Published on 2012/10/17

Beware the Whammy-Induced Frisky Squirrel Syndrome

Whammy-Induced Frisky Squirrel Syndrome can affect anyone at any time, and it is important for administrators to remain constantly aware of their main goals otherwise it becomes very easy to veer significantly off-track.

This past week I’ve been working on a book proposal. It’s taken a lot of my mental energies to stay focused, on task, enthusiastic, and relevant—basically all the qualities needed to produce high-caliber work in my field of distance education and leadership. But I have a problem that I had not anticipated: I have a huge red squirrel, Whammy, who likes to stand on the AC compressor outside my office window and stare at me; sometimes he smiles, and today I think he winked. He’s quite a seductive distraction and I find myself wondering how I must look from his perspective, and then my mind drifts to squirrel psychology, and I begin projecting motives on his behaviors. Uh oh!

How often do you find yourself chasing a distracting novelty because it’s, well, a novelty? It happens in technology all the time. A salesman, a speaker, a new employee flashes their distracting Whammy in front of your eyes (and those of your colleagues) and sells it hard. “This shiny, flashing, twirling object will be your answer, your passion, your cure! Watch it twirl…” And so you do. Soon somebody is writing a check and it’s a Whammy-O-Thon until the next adorable and shiny object comes along and provides immediate distraction to your core objective. This is no way to run a business, let alone plan a learning project. But it happens.

Let’s discuss the signs: The why and how of the Whammy-Induced Frisky Squirrel Syndrome (WIFSS).

As a background, I have a long history of being able to shut out distractions and get to work, but this one has me seriously sidelined. It’s a novelty. He’s adorable. He’s frisky. As a friend and colleague, Julie Marciel-Rozzi, aptly stated on a recent Facebook post of mine (my friends are enamored with him, too) “Beware the Whammy-Induced Frisky Squirrel.” I think she’s on to something.

Aside from the literal small rodent who hangs out on my AC compressor, I think we all have a bit of Whammy-Induced Frisky Squirrel Syndrome (WIFSS) in distance higher education. I see WIFSS as anything, or anyone, that you allow to sideline your productivity in a significant way in exchange for a novelty or curiosity that is not relevant to your ultimate objective.

Let me begin by defining the components of the WIFSS.

Whammy:

What draws the distraction to you. This is the dynamic that has brought you and the object of your distraction together. In the field of DE and leadership, it is often the latest technology that has been promised to be the next best thing guaranteed to fix what ails you (at, for example, a professional development conference). The problem comes into play when you chase that “W” instead of working with your currently 90-percent perfect system. You become a victim of the “W.”

Induced:

The intoxicating feelings that come from this wonderment of interaction: It’s almost a love. Earlier this year, I wrote a three-part series addressing the love factor so I won’t repeat it here but simply offer you a link, “All You Need is Love! Really?” Check it out. It’ll explain why technology love stinks and how to overcome the emotional stagnation of it all.

Frisky:

The hype. The promise. The sale. It’s the salesman at the professional development conference who insists that his LMS/CMS is better than any and all systems that have ever been conceived, created, developed and utilized. He’s in it for the win! He’ll take you down this path with his glossy handouts, free pens, and t-shirts! He’s determined.

Interesting side note: At a recent DE conference, I was approached by many of these salesmen.  I listened politely, and then I started asking tough questions: “What has been your faculty feedback on your _____?” “What is the user-end feedback when they realize their _____ limits their credentialing powers in the workplace?” Needless to say, Frisky stopped, and avoided me like the plague for the rest of the conference. I guess they don’t like the inquiry. That’s okay; I’ve still got the pens.

Squirrel:

The purest of the pack just being himself and doing his thing. He’s not trying to get you to do anything but it sure is easy to assign blame and project malicious intent directly on his little shoulders. His innocence and potential is what drives you crazy; it’s also what causes you to waste time in the present analyzing him, where no analysis is necessary or productive.

Syndrome:

Dictionary.com defines Syndrome as, “1.  pathology, psychiatry . a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder, disease, or the like.” Or “2. a group of related or coincident things, events, actions, etc.”

While I am in no way asserting that WIFSS is a psychiatric condition, I do believe definition two fits the context well.  By underestimating the validity of WIFSS we are, in fact, contributing to its growth.

Phew! There is a lot that goes into this. By breaking it down, it appears that my WIFSS has a motive for keeping me from my writing goals. Others can be kept from their task lists of creating, teaching, and accomplishing those ever-expanding and innovative learning ideas by their WIFSS popping its distracting little head into their production work cycles.

What can be done?

Rather than pulling the blinds and cutting myself off from the outside world (or setting a trap in on the AC), there are a few strategies worth mentioning. Here are my suggested four tenets of WIFSS management:

  1. I must understand my Whammy and why I am in charge of its utilization. Not every Whammy is attention-worthy.
  2. I must be the leader (both mentally and emotionally) of my accomplishments and not be sidelined by the next best thing.
  3. I must acknowledge Frisky, and allow myself to explore what Frisky has to offer– within reason. But I must keep my original goals in sight at all times. Frisky is a good vacation destination, but it’s not always a good place to live.
  4. I must remember that a Squirrel is a Squirrel just as a technology is a technology. Neither is more or less. Assigning emotion, motive, blame, love or wayward fascination is not a productive way to go; nor is sidelining ‘what’s working’ for ‘what is shiny.’

Knowing you have WIFSS is half the problem. The other half consists of staying on task and getting back to work. Enjoy your WIFSS in brief doses and learn a little bit more as you are able; don’t get so enamored with the novelty of the WIFSS that you lose all perspective on your courses, students, and program development, and what you can already do with the tools you have. Sometimes shiny is just shiny and a squirrel is just a squirrel.

Peace and good choices.

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Readers Comments

Natasha Rubin 2012/10/17 at 9:45 am

I believe you have struck a perfect and very delicate balance here between being excited and optimistic new technologies, and exercising caution before plunging headfirst into said technologies. Often, you hear opinions that fall on one or the other side: either unbridled, unreflective enthusiasm for any and every new gadget or software, or curmudgeonly resistance to anything that changes the way things are.

This article presents a balanced and thoughtful account of what it’s like to walk that tightrope, and how to keep from falling off on either side. Every higher education professional should look to this for a reminder when dealing with technology, whether they’re giving a big thumbs up to the use of Second Life to access library resources, or whether they’re refusing to adapt classes to an online model, or what have you.

Dr. Heidi L. Maston 2012/10/17 at 9:57 am

Thank you, Natasha, for your input!

You summarized my point exactly. It’s a tightrope act to identify and utilize new technologies with a decided purpose. To identify your needs and find a solution that meets them… however, it is quite another thing (and one I witness all too often) to just go write a check, bring it ‘home’, plug it in and hope the twirling / flashing lights and buzzers save the day!

In a WIFSS manner – That’s just nuts!

Dr. Heidi Maston

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