Seth Godin calls it sheepwalking. I remember a non-job I had at defence headquarters, where I had to go to work but there was nothing to do most days. I could go on leave but I would use all of my allotted days and then I would still have to “go to work” for the rest of the year. It didn’t matter that I had nothing to do, for I had to be at my place of duty. I was a sheepwalker, but within a year I was able to plot my way out and start my new vocation in the learning field.
Godin discusses how easy it is to develop sheepwalkers:
Training a student to be sheepish is a lot easier than the alternative. Teaching to the test, ensuring compliant behavior and using fear as a motivator are the easiest and fastest ways to get a kid through school. So why does it surprise us that we graduate so many sheep?
And graduate school? Since the stakes are higher (opportunity cost, tuition and the job market), students fall back on what they’ve been taught. To be sheep. Well-educated, of course, but compliant nonetheless.
Hugh MacLeod succinctly describes the situation that we all face, “The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.”
Ever since I became a free-agent, there was no doubt which path I would follow, and I’m much happier today than I was as a sheepwalker some 15 years ago. Life still has its challenges – what I call the financial rollercoaster of working for yourself – but you’re alive and awake all of the time. The challenge now is to get some sleep when new ideas are spinning all around me.
One of the reasons I’m all fired up about the potential of informal learning on the Web is that it can let us be wolves in our learning. We have the means to connect with other members of the pack all over the world. We don’t have to revert to sheepdom so that we can be scheduled for the next course or workshop or whatever the all-knowing organisation has decided is best for us. “I don’t need your course, I’ll learn it on my own and I’ll find others who are willing to help me”.
In reading Jay Cross’ recent article, Stephen Downes basically asked what’s the underlying theory of informal learning. For me it’s clear – informal learning is linked to critical theory and that is to question authority, seek the truth, and question our own perceptions of reality. Thinking for yourself may be subversive for the organisation but it is necessary for individual growth, as with any child growing into adulthood.
Like raising children, fostering independent learners may not give organisations their desired results, but it will give society the best results. Who knows, perhaps democracy may come to the business sector some day.