David Kelly recently wrote a post about, “How to Recognize Snake Oil in Your Personal Learning Network.” Seldom do I read a post beginning to end more than once, but I read this one three times through, and then began dissecting the key messages therein. I found it provocative, and that fits the criteria for a really good article.

That post stimulated several discussions, as evidenced by the responses at the bottom of his article. I apologize for not joining the public discussion sooner, but I’ve been thinking, integrating, synthesizing, and reflecting on the article. Then I read what others wrote and wondered what I could contribute that hadn’t already been said.

I do have something to add, a single word that hadn’t been part of the conversation until now: integrity.

3439513785_d909e7044f_mThe word derives from the Latin word integer, meaning whole or complete. A seaworthy ship has integrity. It’s component parts work together as one to fulfill its mission and intended purpose. An organization that values integrity speaks with one voice, whether they’re communicating inside the organization or outside. An individual with integrity never worries what they say to whom. They’re speaking their own truth, however unpopular that may be.

The snake oil salesman has no integrity. As Dave points out, the snake oil salesman knowingly sells fraudulent goods. Our task is to recognize that lack of integrity and discount the goods being offered. In the case of our personal learning networks, that comes in the form of shared thoughts, commentary, opinions, and recommendations, among others.

But people with whom we vehemently disagree can also have integrity. In many cases, we want to hear what such people have to say, if only to measure our reaction to it or to challenge our own perspectives. These aren’t the snake oil salesmen Dave referred to.

Another theme running through Dave’s snake oil article is that of developing your personal brand. I think that’s where much of the provocative thought comes from. It’s not that a little self-promotion or positioning is akin to selling snake oil, it’s that it’s important to keep your integrity when doing so. Own it. Say what you mean. Be honest about your intent. And perhaps most importantly, don’t try to manipulate others in your network.

There’s one additional benefit to having high integrity, and it fits well with my previous post about not taking what others write personally. When you engage with the writing of someone with integrity, you interpret it with a completely different filter than the writing of someone you don’t know or don’t trust. This is a good thing. When someone with integrity, someone you respect, writes something provocative, you invest in it. You read it several times through. You analyze it, look at it from multiple perspectives, and seek clarification. Most importantly, you learn from it, as I learned from Dave’s article.

And this brings my thoughts full circle back to the personal learning network. To function in the way it needs to, you do want to recognize and avoid the snake oil salesmen, those without integrity. They’re out there on the network. They’re publishing and posting on topics you’re interested in. But being connected somewhere on your network does not mean they’re part of your personal learning network. That belongs to you. You alone make the decision of who to listen to and who to discount.

Thank you, Dave for provoking my thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

Ship image courtesy Flikr user Matthew.


Integrity — 2 Comments

  1. I can’t think of a better word to describe what we need for ourselves and what we should expect in our PLN. As you and have discussed in the past, integrity also refers to being up-front in your dealings as well as being consistent. Of course, the false perception of integrity isn’t that someone’s actions agree or align with yours. (Think of a Defense Attorney: you may not like what they’re doing, but you can bet it is being done with integrity.) How we choose to empathize with that for greater understanding is what builds integrity in ourselves.

    • I do wonder about those who do not deliberately mislead, but subconsciously manipulate. Some want to fit in and say what they think others want to hear. That may be initially difficult to distinguish from those who are not expert but with good intention contribute to conversations to learn more. Others may steer conversations their way, while others pretend to listen and even agree while not really hearing what’s been said. There are also those who take disagreement personally, as if it’s offensive. Honest disagreement should be an opportunity for learning. I think these people are genuinely unaware they’re doing this. The good news is that we often recognize something isn’t quite right, these people are not integral, even though they may see themselves as such.

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