What’s holding us back?

I was having a “getting back in touch” conversation with a friend I hand’t talked to in a couple of weeks this AM and part of what we talked about struck a chord with me this morning.  I felt strongly enough about it that I said “that’s something I want to write about on my blog”…

(scroll down to Skip to Here if you want the condensed version) (I’m too lazy to figure out how to do named anchors with wordpress) 

The situation that got me thinking
During our discussion we were talking about my friend’s recent conversation with a “name” in the corporate e-learning industry.  This person is doing some AWESOME stuff at the forefront of innovation and has been for a while. 
Me: …that is some great stuff, good for you to be involved with [that person]!  [That person] is always out there doing exciting stuff and must be a blast to work with.’ 
My Friend: Yeah, but a lot of people aren’t that impressed by [that person].  As a matter of fact, some people don’t like [that person] in the least”. 
Me: What the?!? I’ve met [that person] myself and [he/she/it] is a good person that seems genuinely intersted in building the industry.
My Friend: … yeah, I think so too, but, I was talking with [another “name” in the e-learning industry] and describing some of what I’m doing with [that person] and [another “name”] said ‘oh, more of [that person’s] same old bu!!sh@#’ and [another “name”] isn’t the only one I’ve heard that from. 

I feel like a teenager posting on MySpace right now, but stay with me, like, OK, ’cause were BFF.

That was it!  The whole reason we could come up with for the ‘anger’ (jealousy?) just seemed to be that [that person] is dreaming big dreams and always “out there on the edge”…  basically that some (or even most) of what [that person] puts in the public arena through [his/her/its] writing and presenting sticks and some (or even most) doesn’t.

I wish (but am too lazy to actually look it up) that I could give credit to whoever popularized the term ‘digital sandbox’ to describe the NEED for experimentation and failure to drive innovation, particularly in the digital world were the ‘cost’ of failure is soooo much lower than in the real world, because… 

Here’s what I was thinking
As much as our lack of willingness to give up power (see previous post), our FEAR OF FAILURE only holds us back.  The fear that we’ll stick up a wiki and no one will use it.  The fear that we’ll learn how to podcast and it will turn out to just be a fad.  The fear that we’ll start blogging and run out of things to say (not a problem for me 🙂 ).  And, as illustrated by the too lengthy story above… the fear that we’ll go out on a limb and others will think we’re not perfect; that we some times make mistakes; that people will think we’re really just full of bu!!sh@#.  I’ve got a secret to share…  I’ve failed.  Miserably in one or two instances. 

As a matter of fact, my most recent failure was when I put up a wiki at the end of a new tool training module required everyone to post something to the wiki to complete the training (once your in, your in, right?  WRONG)  The idea was that the wiki would become the tool support center/documentation where everyone could go for help on the new tool since it didn’t come with documentation of it’s own.  Failed miserably.  Everyone posted their “training conclusion” post and never looked at the wiki again.  I’m sure a couple of them even thought I was full of BS for making them use a stoopid wiki in the first place.  (Thankfully) I can only imagine if [another “name”] was my boss and I had to report back to [him/her/it] on the success of my training.  Innovation/will to try new stuff again = squooshed (skwoshed? squshed? skwushed?).

(Skip to Here) My point
I learned several key points about using wiki technology to support training from a glorious failure.  Things that I could not have learned any other way.  Now, instructional designers are sayingto themselves “well, DUH”.  No, not “DUH” because we only want people to fail when we want them to fail.  We aren’t willing to let them play in the digital sandbox.  Think about it, how often do you play there yourself?

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3 Responses to “What’s holding us back?”


  1. 1 Wendy December 19, 2006 at 5:05 am

    Paul – I’ve grappled with both of those issues…infighting between “names” and risking my neck trying a new thing and finding that people don’t use it, or use it in unintended ways.

    The only way instructional designers can determine how best to use a tool is through that sort of experimentation. Finding the limits of what a tool can and cannot do in an educational context with real students (guinea pigs?).

    Keep playing in the sandbox, and thanks for your post.

  2. 2 nkilkenny December 19, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Fearing the fad thing is normal. I once heard that a certain business leaders thought that the ‘internet’ was a fad. I don’t think your efforts failed. That’s part of the cycle of innovation – experimenting and sometimes failing – but you learn from where things didn’t go just right. In fact, I think you should be commended because you took a risk in employing the wiki. I’ve been hesitant to promote wikis and blogs as part of a package because a lot of people in my environment are hesistant and don’t feel safe to experiment. It’s too bad corporate environments don’t embrace the value of learning from failure more. Sometimes I just feel that they’re running things 2dimensionally.

  3. 3 pfender December 20, 2006 at 8:36 am

    So I’ve struggeled with the whole “I don’t want to experiment because no one will appreciate it” for quite some time but still do (throw in a wrinkle every now and then) mostly because I get, well, bored so easily.

    How have you been successful encouraging others to “come out and play” with you?


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