Seth Godin wrote a short post today titled “Without Them” today that has been constantly re-circulated on Twitter — usually with a positive comment attached to it.
I personally think it is the wrong advice most of the time for those of us who who want to effectively make social or institutional change.
He basically says that if you have an idea you want to try, and it meets some resistance, you should just do it, “cause a ruckus and work things out later.”
He ends his post with “I’m going. Come along if you like.”
I speak directly to this perspective in my post “A Few Simple Ways To Introduce Reluctant Colleagues To Technology:”
In my community organizing career, I learned that a key to engaging people to move beyond their comfort zone is to first build a relationship — a reciprocal one. A relationship entails eliciting from others their hopes and dreams, along with sharing your own. It involves finding learning the frustrations and challenges that people are experiencing. It involves looking for ways to help the other person realize those hopes and dreams and get beyond those challenges. And, if educational technology can genuinely help in those ways, then building a relationship means framing the invitation to try it in a way that speaks to what the other person wants, which may not be the way you would prefer to frame it.
Obviously, sometimes doing what Godin recommends has and will work — certainly in my community organizing career we met plenty of nay-sayers. And, of course, like most of us, there have been times when I’ve followed the advice “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” However, I think even in those circumstances, there are many more choices than the ones he lists: “you can fail by going along with that and not doing it, or you can do it, cause a ruckus and work things out later.”
Listening to criticisms, asking more probing questions of those who disagree, refining your plan of action before you move forward taking into account what you hear — these are all additional ways to respond.
Being provocative can be an effective teaching tool, one that I often use. When it’s done in a classroom setting, however, a subsequent conversation can leave time for clarification. However, sometimes when it’s done in writing (especially in a venue like Godin’s blog that apparently doesn’t allow people to leave comments), it can provide not very helpful guidance.
Here’s another quote from my post that I referenced earlier:
Many years ago I helped operate a soup kitchen on San Jose’s (CA) Skid Row. We were well-meaning, but not the most responsible neighbors. On day I was sweeping around the passed-out men and women on our front porch when a police car drove-up. An officer got out and started yelling me, saying that we couldn’t control thing and they received many complaints about us. As the officer continued, one of the men on the porch pulled himself up on the railing and yelled out, “Officer, Larry tries. He tries hard. We just don’t listen to him!”
I’ve often thought about that incident during my nineteen year career as a community organizer and six years as a public school teacher. I’ve framed the lesson I learned that day as a question, “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be effective?”
Of course, that question is another provocative one — it doesn’t have to be either/or.
And I would say the same for Godin’s post.