as long as we remember the other 95% of the bell curve sits behind us.

    Okay, I’ve done my looking foolish thing. Have at it.

  13. Robin, I tend to agree with what you are saying. I guess what I am driving towards is a shared understanding that this is *our* community. Who am I to make the invitations? I don’t see myself as the leader of the community, just a voice in it (sometimes a loud and slightly off topic voice, but …). It is honestly thrilling to see it rising up and taking control. There is so much power and opportunity right here within the entire PSU system it is just unreal. Think how lucky we are to have a list of about 150 people to invite to the Learning Design Summer Camp! 150 people … that is an unreal number. Think about what kinds of perspectives and stories we’ll be able to share … just blows my mind that until a little while ago we all worked away in our silos, only coming out to play when we *had* to — you know, for committee work or cross unit meetings.

    Through the emergence of the community I feel a much deeper sense of shared experience and I find that I understand the issues across campus so much better. I hear and feel so much less angst about this group or that … it just feels like we are working towards pulling in the same direction.

    I agree we need to use all the mediums we can to keep the community growing — and we need to do that to be inclusive. Invitations or not, the idea that we remain open and engaging is the goal. We’re all learning how to behave in a new way and it feels good to be allowed or empowered to participate. Until someone tells me talking to others and spending time exploring new ideas is wrong I am going to continue to ask people to join me.

    Thanks for the comment — and not so foolish after all!

  14. I think we do still need invitations, but let’s think of the invitations as social networking in and of themselves. Cole, you invited us to the BS Breakfasts and I, like Robin, would *never* have thought that was something I would have been welcomed to participate in until you offered and invited us. Just like the Learning Design Summer Camp, just like anything else. If it’s not a community or group that you are aware you belong to, you don’t just invite yourself to the party.

    That being said.. you invited us, and so now I feel that it’s up to us to invite others. Sort of the “pay it forward” idea. You are right, you cannot possibly be the person to do all the inviting, but.. we all can invite people – just like you said before.

    We should ask people to join us. We should show people what we’re doing, and we should get them excited to be a part of it. We can show them how it will benefit them, and invite them to be a part of it. No one wants to be the uninvited guest so it’s our duty to put out the welcome mat and serve up some refreshments.

    Come join us. Everyone’s invited.

  15. Shannon … now that is what I am talking about! Informal meet ups and chances to talk for real lead to deeper connections — just like following on Twitter, commenting on blog posts, and the many other “social” things we do online. Grab someone and drag them into your workspace and engage them — then push them to participate in the larger conversation. Maybe I should change this to no more invitations to something along the lines of massive invitations — err, something. Great points!

  16. Three thoughts about this chain:

    First, I want everyone to understand that the community has been building and becoming more open mostly over the past year or so. That’s about the time we started most of the community hubs. We were blogging in the open before then and the majority of the broader Twitter activity started within the last six months. So if you’re just joining now, you’re not that late. Welcome to the party.

    Second, it’s my job to bridge the gap between exploration and adoption. That’s why I ran the 2007 and 2008 Symposiums. It’s also why I’m involved with the Learning Design Summer Camp and Brainstorming Breakfasts. I think all of our community activity is enriched when we have different types of people involved (much to Cathy’s point). And if that means that I need to use Twitter, e-mail, blog posts, wikis, white papers, face-to-face meetings, videos, and podcasts to reach different people, I will do that and more. If you think of other methods of reaching out, I’m happy to try those as well.

    Finally, through events like the Symposium and the Summer Camp, we aren’t just asking people to keep doing more and more or just throw new technologies at old problems. I hope we can talk about the larger issues that we are all struggling with and use our collective brain power to help resolve some of them. For example, during last week’s Summer Camp planning group, one of the organizers said that her group was going to be starting an online degree completion program and really wanted to talk to CATHY HOLSING at the Summer Camp because Cathy had done something similar in Liberal Arts. That is a worthwhile discussion and technology will have some role in it, but should be a mechanism for problem solving instead of the focus of this type of gathering.

  17. As I see from all the messages, Chris’s post struck a key nerve and I am glad that we are having this conversation. All the points made so far have been excellent.

    In terms of Cathy’s comments on lurking vs speaking, for me I think there is a “trust” issue involved in choosing where and how to participate. I think I am looking for subliminal cues that my input is welcome in a particular discussion.

    So actually…the overt invitation to the Brainstorming Breakfast was welcome. I honestly thought it was a closed group because it was never mentioned in an “official” setting.

    The truth is that my life experience has taught me that most events/groups are closed unless there is an overt cue of some sort that I am invited. In the real world, this could be a personal invitation, a poster on the sidewalk or a newsletter announcement. On the Web, it can be the “About me” page or a “Comments” link. It sounds like the conventions for newer venues like Twitter aren’t always clear.

    Next time though, I won’t be so shy.

  18. Elizabeth … you and others are getting at something that is so important for us to recognize — life experiences and years of not being encouraged to think “open” cause us to wait to be asked to participate. The idea that any of us could just show up to any meeting seems crazy and I have to continually remind myself that we are still figuring this whole thing out. It will take time for culture to change — a smart guy I used to work for told me culture takes 3-5 years to change. So a year or so of applying a new tenet to social engagement isn’t quite enough to say people should just get it.

    I am encouraged by the conversation and am thrilled we are all making this journey together.

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