Chris Brogan talked about resistance in his weekly newsletter, and it got me thinking.  Often when I talk to people- educators, non-profits, small businesses – it doesn’t really matter- I hear a sense of resistance when talking about all these “cool online tools”.  To me, each tool I talk about saves me time, makes things easier- but I have been using them for a while, and I’m not afraid to try something new.  Chris’s blog post made me think more about what it would be like to be the person receiving this information.

Let’s take your average teacher.  They know there’s all this social media stuff going on, and they may even use it in heir personal life.  But they weren’t using it while they were in school.  It doesn’t come with any lesson plan.  Linear, predictable, learning is replaced with semantic, learn-it-as-you-go, unpredictable pathways that could lead almost anywhere.  We hear “horror” stories about kids engaging in inappropriate activities online, or running into strangers who don’t have their best interests at heart. They feel responsible for their kids, and teaching them things that will last, long after Facebook goes the way of Friendster and MySpace.  There’s a lot of very logical, reasonable reasons to resist incorporating new and digital media tools into the classroom including:

  • Loss of control
  • Worry that the time it takes to get up to speed won’t be worth the benefits
  • They’ve seen plenty of curriculum come and go, and are sure this is just like all those other past experiences
  • Beliefs that the old way seemed to work just fine, so why is the new, unproven way any better?  Without evidence, buy-in is hard
  • Belief that stepping out and trying new things in a tight job market may be a way to distinguish yourself, but if it doesn’t work, is it a way to get yourself fired, too?
  • Other teachers have created wikis and iWebs, just to find that they need to move them over to a new platform in another year or two, making all that work seem useless and a waste of time
  • Worry that by providing everything for students online makes them lazy and does not encourage study skills and responsibility

We could obviously go on and on.  But many of these same beliefs work for businesses, too.  How do we know if Paypal, Square, or Google Checkout are safe?  Secure?  Going to last? How do we know what a good website is, and what if it doesn’t bring the business I expect, but wastes time and money I could have spent elsewhere?  How do I know the money is reasonable and well spent?  How can I tell if someone is a good developer or not?  This stuff seems free, but seems to need a lot of time I don’t feel I have.

I Get It

I get this,  I do.  Everything people tell you you should be doing makes you tired just thinking about it.  You feel behind, but also unsure where to stick the shovel into the ground.  I started this whole process due to rejection and frustration myself.

I started playing with Podcasting because I got a book proposal rejected.  Instead of putting it in a drawer and moving on, I decided I would try building my own audience, and use my own voice for what I saw as a pain point- parents having a hard time understanding their kids, their learning disabilities, and what help might really work.  Sure enough, it brought me into a whole new world where I needed to learn about blogging, web design, marketing and more, to get my project noticed.  Along the way, I learned things I could teach to others.  And in a twist of irony, a publisher asked me to write a book, which I did with someone I met through my podcast.  I still got to the goal line, but I did it in a way I could not have predicted.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that life is always changing.  Things are always moving on.  I can get on the bus or stay in the station, but if I don’t move, nothing ever improves, either.  I have my same problems, my same foibles.  Sure, it’s a long list, but the trick is just to choose one place and get started.  Once you have a small success, it feeds into itself and helps you try one more new thing.  Before long, you;ve gone from crawling to running, and you get momentum, as well as a willingness to keep exploring.

Here’s a great example from one of my recent classes.  A group that provides a hotline number for troubled gamblers in Delaware came to an intro to social media class.  They seemed a bit skeptical, but put up a Twitter account and shared out a video.  Suddenly, they came to the attention of other gambling help lines, and their initial message and website were spread out and shared much further than ever before.  Now, while this means they are better connected to other professional organizations now and can share more ideas with each other, does this help their central mission?  I would argue one tweet does not increase the traffic on your help line, but more awareness and more connections with others in the same boat doesn’t hurt and can help you do your job better.   If, in this process, one more person hears of the help line, one more person gets help for themselves or their family- whether locally or nationally, surely that’s worth the price of 140 characters.  But like any awareness campaign, marketing, or even daily business,  you will always have to balance time, commitment, and consistency.  You will always have to figure out how to measure the worth or return for your investment.  But we do know if you never try, nothing will ever change.

Resistance is fundamentally about fear, and being scared of going down blind alleys when time and money already seem at a premium.  Hard times build fear.  Past experiences that have been merely middling make us less excited about sticking our necks out.  Yet, sooner or later, the pain of standing still is equal or greater than the pain of change.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have to do something, and something will be better than nothing.

I tell my students, and I’ll tell you the same thing.  Don’t try to do it all.  Start small, choose one thing, and play with it.   Give yourself a time frame, and a time investment budget.  For example, you might choose something like: “I will take the next six months and start a new blog, writing twice a week.  I will see how it goes and evaluate my progress and how I feel about it then.”  One teacher I know tried Skype study sessions in the evening with her class, and tracked test grades as her metric.  She saw kids who decided to participate in these voluntary sessions were doing better on tests and seemed more engaged in class.  While this doesn’t mean this will work for every teacher or every student, she tried something new, and plans to help kids form their own study groups this year.

Do make thoughtful decisions.  No one can predict the future.  Yes, sometimes, you will look back and see that some of the time was wasted, and some of it was a really good investment.  But we all learn, even from mistakes.  But we only improve by learning from our mistakes, not avoiding ever taking the risk in the first place.

Understanding our own fear and resistance is important.  Facing it and doing something about it is even more vital.  Sometimes, even the good old pro/con list can help you outline your fear and make a decision about going for it or holding back.  In the end, you’ll only ever progress by trying, so let that resistance to change go.  Things are always going to change, but keeping pace is much better than firmly planting your feet and never moving at all.  That’s a sure way to lose in the long run.