Bite-sized Business School
Bite-sized Business School
A view from Chris Dalton

Tune in, turn on, drop out: how social media can boost your personal development

Dr Chris Dalton, associate professor of management learning, Henley Business School, University of Reading, on social media's use and abuse.

Are you on LinkedIn? Do you tweet? How's the blog going? We are familiar with social media's instant-sharing and networking potential, but can it play a part in your long-term personal development?

"Connect" - few words better sum up our world. If you are a manager, your personal development is tied to how you connect awareness to action. Social media, connecting "on the go", has a grip on our collective consciousness and shows no signs of letting go. This phenomenon has produced some amazing shifts in our personal lives and commercial activities, but there may also be a hidden potential for your personal development (PD).

Personal growth requires curiosity, so can you find inspiration to feed yours online? To parody US psychologist Timothy Leary, I'll suggest three ways.

You have to be online to be in the game

Tune in. Once upon a time, information was power. You got ahead by trying to accumulate it; who (remember hoarding business cards?) and what you knew were assets to be jealously guarded. That world is long gone for most of us; the web changed all that.

How do you find stuff that will add to your PD? Of course, you have to be online to be in the game, so that is step one, but once you've logged on you will face a huge problem; a vast ocean of data. Web analyst Netcraft estimates there are more than 861m active websites in the world, and most of us only ever visit a handful.

Turn on. To feed a curiosity, you need to know how to surf the entire ocean and most of us only dip our toes in the water. The potential of the internet lies in its web of associations, and there are two contradictory principles you need to embrace:

Practise getting found

Aggregators and online communities are special-interest groups that give access to the wisdom of the crowd. TED, LinkedIn, YouTube and Wikipedia are examples of sites that look to find connections among related themes. Pick almost any topic and you'll probably find a forum of like-minded users or an app that will gather themes for you.

In addition, few of us use search engines' advanced settings to streamline results. Knowing how to use query operators (special instructions for what to include or exclude) is one way to zero in on a topic.

Practise getting lost

While one side of the online coin gets you better information about what you know, the other side provides the random spark, the trivial and the contrary view, which are every bit as important. In personal development, you're trying to kick-start your thinking, not kill it with confirmation.

Switch off the computer and take your thoughts into conversation with yourself

Curiosity should lead you to the polar opposite of your view (not least because that will reveal what your view actually is) and down new and unexplored avenues.

Where better to do this than on the web, where anyone can publish - and everyone does. Looking for the contrary view employs many of the same tactics as "getting found", but there are several sites that specialise in showing you something left-field. To inspire you, my current favourite for this is, though it's hard to beat for randomness. Remember, learning how to get lost and found is a creative act in itself.

Drop out. Lastly, now and again you must switch off the computer and take your thoughts into conversation with yourself, or with the natural environment. Get away from it all, at least for a while, otherwise "it all" can have no shape.