Tuesday, July 26, 2016

6 Uncommon Reasons to Create an Online Portfolio

If you're like me, life gets really, really busy and there are some things that go unattended. Aside from my LinkedIn profile, my online presence has been one of the things that has suffered over the past couple of years.

Don't get me wrong. I've continued to stay connected with professional and personal friends, engaged in relevant conversations online, written a few articles, presented at a few conferences, and in general been a pretty consistent digital consumer over the past couple of years. What's been suffering is my role as an active content creator and curator. Most of my curation has happened inside the walled garden of the company I work for--an important audience, to be sure, but a much smaller audience, and therefore, a much smaller conversation.

And I think I've got important things to discuss with you! My recent thoughts and explorations have been pushing on the edges of some exciting spaces, including the social construction of learning, effective use of mobile for learning and performance, and the incidental capture and use of learning/performance data (as a catalyst for decision-making, selection, and professional development). I'd love to talk with you about these things!

As I've been thinking of sharing some thoughts around these topics, it's occurred to me that articles and presentations, though an important part of the conversation, simply aren't enough--they are one-directional. Because I'm really interested in sparking asynchronous conversations, I want to share (and receive) more. I need to more effectively articulate my thoughts and internal conversations about these topics.

Don McCollough's Art Work Panorama Photo
Photo by Don McCollough

I think I need a portfolio--something that can help convey the twists and turns of the ideas themselves, as well as ideas about ideas. I want that portfolio to foster conversation with others. I know the only way for that to happen is to make it easy: easy to consume and digest the basic ideas, and easy to engage in conversations around them. I envision a space that frames the conversation and then invites responses by video, text, tweet, posted response, or comment--all hosted on the preferred platform of the respondent and aggregated in the portfolio.

I may set out to build a framework to accomplish this or I may find one to adopt, but before I venture into tools and solution designreasons I would use a portfolio. Of course, someone looking for a job (internal or external) could immediately benefit from a portfolio, but here are some other reasons I think a portfolio is the time investment:

1. Help spark a conversation. As mentioned above, I want to have conversations around the ideas I'm exploring. By showing samples and illustrations of concepts, frameworks, and models, others interested in engaging in that conversation can pursue deeper engagement in the topics. It's a key benefit to what Jane Bozarth refers to as "Working Out Loud" in her book Show Your Work.

2. Actively cultivate design skills. Design, especially visual design, is a skill that requires hands-on practice. Connie Malamed does a great job coaching learning designers (which I am at my core) in visual design in her book Visual Design Solutions.

3. Work through ideas. Sometimes, something I think I understand completely becomes rather difficult to explain without the context I hold almost as tacit knowledge. This is particularly true of inventions and models. The process of portfolio-making requires us to think through conveyance of ideas and to meet head-on those sticky points where others tilt their heads and raise their eyebrows.

4. Get feedback and critique. In addition to leveraging your portfolio as a catalyst for conversations, you should try to get feedback on your work. Designs of all kinds need user feedback at all phases. By the time you get your idea ready to share in a portfolio,

5. Self-critique. As you pull your ideas into some semblance of conveyable thought, you'll sometimes find holes in the idea itself. The portfolio is a way to quality-check your own work, and to work through issues on the way toward sharing and conversing.

6. Actively develop new skills. To work as a communication and conversation tool, a portfolio needs to have a dynamic nature of its own. You'll need to use different media to effectively convey different ideas, and you'll need to use tools to inject the right level of interactivity. Of course, in this process, you'll acquire new skills.

In the end, some of what you get out of life results from what you put into it. The economy of ideas is a tricky space sometimes, and its important to consider what is ready (and appropriate) for sharing and what's not. Finding the right balance can be challenging, but a portfolio, I'm convinced, is one way to get there.