I’ve written before about the dangers of “homophily” – the human tendency to gravitate towards others who are like us – and I also highlighted “cultivating your network” as one of my 10 Ways to Become a Better Learner. I was inspired to reflect more on the power of each of these concepts recently as I was reading Josh Kaufman’s excellent book The Personal MBA (inspired by his blog of the same name).
Kaufman uses the term convergence to discuss “the tendency of group members to become more alike over time,” and also highlights a complementary concept – divergence, “the tendency for groups to become less like other groups over time.” These forces are at work constantly – not just in high schools across the world, but in our workplaces, our communities, and perhaps most obviously, in our political system.
Perhaps influenced by the fretting and hand-wringing prevalent in the press these days, I have a tendency to focus in the negative impact of both convergence and divergence. A Google-filtered search here, a “Like” or two there, and before you know it, you are in a wonderland where everyone seems to read what you read, watch what you watch, and think what you think. No need to think, grow, or see anything in shades other than stark black and white. Just kick back and soak up all those affirming vibes.
This is the dark side of the “force” that is generated when convergence and divergence meet the network effects that the Web now makes possible. But Kaufman rightly emphasizes the potential positive of this force for those dedicated to learning:
Convergence is useful if you consciously choose to spend time with people you’d like to become more like. At the same time, breaking away from groups that aren’t serving you is painful but necessary to grow.
If you have been a reader here for a while, you probably already know how much I appreciate the use of the word “consciously” above. As with so many aspects of lifelong learning, there is no rocket science in the concepts of convergence and divergence, but you have to be conscious of them and you have to consciously act to use them in positive ways.
So, take a moment to reflect on how convergence and divergence factor into you life act accordingly. And may the force be with you.