Think and do?

Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, “Never confuse motion with action.” That advice bubbled up this morning as I was browsing online, musing on posts I found in my NetVibes reader.

I’ve been working on my own lately, rather than as part of a team, and so online exchanges are a major channel for professional information, insight, and challenge. Just today, a Stephen Downes link led me to this post on Rob Wall’s Open Monologue.

He talks about the torrent of information available to anyone, and stress that it’s a river, not a reservoir. “I don’t need to worry about collecting and hoarding [information] because I might need it someday. With a river, I can go to it as often as possible and take what I need. ”

When I was around 12 years old, I thought I’d collect coins — after all, I had a paper route, and got all kinds of change every week. But as I started filling in my U. S. penny album, I did some research. I learned that certain pennies, like the 1909 S VDB, cost over a thousand dollars.

I didn’t think one of those would turn up in my weekly take. I dropped this short-lived hobby.

With information, the “price” is a matter of time, availability, and value to you. Participating in a community of practice involves engaging with that community. But as Steven Wright noted, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” So for me, treating what’s available as a river — something flowing, something continuous — is helpful. I don’t need to master everything in the river any more than I needed to read everything in the library.

No, it's The second part of Wall’s comment makes sense as well: I have to go to the river. And just as it’s possible to sit idly on the bank, watching the water stream past, it’s possible to noodle away an hour or six just reading online.

Nothing wrong with that, but it overlooks advice from the Dick and Jane books of my childhood. I might be thinking about what I’m reading, at least while I’m reading it, but I’m not doing anything.

In fact, the advice may be backward. The key may be to do, and then to think. (Maybe both versions are true, but I’m on a rhetorical roll.)

At the start of the year, I thought about what this blog has done for me. I decided that the oftener I post (short of posting for the sake of making a post), the more conscious I am of issues, ideas, and notions. And in the last month or so, I find I get the most benefit from my reader by doing two things: clicking three links out, and commenting.

By “three links out,” I mean following a chain of ideas and references. If Cammy Bean posts a link to Cathy Moore, Cathy’s posted a link to Tom Kuhlmann.

That’s a simple example, moving from instructional design to presenting information. Often three links out will take me to unexpected places, like the surprisingly engrossing conversation you can have with the right stranger during a long flight.

As for the commenting, that’s another part of doing, and probably the beginning of thinking. When I comment, I’m accepting an invitation to join in a conversation. I think the act of commenting is part of the learning process. I don’t want to leave just a “great idea” comment; I want to say what was great, what was happening for me, what I know or what I’ve heard that might relate.

7 thoughts on “Think and do?

  1. Just continuing the linkage:)

    Good post. It reminds me of some of the work I did when I was researching communities of practice and how we build expertise.

    I like the three links out concept. It’s simple and makes fishing in the river seem manageable.

  2. Tom,

    I like it too — as a rule of thumb, not a law of physics. I remember hearing “three clicks and you’re there” as an interface-design heuristic for websites. That convinced me of the uselessness of 99% of splash screens. And the less said of “click here to enter,” the better.

    I was talked earlier today with a colleague who sees a lot of value in getting out of her usual paths of online information. Same idea, same potential payoff.

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