I’ve been slowly but surely working my way through John Seely Brown’s (and others) new book Pull, and I’m liking it quite a bit. It sets up a pretty convincing picture of what it means to be living in a world where we make our way through the many connections that are now possible in the social and learning networks we have access to online. What has been striking to me is the way that Brown and his co-authors have been hammering home the continued importance of face to face connections and the value of serendipity in making those connections. They write at length about the value in attending conferences on topics that we have passion for, and making ourselves as available as possible to the conversations outside of the meeting rooms. I know that we’ve talked about that a great deal as well, how many of us go to conferences these days for the spontaneous conversations that can erupt when you get into a place that’s full of people who love what you love, and that the “presentations” pale in comparison (though they do have their purpose.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share one idea that the authors put forth in terms of how to think about the personal learning networks that we can create in both our face to face and virtual worlds. Basically, it’s a set of five questions that are intended to get readers thinking deeply about their passions and about the connections they form around them. I’m going to throw just a sentence or two of personal reaction to each one in italics, but I’m wondering how others might approach these as a way of starting to think more globally about networks.

1. Can you identify the fifty smartest or most accomplished people who share your passions or interests, regardless of where they reside? I think I can probably come pretty close, though I haven’t created a list. I’ve been lucky enough to have been swimming in these waters for long enough (nine years!) to have a pretty good idea of who is there, at least in the virtual space. And since my passion has to do with the virtual, there probably aren’t too many who linger just in physical space. (Hopefully that made some sense.)

2. How many of these people are currently in your professional / personal networks? Again, this is just a guess, but I’d hope that the majority of them are. I can rattle off at least half a dozen, however, who aren’t, primarily because of my hesitancy to reach out to them (for a variety of reasons). This part can be a struggle at times.

3. How many of these people have you been able to engage actively in an initiative related to your shared passions or interests? Obviously, the percentage gets smaller and smaller here. This reminds me of the the “collective action” piece that Clay Shirky talks about, or at the very least, creating something together. When I think about how many people I have actually “actively engaged” I wonder why it’s not more.

4. To how many of these people would you feel comfortable reaching out and mobilizing in a new initiative related to your shared passions and interests? I’d say most, but not all. That’s a constant point of reflection for me…What stops me?

5. For these fifty people, how effectively are you using social media to increase your mutual awareness of each other’s activities? Obviously, to some extent, that depends on the other person’s “findability.” I’m pretty confident that if someone was looking for me via online social tools, they’d find me. Not sure if that’s always that case.

Some interesting questions to ponder when thinking about our intentional construction of these networks and communities.