I’ve been reading The Power of Pull by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison. Their discussion of “the edge” got me thinking about the role of the scholar-practitioner in “the borderlands.” Stick with me and I’ll explain.
Scholar-practitioners have been described as having a translating role* – they bring theory and research into day-to-day practice so that practice can be more well-grounded, and they bring practice concerns into the realm of researchers so that research can be more applicable. Jo Tyler describes that intriguing space between the academic world and the practice world as the “borderlands.”** The people who live in the borderlands are constantly looking over fences to see what is interesting, all the while practicing in a space that has its own scholar-practitioner culture born out of the mix of the academic and the practice-based.
Hagel, Seely Brown, and Davison describe the “edge” as the place where leading thinkers and practitioners are coming up with transformative ideas and applications. Edge players need those of us in the core to integrate these new ideas and new ways of working into everyday life. Part of the message of The Power of Pull is that we can no longer comfortably live our careers without at least occasionally brushing with the leading edge, or we will be left behind. (Warning – that statement is one of those over-simplifications I’m concerned about. I highly recommend you read the book!)
So what can scholar-practitioners in the borderlands learn from edge thinking? One could extrapolate that scholar-practitioner types are critical players in weaving leading edge thinking (whether from academics or from practitioners) into the mainstream. We need to sort through the hype and the promise of new ideas and technologies and discern how to really put them to use day to day. Some of us, at least, need to embrace the challenge of wading through the academic papers and the high-tech jargon to find the gems that will really make a difference. As they say, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it! And it can be career-enhancing to be a person who helps make those transitions and translations — and career-busting if we try to ignore what’s going on at the edge.
Another piece of advice is to use electronic tools to tap into edge thinking in your field of interest. Reading journals and books is a good strategy, but leading-edge thinking is often being discussed in cyberspace long before it comes out through more traditional means. I feel decently connected to the edge thinkers in the practice realm of our work, but I haven’t gotten a good list of academic colleagues who might have a cyber presence.
Help me out here if you can… Who are the people who are theorizing, researching, and teaching in the areas pf adult learning, learning theory, instructional design, and instructional technology (or related areas) AND are talking about their ideas online? I plan to do some sleuthing during my “thinking time” vacation coming up, and you could save me a bit of research by pointing me in some helpful directions. (Leaving more time for walking the beach. 🙂 )
*For a thorough discussion of the role of the scholar-practitioner in the human resource development field, see: Darren C. Short & Tomas J. Shindell (2009). Defining HRD Scholar-Practitioners. Advances in Developing Human Resources 11(4). Sage
** For more on the fun space we like to call the borderlands, see: Jo A. Tyler (2009). Moving beyond scholar-practitioner binaries: Exploring the liminal possibilities of the borderlands. Advances in Developing Human Resources 11(4). Sage