Over at the Building a Better Blog community, Danielle B and Sue Waters have been talking in the forums about how easy it is to get yourself stuck in a blogging box, only reading those blogs that are related to your professional field or the topic you've chosen to blog about. This is a natural tendency I think because we generally blog about our passions and interests and we tend to want to connect to other people who share those interests. Besides, there's so much out there to read, it's one way to cut down on information overload!
The problem with blogging in our comfort zones, though, is that we narrow the possibilities for learning and creativity that come from exposing ourselves to new and different perspectives. If I stay in the edu-blogger community or the technology community of bloggers, with little contact with anyone else, it's easy to get sucked into the sort of group-think that naturally evolves when any community of people comes together. It's similar to what we do in real-life--staying in our own neighborhoods and never really experiencing what's happening in other parts of the world. As a result, we tend to think that most people are like us and think like us. Or maybe that's just me.
Although of course we can learn from others in our field, there's additional learning to be found when we move outside of our comfort zones and put ourselves into someone else's shoes to learn about how they view the world. In business, innovations often come when companies explore how other industries are doing business and adapt those practices for themselves. This is true in the nonprofit sector as well where microlending and social entrepreneurship are clearly linked to the idea of bringing business principles into NPOs. Learning about how others outside of our immediate communities of practice do things can be profoundly transforming.
I've become acutely aware of this issue in the past few weeks as I continue to think through my social media helix and how to cross the chasm from early adopters to early majority users of social media tools. I'll be writing a separate post on this, but one thing I realized in the past few days is how differently we early adopters of social media think. How do we expect to help people who don't use social media tools to cross over if we don't fully understand their experience of the web and how it's so different from our own? But because I've surrounded myself online with a community of people who "get" social media and how to use it for learning, I've developed a certain mindset and approach that isn't at all helpful to my thinking about how to help people who aren't living in my corner of the blogosphere. I need to get out more, is the point.
A few ways I've tried to expand my exposure and thinking in general (although these don't help me in addressing my social media issue, since many of these people aren't blogging):
- I use StumbleUpon to find new blogs and sites and have gone pretty broad in the categories I tell StumbleUpon to show me. This exposes me to a lot of information and materials that I wouldn't normally find in my daily reading.
- I'm letting more of my personal interests bleed over into the professional arena. Sue Waters will be happy to know that I've taken the leap and started using Google Reader to read my feeds. Previously I used Netvibes, where I had everything tabbed into different topic areas and would read through by topic. With Google Reader, I just go through all my unread feeds in a continuous, un-segmented stream, which allows me to make some serendipitous connections between the art and personal development stuff I read for my "personal" life and the technology and learning blogs I read for my more professional thinking. My interests are fairly broad, so I haven't been as boxed in as I could have been. What's different is that I'm letting these worlds touch each other more and that lets my brain work on things from new angles.
- I've been exploring Google Alerts results that seem "irrelevant" at first blush. I have some pretty broad Google Alerts set up right now--"Generation Y" for example. I could have refined that search to "Generation Y" and "work," but I decided to keep it open right now because I wanted to see a fuller spectrum of blogs and news stories. It's a little less targeted information, but it has led me to some interesting articles and blogs that have helped me expand my viewpoint.
- I try to make a special point of reading blogs from other countries. I'm acutely aware of the fact that I tend to be Ameri-centric in my thinking, so I try to read blogs from other parts of the world to get a sense of how they approach various problems and issues. If I spoke something other than English, I could expand even more. I could also use something like Bablefish to translate, but honestly, that's probably more than I can handle right now.
I'm sure there are other strategies I'm missing here, so I'd love to hear from you. I'm also curious to know about your blog reading habits--do you tend to stay within your corner of the blogosphere or do you expand out? If you do, how do you do it? How do you find other kinds of blogs and resources? How has it changed and informed your learning?