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My Thoughts On Seth Godin’s Post “Without Them”

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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.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

8 Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more. My now eight years as a principal of a comprehensive highschool taught me the truth of your post. Especially when feeling tired of those many naysayers I was always tempted to go the Godin way – and more often than not I did. In the long term though I mostly was far better off following your advice, building reciprocal relationships with the opposers and embracing resistance. But then again, from time to time, I fall in love with the Chinese proverb “If you have to drain a swamp, don’t ask the frogs”* – It seems I am a slow learner…

    *maybe in the US I better used “Don’t talk with turkeys about Thanksgiving”

  2. Normally I would agree, but I tried it your way. I am not sure my way (i.e Seth’s way) is working 100% better, but it has some people approaching education differently. In a very rural conservative area, your way does not really work (and really, we are a classrooms for the future school that was required to read Will Richardson and Vicki Davis and David Warlick.) Unfortunately, may were not ready to actually discuss what we were reading and leadership lacked. I jumped ahead. I am still a go to person, I am not a leadership person. Generally I am excluded from the “change” happening in school. Does that make me a bad example? No. They will eventually get there but I put it right out in front because even if I were to change what I do, they would still not include me. It is a good old boys club here. I may be wrong, but I am making people uncomfortable and maybe increasing some kind of conversation and action. I appreciate discussion but when there is an absence, shaking it up is the only thing you can do. If I am wrong, sorry, but I think you have to feel out your environment and cause some kind of change.

  3. Larry,

    Great thoughts and you are right, it is about relationships and subtle suasion. But like so much in life, it is the stuff that comes quiet, as on dove’s wings — that goes unnoticed.

    What’s always been part of my modus operandi is to make change in a small way. That soon adds up! You can make a new mountain with many spoonfuls each day.

    So often teachers get frustrated. So many brick walls. I believe one way to deal with the brick wall is not to try and destroy it with one fell swoop. Rather, use a chisel that others will never notice and peck at it that way. It will get done.

    Loud, bold – that’s for the movies. And then there is “success”, nothing works better than real success…

    Louise – I don ‘t know your situation but I am tempted to think that maybe it’s not the right “fit” for you – for you to be the agent of change. If you feel “outside” , you might do better elsewhere. Just a thought but change does, really does, come from within… “Shaking it up” will only keep you an outsider and that’s not really what change is about. But who knows – I do know that this world works in strange ways – LOL and teaching is always about skinning a cat in your own way.. So you may be right too.

    David
    http://eflclassroom.com

  4. I agree with what you’re saying Larry, we want the masses to come along with..if we want this change to happen. Ticking people off is not real fruitful, making others feel left behind or out of the loop, or whatever… not a good strategy.
    And – like you say – relationships are the most important part – of any movement … it’s what gives value.

    I’m not a ruckus type person.. but I am impatient with a slow pace if it’s just because of discomfort…. especially when kids (and adults) are missing out on some incredible stuff.
    I’m thinking more of a “ruckusy” disrupting class. Something small – not real invasive of others… but certainly getting going..rather than just talking about it.

    The part of Seth’s post that really struck a chord for me was was about how others are often just waiting to follow someone crazy enough to actually do something.
    That’s what I’m whole-heartedly seconding.

    I have a lot of exhausted peers. I want them to experience a pln – and then share that with their kids. I think that’s huge and extremely rewarding – I truly want that for all of us.

    I think the exhaustion or fear or whatever else is keeping people from it is hiding the fact that they all want that as well. It’s like so many are just not quite sure what they’re supposed to be doing…

    …so I think some need to just start doing – even though it appears crazy to the mainstream.

  5. Larry,

    I agree with many of your points and appreciate you sharing your experience. However, I also see Seth’s point. Sometimes, we have to just go out and do it and see what happens. At my current language institute this is what worked best. However, at the high school I taught at your way worked best. The difference was that in the high school we were given many opportunities to establish relationships. There were many events but at my language institute we meet a handful of times a year. These are meetings and not retreats, events, workshops, and so forth where teachers have the time to get together and really get to know each other.

  6. I agree. Maybe not a great fit but all I have here right now. I perhaps should have added more. I have actually found more success by nurturing small relationships and making changes there that cause other changes. But the original idea that I nurtured with them came from being bold and just doing it.

  7. Just as a good marriage is often built upon both mystery and familiarity — effective change is built upon relationship and being provocative in that relationship.

    I think that the relationship part builds the trust for others to know that what you bring to them is from a source – a person who loves and cares for them. The same glue that allows students to rest in our rooms and know it is is a safe place for learning – it starts on a foundation. Now on top of the foundation of relationship – building interest, using creativity, and even being provocative is a GREAT thing.

    To me, there is a “cool boy, renegade, I’m in this alone – look at me selfishness” that underlies many of those who are most vociferous about change – however if you take a closer look, you may find that person is a lone wolf.

    However, if we want to bring the pack along, we’ve got to befriend the leaders and also be part of it the pack ourselves at some point.

    So, I guess the answer is that I think we need both – but without a doubt the greatest leaders I’ve known have been the servant leaders who others can trust but who were just a cut above in mindset and knowledge for others to know that they deserved following – thus the duality.

  8. I believe in the old adage ‘a time and place for everything’. Yes, sometimes it is great to shake things up and challenge people…other times the quieter approach is required.

    I have to say that on the whole I have found a quiet role model approach to introducing technology into education has been far more effective than the times I have steamed ahead with all guns blazing. But the problem I have found with this approach has been that it is far more time-consuming. But having said that, I believe it has been more effective in the long run.

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