I love talking to people about the exciting work they’re doing. I love it more when their work resonates with something I’m doing. I love it the most when finding people whose exciting work resonates with my own is part of my professional responsibilities.
While teaching, I realized that the willingness to ask people to share their thoughts or products or expertise wasn’t just stimulating for me–it actually helped me do better work and allowed me to be a bridge between otherwise unconnected people doing work that resonated. Essentially, alongside teaching, I started doing a lot of networking. Just by asking, I got to beta test products like ShowMe and ThreeRing and ClassDojo to support my students. Just by email-introducing two people, I connected edtech startups building data tools with researchers looking for data.
Connecting with others working in education and education technology started to seem like more than just a way to make me a better teacher and keep myself intellectually stimulated–it started to seem like a necessary and important part of working in education and technology. That’s why danah boyd’s distillation of networking similarities between startup employees and teens struck me as particularly astute (emphasis mine):
Networks of people are being mediated such that people are easily able to see who is connected to whom and leverage loose ties to achieve all sorts of work-related goals.Individual knowledge is often less important than being connected to the right people. And technology makes a lot of this easier. Social networks aren’t technologies. They’re relationships between people. And those relationships might be mediated through technology, but it’s the relationships that matter more than the technology. Success in today’s workforce isn’t simply about having hard skills; it’s about being networked in all sense of the word.
The point about connections over individual knowledge takes me right to another current intellectual obsession: the problem-solving power of diverse groups. Scott Page is an economist whose research demonstrates that collaboration among a diverse set of problem solvers yields more potential approaches to tackling complex problems than collaboration among homogenous groups. Now, having a strong social network does not guarantee that you’ll be able to leverage it to solve complex problems. Having a network at also doesn’t mean that your network can solve problems in the first place. But working on complex problems (like many in education), I think that doing good work depends upon having a strong network.
Image: folks talking at an Edtech Meetup, via joshkehn on flickr