Fear, Power and Beauty #1

The topic of fear was a recurring one in our #xplrpln seminar a few weeks ago. During our weekly Twitter chats and in our G+ community, we discussed some potential risks in mainstreaming PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) in organisations. One of the most spooky – and brilliant – illustration was Kay Assynt’s final artifact called the PLN House of Horror, where one of the key questions was : “How to motivate authentic participation in social networks vs. turn students/workers into social zombies?”.

As a cMOOC newbie, I was a little nervous at the start of that seminar. What would it be like to think out loud and to share “half-baked” ideas with other participants I didn’t know and who seemed to have more experience and knowledge of Personal Learning Networks (PLN)? Rather quickly though most of my fears dissolved. With the subtle support of our moderators and encouragements from other participants – also thanks to a good dose of humour – I gradually stepped from my initial position of “lurker”, to “sampler” and then active learner! What a great experience. Nevertheless, I can still easily understand why some people are worried about new technologies or/and social networks. And why there are some reasons to stay relatively suspicious about a more formal adoption of PLNs in organisation and the rapid emergence of Enterprise Social Networks (ESN).

Fear and anger: a lot seems to depend on how we manage these two emotions, at work, in our relationships, personal dreams and in life in general. Let’s focus on fear for now… “Focus” is the main title of Daniel Goleman’s new book “Focus – the hidden driver of excellence”. I was only 20 when I read Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” and I still remember that thrilling sensation, like if I had made a real breakthrough in life. Well actually I think that book may have changed my young adult life indeed; and that’s why I am so looking forward to the “hidden driver of excellence” (tip for X-mas present anyone ?).

In this 20 min webcast with IMD professor George Kohlrieser, D. Goleman reminds us again the primal quality of fear: that “amygdala hijack” he describes as our survival mechanism in a Darwinist world. That world has transformed though and our fears have changed too. The fears of the dark cold cave, the big grizzly bear or the unknown fire have turned into fears of rejection, imperfection, judgement, alienation, isolation, terrorist attack, market crash, natural disaster, loss of control, power, privileges, identity, lack of money, time, meaning, freedom… And the list goes on! So goes the list of questions on how we could change the world; one question I keep asking myself though is how do we transform our fears ?

In a great post called “Riding the wave of continuous improvement”, Jennifer Rainey, one of our #xplrpln participants, wrote : “We need to be what “society” wants us to be. We are conditioned to think inside the box. So we carry this mindset with us into the workforce, where we are told to, Think outside the box!  Be innovative!  Be creative! After 12-20+ years of conditioning, easier said than done.”

What if an important part of this conditioning comes from all the bricks we keep adding (or are added by others since our early ages) into our “Wall of Fear”?

Take and give a hand

A couple of weeks ago I spent my Sunday morning in a soft playground for a kid’s birthday party. While I was reading Jennifer’s post on my phone, my partner’s daughter (4) came to me and asked me to follow her. “I want to go on that big tube slide but I am scared” she said.  OK… time to remove my shoes and join the party – yeah lots of fun. Even more fun: I took little one by the hand and convinced her to go on the big slide with me. After that first slide she went straight up to do it again, and again…on her own, and then with other little friends. I was so proud of her, she looked so happy.

Coming back now to Enterprise Social Networks and the introduction of new collaborative tools in large organisations, I was inspired by John Stepper’s post on how he tries to help people “work out loud. His 12 week coaching programme aims at transforming the way people work, by developing new habits. This step-by-step approach sounds to me like an interesting way to transform the “fears of the unknown” : the “I don’t have time for that”, “I don’t know how”, “I don’t know who” etc… John literally “takes people by the hand” in order to coach them and work individually on their top barriers. Even if that approach doesn’t seem scalable in large organisations, as the author himself recognises, that type of coaching offers clearly some opportunities to lower the threshold : “it gives people a simple way to start, structures their time, helps them think more deeply about relationships, and provides support while they practice consistently”.

Another common source of anxiety in large organisations is the “fear of peers” (peer pressure). I remember dealing with that when I used to organise corporate events for Top-Exec level in a large insurance company in Belgium a few years ago. “Only if they do, I do”, “who will be in the room?”, “how will this be interpreted?”.

In his article “Adaptation: The Key to Become a Socially Integrated Enterprise”, Luis Suarez says : “Fear is a powerful factor that should not be ignored, nor neglected, more than anything else, because it’s the main element that gets added into the mix when embracing peer pressure. Practitioners would always be a bit reluctant to want to enter the digital world, if they would be fearful to try, to play and learn, perhaps even to fail or make mistakes, in case of being ridiculed by that social pressure of their own peers. So what do they do? They switched off, before they even try.”

In my final artifact for our #xplrpln seminar, I tried to “sell” the idea of a mini-workshop where I could to take the fictitious CEO and his/her Management Board by the hand to explore some basic features of collaborative tools. I wanted to work around these two types of fears : fear of the unknown & fear of peers. The risk of that mini-workshop approach of course is to allow decision-makers to scratch the surface of PLNs and their associated social tools, and then having to follow whatever decisions they would make…

Certainly one of my main take-aways from our discussions in #xplrpln was that success of PLNs and ESNs in the organisational context is first of all a question of mindset and attitude (see also my previous post on this). The cultural change we need might be bigger than we think. With this in mind, the most risky approach would be to play with a few collaborative tools and then decide (or not) to “do social”. Remember the zombies in the PLN House of Horror?

Unlike in the case of “little one” and her magic smile on the tube slide, I don’t expect suspicion and obstacles to PLNs or ESNs to vanish in a few seconds. I do believe the whole topic of social learning needs to be demystified and key people (at different levels of the organisation, including HR, IT, Legal…and Operational divisions!) be “taken by hand” to explore the potential benefits and risks. My point is that neither status quo nor big bang appear as a solution to increase chances of a successful adoption of ESNs or PLNs. So let’s get our feet moving, (small) step-by-step…

The beauty of fears

I won’t end this post without any reference to dance. Fear is the main emotion associated with the first rhythm of Flow in #5rhythms. Flow is the rhythm for exploration, continuous movement and embodiment, as opposed to resistance and inertia. I always remember the analogy made by one of my 5R teachers in his workshop “Fear, power and beauty” (thank you Adam Barley for letting me use that title for my post by the way…and for so much more). The image Adam took was the one of a wild feline engaging in unknown territories, a dangerous zone of the Savannah which was also the unique access to the only source of water in the area. You won’t see the big cat hopping happily to the source, and that big cat doesn’t say to himself : well actually, I don’t need that water. As both options might mean certain death. That animal will engage, gradually, fully embodied, fully present, focused and agile… Just in case some dangers might rise up and a fast fluid reaction is needed. As dancers, we use Flow to enter that zone of focus, fluidity and physical presence (“Put your mind into your feet” said G. Roth). We go for a freestyle exploration of the unknown, our internal and external space, with the intention to open up to the possibilities and discover our boundaries. Our main gateways in Flow are the feet, which we use to ground ourselves, not simply in a vertical way but also in a more horizontal and circular way. Never far from our “big mama earth”, but not rigidly and stubbornly anchored in one fixed spot. Breathing in into our own fears, inhibitions and judgements, we start recognising them and making friend with them. We flow in order to transform these fears and to gradually let in more freedom into our movements…. and more space into our life.

amur-leopard-going-into-the-water-1024x680(Photo credit: http://www.animalpicturesdaily.com)

That’s the beauty of fear. Transforming the fears of the unknown and fears of peers could be a very powerful process in order to bring more life, creativity and engagement in Enterprises 2.0. But what about the “Fear of Power” then ? More thoughts for a “Fear, Power  and Beauty #2” surely. In the meantime, please share yours… thoughts AND fears !

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4 Responses to Fear, Power and Beauty #1

  1. What a great post! Your words, stories, and analogies paint such vivid visuals. I can even see your “little one” playing on the tube slide! Thank you for bringing me back to a concept shared as an accelerated learning technique. Even though we are now adults, even “executives”, we still learn as we did when we were children. We still like to have fun – especially when we are learning and trying something new. And L&D can help provide that safe place to learn and allow those who want to jump right in, or take “baby steps”, to do just what they need to keep moving forward.

    • cedbo says:

      Thanks Jennifer! Yes to “Creating the right conditions for the learning to happen”… What I also discover is how great life teacher a little one can be:)

  2. Hello Cedric. I agree, a great post that “brought it all back” and tied it in to the feelings that were being explored during the cMOOC. It’s funny how going into the MOOC, fear wasn’t evident but only on exploration, discussion and readings, it reared its ugly head. However, we’re more mindful of it now and can deal with it.

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