Tag Archives: Jim Langcuster

A 12-Point Recovery Plan for Extension?

Internet Map

A map illustrating the dense network connections of the Internet.

I’m an unrepentant movie buff.  I can’t get enough of old movies, virtually all types of movies, and I catch myself every day mentally replaying scenes from some of my favorite flicks, much as one would an endearing old tune.

One film that will remain deeply etched in my mind is “I’ll Cry Tomorrow,” starring Susan Hayward, an exceptionally well-acted biopic about the late singer/entertainer Lillian Roth.

Through a series of unusual misfortunes, beginning with a psychologically domineering and manipulative stage mother, Roth developed a debilitating alcohol addiction.  The movie depicts the horrific downward spiral that followed until Roth finally summoned the courage to follow AA’s 12-Point Recovery Program.

Oddly, that movie popped into my mind in the course of reflecting on Cathann Kress’s very considerate and thoughtful reply to a piece I posted last month titled “The Coming Extension Extinction,” which has ignited some impassioned discussion within Cooperative Extension ranks in the weeks since it was posted.

Dr. Kress’s response eloquently expressed a theme reflected in many of the other critiques I’ve received within the last few weeks.  She contends that the digital imperative does not present Extension with any sort of existential crisis.  We can have our cake and eat it too.  We can still do what we’ve always done so well — reach people with meetings and workshops, even as we gear up to address the digital challenges.

Addictive Extension Behavior?

With all due respect to Dr. Kress’s thoughtful comments, that’s the part that not only worries me but also reminds me of Lillian Roth’s perennial struggle with addiction.

In some respects, our fixation on traditional delivery methods resembles a self-destructive addiction. My fear is that this pattern of thinking amounts to a kind of psychological entrapment. It presents too many of us with the excuse to stick with business as usual — in many cases, to lapse into what my father often described as “Let George do it-style” thinking.

“I’m already past the midpoint my Extension career,” says the typical forty-something Extension professional.  “I’ve built a strong program reaching my people through workshops and field days. Let the younger agents worry about all this digital stuff.”

And considering that the median age of Extension professionals is likely well past 40, this kind of entrenched mindset will exert even more corrosive effects in the future.

Extension Needs a 12-Point Recovery Program

This brings me back to AA and the Twelve-Point Recovery Program.  In a real sense, Extension needs to flesh out a series of systematic steps toward recovery — some strategy to break us of this ironclad commitment to older delivery methods.  And along with this, we need to conceive ways to reach the growing numbers of younger clients for whom face-to-face encounters are not considered as convenient or as valuable as virtual interactions.

And allow me to raise once again the added challenge of generative capacity. The massive sharing and social collaboration made possible by networking enables information to be generated at vastly accelerated volumes.

The Golden Rule of Success

That is why success in the 21st century is succinctly expressed in this corruption of the Golden Rule: He who builds the most adaptive, fluid and generative networks rules.  Success in the digital era is all about who builds the most fluid and adaptive digital networks, the most highly reciprocal and generative networks — networks that are responsive to the needs of contemporary learners, especially younger ones.

We can’t secure this kind of generative capacity through old delivery methods.  Why? Because they are not generative enough — they no longer generate adequate volumes of information. To put it another way, the networks constructed via these older delivery methods simply aren’t scalable for growing numbers of people, especially younger people.

Yes, as I’ve said before, there is a place for traditional one-to-one delivery methods.  Even younger people occasionally want to enhance their virtual interactions with one-to-one engagement.

But make no mistake, the future is digital.

The future belongs to those who not only appreciate the awesome power of generative capacity but who actively harness it.  The future belongs only to those who build highly fluid, highly generative, digital networks.

‘Nuff said.

Have a nice day.

Cultivating the Introverts in Our Ranks

Le Penseur

Extension must employ more introverts – moreover, it should cultivate the skills of introverts already employed in its ranks.

Extension administrators: Listen to your introverts. They may save you in the future.

In fact, Cooperative Extension’s unwillingness to listen to the introverts in its ranks may come at a very heavy cost in the future.  It may even prove to be a factor that drives Extension to extinction.

To be sure, Extension is and ever shall be an extroverted organization. Extroversion is its lifeblood. Up to now, our primary support has come from sources that require a helluva lot of, well, schmoozing. We owe a significant debt to generations of super-changed, highly extroverted directors, county directors and rank-and-file agents who have forged lasting, highly lucrative relationships with legislators, commodity group leaders, county commissioners and sundry other supporters — stakeholders in Cooperative Extension parlance.

And, yes, the efforts of these extroverted schmoozers are the reason why Extension is distinguished throughout our nation and even the world as a high touch organization.

The Price of Extroversion

But this this almost obsessive organizational focus on extroversion has come at a price.

Too many times throughout our history, this emphasis on extroversion has come at the expense of the introverts in our ranks — the thoughtful people who not only stay abreast of current trends, but also think about them, discuss them with other Extension professionals, typically like-minded introverts, and, in the course of which, gain a deeper, more refined understanding of the long-term trends that will shape Extension’s future.

Years ago, an Extension colleague of mine who had recently announced her retirement asked me a point-blank question: “Why do I feel that I’m being pushed out the door?”

I knew her well enough to know that she expected a straight answer.  So, with as much tactfulness as I could muster, I replied, “Because you are an introvert within an extroverted organization.”

She had poured her life into Extension work.   And she was an asset to the organization, albeit a woefully under-appreciated one.  If she had managed to win over a sufficient number of decision-makers in the course of her career, Cooperative Extension would be far better prepared to meet the challenges of the digital age.

A Luxury We No Longer Can Afford

And that brings me back to my original point. A couple of decades ago, Extension administrators could afford the luxury of ignoring the introverts in their midst.  There were ways that big strategic problems could be glossed over by schmoozing the right funding sources.  But this was before the advent of digital technology and federal, state and local revenue shortfalls.

Extroversion will only take Extension so far in the 21st century.  In fact, I think that our extroversion works against us in several notable ways.

Extroverts, for example, do workshops, field days and other other traditional face-to-face outreach well, exceedingly well — and, so easily.  Sometimes it also seems that Extension professionals cover up their anxieties about the future with more frenetic activity — more workshops and field days. Reporting tools, still deeply immersed in the plan-and-push methods of the last century, only reinforce these behaviors.  These traditional outreach methods are like the Sirens in Greek mythology.  They are distracting us from cultivating a new mindset, one that takes full account of the digital imperatives of the flat world.

Yes, we always will be a high-touch organization.  And, yes, extroverts will always occupy the highest and most visible rungs in our ranks. But the kind of high-touch outreach organization that we must become in the 21st century will require the sort of deep, refined thinking that the introverts within our ranks are the best equipped to provide.

The Debt We Owe Introverts

As counterintuitive as it seems to many extroverts, the introverts of the world conceived and developed the technology that made the highly networked and interconnected world of the 21st century possible, and the only way Extension will survive in the future is by bringing more of these introverts into its ranks, even as it cultivates the ones it already has.

These under-appreciated introverts are not only the best equipped to build these technologies but also to show how these disparate digital trends will intersect within an outreach context in the years to come.

Without more of these analytical minds in our ranks, I don’t think that Cooperative Extension will be fully prepared to compete in this new digital environment  — I really mean that.