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The comfort zone and baby steps

baby stepsIn my keynote presentation at the CIO Perspectives event earlier this week, I tried to provide insight into what slows down CIOs and IT folks in general from being more active on social media, with the hope that motivation could be found through this insight and more people from IT would get “out there” and involved in these new platforms.

Two years ago, I wrote a post on why CIOs should get hands on with social media. The reasons remain relevant to this day, but my argument was weak because it’s simply a logical argument that doesn’t recognize what’s really holding many of us back. What I’ve realized upon reflection is that moving forward in these new spaces is an emotional challenge more than anything else. And I think this is particularly true for those of us in the IT field.

I’ve gone so far down this social media rabbit hole that I’ve come out the other side, landing in the Marketing department of Bentley University teaching a course on eMarketing. I blog frequently, conduct video interviews online, speak at events, conferences and area universities on the topics of blogging, social media, and online marketing strategies. But that didn’t happen overnight. The road was long and slow. After all, little change is the path to big change.

Expanding your comfort zone

New things arouse curiosity, but they also raise our internal alert level a notch. Uncertainty accompanies curiosity when we’re exploring something new. And when it gets personal, as is the case with social media, we can become particularly reserved. The same things that make us nervous about standing up in front of a room to speak to a crowd make us nervous about its virtual equivalent. There’s a feeling of vulnerability that can’t be ignored. Rather than face it, however, our gut reaction is often to rationalize it.

This rationalization can come in many forms ranging from dismissal of the value proposition (“it’s a fad,” “that’s for the marketing folks,” “there are too many platforms to learn,” etc.) to the self deprecating impostor syndrome (“who am I to share my thoughts with the world?”).

It’s not “all or nothing”

Exploring these new platforms is not an all or nothing proposition. We shouldn’t think of this as diving in the deep end. Rather, we should start in the shallow end, get acclimated slowly, and wade in more deeply over time.

The key is to dabble. Poke around, unweighted by lofty goals, specific timelines, or constant performance measurement. We need to simply adopt a curious, exploratory attitude. Just as when a child is learning something new. Children learn quickly but slowly. They make great strides in progress, but if you watch carefully they are simply learning deliberately and consistently over time. That’s what makes it seem like big leaps. And the looks on their faces says it all – learning is fun, stumbling is part of learning, and each step is a confidence builder.

Deliberate

While exploratory and scattered is the spirit of dabbling, there needs to be a deliberate effort to make progress. This can be (and should be) absent of specific goals, except one – the goal at each step should be to discover the next goal.

This is very different than the typical approach of smart, technical people who think systemically. We’re used to seeing the end goal, breaking it down into milestones, arranging them in a strategic pattern, considering all contingencies, and moving forward methodically once the plan is set. Abandon this instinct when exploring social media.

“Problems” disapear

If you’re deliberate and persistent in your curiosity, and you unweight yourself from all goals except discovering the new one, your exploration can be fun, challenging, and exciting. You look forward to playing around more. You look forward to discovering more. You look forward to experimenting more. You start to accumulate knowledge and experience and build on it. You start to form threads of ideas that cut across a variety of your experiences. You start to understand these new things in a deeper way. You get a feel for things. You build habits. You develop instinctive reactions. You get into the flow. When this happens, problems of “not enough time,” “nothing to say,” and more disappear.

Learning is fun

At the end of the day, we all enjoy learning – and I think that’s particularly true for those of us in IT. One of the reasons we chose the field is for constant learning. We like to explore, experiment, and mix things up. We like that there’s always something new around the corner, that no two days are the same. Taking that same spirit to this new world of social media is equally fun and rewarding. A little scary, yes, but that’s also what makes it exhilarating. Just take baby steps.

Photo credit: sean derilinger