Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On being an independent thinker

I recently attended as much of the CLTI08 conference as I could manage between family commitments (it's a bit tricky when the rather early morning start for the Pacific time zone bods, translates into school run, dinner-preparation-and-eating and getting-kids-to-athletics time in the UK).

I was rather surprised when one of the other delegates commented in her invitation to connect (rather like 'friend' invitations in Facebook) on my "independent thinking". Apparently she felt this was what my contributions to the backchannel chat demonstrated.

I have never thought of myself as an independent thinker. I acknowledge that I (usually) won't just swallow the party line, and that I am not afraid to challenge, to ask the difficult questions. But independent? Hmm. Surely I'm just reacting to what other people say, rather than coming up with ideas of my own?

Some time ago, Harold Jarche sent me this gapingvoid cartoon:I printed it out and stuck it on my desk in my last job, right next to the banner that declared me a workafrolic (check it out, you won't be sorry!) and the reminder to go home every day (follow the link - it's not as daft as it sounds!). I took it with me when I left and it now graces the desk of my home office. At the time, I responded to Harold that, while I certainly didn't want to be a sheep, I didn't think I had what it took to be a wolf, either. I 'asked permission' instead to be a wolf cub, romping along in the wake of the alpha wolves, learning from them, but never quite having to step into that role myself.

Since that time, I have found myself increasingly being labelled an 'early adopter', a 'maverick' and 'an independent thinker'. When I look at the people I think of as independent thinkers, thought leaders and so on, I balk at the idea of such labels being attached to me - I feel unworthy (ugh, get a grip!), unequal to the task.

Nevertheless, perhaps from where someone else is sitting, that's how I appear. How about you? Do you think of yourself as being a leader, an independent thinker? How do other people see you? Because your reputation is not really based on your view of yourself. It's based on other people's views of you... whether you like it or not, I guess.


Anonymous said...

Karyn, I think we all balance self-image with what we think others see.

I saw myself as just trying to figure out computer-based training (back in the early 80s, when mainframes ruled). I pushed myself to share things we'd learned (lots of trial and plenty of error) at a 1983 conference, and was dumbfounded to have more than 70 people arrive... and remain.

There's also a difference, I think, between "independent thinker" and "deliberately contrary crank." (Maybe the difference is whether you eventually say "I'm sorry it turned out that way" or "I told you so.")

Christine Lavin put it another way:

There's a mighty fine line
Between a groove and a rut
A fine line between 'eccentric'
And people who are just plain nuts.

The upsycho said...

@Dave I have a friend who says "a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out". I try to escape the rut by starting every project with a blank slate, rather than a preconceived idea of how it will run.

Nevertheless, when people attach labels that I don't feel I deserve, I am torn. If the label is negative, I want to defend myself. If the label is positive, I want to set the person to rights so that they won't impute more wisdom to me than is warranted and base their choices on my (possibly flawed) views. Then again, I tell myself that they are in charge of their own learning journey and need to come to these realisations for themselves. It's a bit of a balancing act, as you say.

Jason Allen said...

Is it possible that your new friend was using "independent thinker" as a quantitative label, rather than a qualitative one.
You have red glasses is quantitative, you have 'lovely' red glasses is qualitative.
You are an independent thinker may just be a qualitative observation from her - whereas 'you are a independent thought leader in learning design' would be more qualitative.
As an independent thinker from way back - I would encourage you to revel in the label - as you have already demonstrated that you are willing to deal with the consequences that such independent thinking brings - which is the part most people have trouble with.