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Spheres of Influence

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I was hipchatting with several L&D colleagues again this morning (as I do most mornings) and we revisited the L&D is splitting in two debate, as well as the case for L&D pivoting to facilitate informal learning. I think this is a great idea (messy and cultural, but a great idea). But I found myself getting, once again, frustrated by prescriptions from those on high, that seem to say that to do this thing “right,” I must be involved in conversations and movements that are beyond me.

So I took a deep breath and remembered something I learned a few years back.

Several years ago, while I was serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA, I had the opportunity to attend a 3-day program at the Bush School at Texas A&M. The whole experience was pretty great but the one thing that continues to stick with me was an intense professor who spoke to us about working within our circles of influence. He understood that many times in nonprofits, there’s a lot to complain about, perhaps especially if you’re an underling. There are culture issues, money issues, apathy issues. About a 1000 things standing in the way of your vision for your work. And that can lead you to become bitter, cynical, and defeatist. But instead of conceding to that, he challenged us (and challenged us to challenge each other) to move past trying to control things we had no control over and focus solely on our own circle of influence. Instead of focusing on how the board wouldn’t approve X expense, focus on the good relationship you have with board member A and getting them on your team. Instead of bemoaning how your supervisor won’t let you try new thing Y, focus on the small changes you can make, the relationships you do have.

I found myself in the same sort of situation when I began in instructional design. Eager to do things the right way, and feeling strongly that the course I was working on was on the wrong path, I looked up the industry gurus and waded through their articles and tirades bemoaning everything the course I was designing had in it. We had done everything wrong. I was very frustrated, thinking that I had no control over the way the course was being designed. I had no say in anything. I was simply building it. But slowly, slowly I remembered to focus on my sphere on influence, take the things from the articles that I could implement, and leave the rest be.

I still get frustrated sometimes, but I can always come back to this idea. If I read or hear something that moves beyond my sphere of influence (say the culture change needed for an org to value informal learning) I simply take what I can and leave what I can’t use. I focus on the projects I can do, the relationships I do have, the trust I can build, and focus on my sphere.

If you’re a newbie ID, like me, take this idea to heart. Focus on your sphere of influence, and with time, you’ll find that you can implement the ideas that work for you, in your context.

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