I did this personality test years ago that described you based upon the traits of four animals: a lion, otter, golden retriever and beaver. I ended up being half otter and half beaver. The beaver is detailed, analytical, serious, and discerning. He is the one that you are likely to find reading a dictionary for fun. The otter, on the other hand, is energetic, fun-loving, enthusiastic, spontaneous, and optimistic. I remember the otter being described as “a party waiting to happen.” But because I have these two seemingly contrasting traits, I concluded that I am a party waiting to happen, but we would probably be joyfully reading the dictionary at my party.
There is more truth to this than I like to admit. I am one at the party who wants to dive into a deep conversation. I want to talk about ideas, possibilities, and issues. I have no sense of separating work from fun, because they are all in the same, wonderful, tasty stew that I call life. I painfully resist the desire for a deep dive conversation while engaging in small talk, feeling awkward and out-of-place. However, the moment the conversation turns into something about ideas, pretty much any ideas, I feel at home and in my element. I am inspired, engaged, and I don’t want the conversation to end.
So that is probably part of why I feel so at home on the web. I am in control, and I can navigate myself to places where ideas dominate: Twitter chats, webinars, MOOCs, listserves, blogs, whitepapers, online communities of practice… You get the idea. These are all idea-rich interactions. They tend to skip the small talk and jump right into substantive questions and ideas. They can still be playful and even light-hearted, but people who gather in these groups are usually looking to share and learn about things of substance, sometimes more practical and other times theoretical.
What do you do when you don’t find the conversations that you want to have with other people? That is where social media can be a rich and rewarding outlet. Post an idea or questions and let the conversation begin! Yes, it can be deflating when none seem to reply, but when they do, it is exhilerating. Sometimes complete strangers interject with a challenge, comment, question, or illustration that gets the heart pumping and the ideas flowing. Some of my best ideas emerge amid such exchanges.
While the nearly now of social media can be engaging and full of great connections and interactions, there is also that time when you yearn to have a real-time chat about a topic of interest. That is what I used to love about the chat rooms and IRC of the 1990s. You jumped in a room named after a topic of interest and just started interacting in real-time. You also had easy access to a transcript of the conversation for further reflection and review.
Now we have Google Hangouts. I have not used them as much as I hope to in the future, but I’m interested in trying them out as places to interact with people around the globe about ideas and questions of interest. Think of them as the dinner party of the online world. Find 10 people around the world that you would love to get together for a night of dining and conversation, invite them, and let the magic happen. Make it a “no strings attached” event. In other words, there is no expectation that you do anything beyond show up and engage in a good and lively discussion around a topic of shared interest. This is one of my goals for the end of this year and through 2015. So, look for the invites on this blog and on my Twitter handle. I’m a party waiting to happen, and there will be a dictionary waiting for each of you. Okay, I’ll try to make it a bit more exciting than reading the dictionary (although I have been known to relax in my leather chair on a winter evening with a hot tea and my beloved copy of the Concise OED).