If you build it, they will come…

One of my favorite movies of all time (for a variety of reasons that can be covered in another post) is Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner. In the film, Costner’s character hears a voice talking to him. Typically, the voice utters only a sentence and the meaning of the sentence is somewhat cryptic and open to interpretation. The first utterance that Costner hears is “If you build it, he will come.” Interestingly enough, this movie phrase has, over time, crept into popular culture and you will often hear folks misquote the line saying “If you build it they will come.”

My interpretation of this phrase from the movie and its subsequent use in popular culture is that sometimes we attempt to create something that seems like folly to those around us. In Costner’s case, he turned valuable farmland in Iowa into a “useless” baseball field that did not produce any crops. However, by passion, belief and determination, we create it and eventually others see it and find value in it as well. While they may not use it as we initially intended, they find value in it and flock to it.

Oddly enough, what reminded me of this line and this movie was Tony Karrer’s recent post, Leading Learning and New Skills. In this post, Tony challenges learning professionals to rethink the scope of their responsibilities in light of new technologies and the web2.0 world.

My take on Tony’s question…If you build it, they will come! As a learning professional, I see my job as providing the means to improve personal and organizational performance. I definitely agree that as learning professionals, we need to be out in front demonstrating how to use these various web2.0 technologies and social media tools to advance our own learning and development. In addition, we need to build a culture of acceptance and practice in our organizations. I am less concerned about these new technologies and how to use them. These new technologies are not much different than other technologies that we have adopted in the past including web1.0 tools. More of a concern to me is leading the change in outlook or mindset.

It seems that the biggest obstacles that I encounter are not with the technologies or teaching them to employees in any organization. Instead, the challenge seems to be how to change the mindset of the organization regarding the change in locus of control. Traditional training and performance support came from the center, from top-down directives, or at the very least from the Training Department deciding where the gaps were and who needed to take what online or instructor-led course. Now, however, web2.0 and the social media revolution has turned the traditional pyramid on its head. Now the locus of control is in the community. This causes a great deal of concern for organizational leaders that worry about control. Blogs, wikis, microblogging and a host of other technologies require openness, transparency and trust. Corporations are not always good at this.

Our job as learning professional is to put these tools into practice in any ways that we can in order to demonstrate how the community can contribute to building value in the organization. I see my job as finding pockets of interest and implementing these new work literacy tools in order to begin the change process in the organization. It is imperative that any organization change to adapt to this new social media world. Those that do not will not survive down the road.

So the answer to Tony’s question is: If you build it, they will come. We need to build these tools into our organizations. Even when others don’t see the immediate value and when it seems that we are a bit crazy, we need to persevere. My belief is that the end result will be much like the end of the movie…people will come…people will most definitely come.


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