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Social Networks can help you not be a goof

Posted by Mark Bennett on April 19, 2011


Jason Seiden has a great post about how the very “opt-in” nature of social networks makes it easy to only join those networks that you feel comfortable in, leaving you unprotected from errors in thinking.

This reminded me I was going to write how social networks can actually help protect you from errors in thinking. We’re both right :-) because the answer isn’t in the tool, but how we use it (as is usually the case.)

It Takes Every Kind of People

The error in thinking* is that we tend to blame others’ behavior when things go wrong for them, but tend to blame the situation when things go wrong for us. Simply put, we are quick to judge others, we overly focus on people vs. circumstances, and we are sometimes lazy if we have to think too much in trying to sort it all out.

How can a social network help?

  • First, if you are getting a good feed of the *situation* people are facing and not just their opinions, you’ll have a better understanding of their circumstances should something go wrong. This is where useful status updates in your Activity Stream can really help.
  • Second, if you take the effort to build and maintain a diverse network, you’ll have more varied perspectives on the situation, creative ways to handle it, and better insight into unseen factors.
  • Finally, your network can do some of the thinking for you so you can really step back and grasp the bigger picture. By having your network take on some of the cognitive load, you’ll have more energy to think things through.

Don’t Surround Yourself With Yourself

The payoff for you is that these things will make you better prepared, wider experienced, and less vulnerable to bias – provided you invest in your network. Make it diverse, encourage the sharing of context as well as just content, and ask for ideas and thinking, not just facts and figures.

Jason provides an important warning: like any technology, social networks amplify our characteristics; they do not guarantee goodness. Apply these powerful tools with careful purpose and intent.

*The Fundamental Attribution Error – called “Fundamental” because a lot of social psychology hinges on studies and thinking about this bias.

Photo by Stewf

2 Responses to “Social Networks can help you not be a goof”

  1. Meg Bear said

    Great post Mark! speaking of context vs. content — I can think of someone from whom more context would be great… You might have some knowledge of him. I think he’s on twitter as @MPBennett ;-)

    -M

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