Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The influence of technology on professional identity

In january I facilitated a MOOC about knowmads
A knowmad is what I term a nomadic knowledge and innovation worker – that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. (John Moravec)
The most intriguing element of this concept in my opinion is that professionals need a personal fascination with a subject. There is emotion involved. You can link your work to an experience or strong conviction. For instance I was so pissed in Ghana because I felt I never got any appreciation for my work within the organization. The start of a community or practice was a great relief. Professionals who appreciate each other, give feedback, listen to each other and therefore learn a lot from each other. Finally appreciation! I was so impressed that I decided to do an online course about communities of practice with amongst others Etienne Wenger, became a member of CPsquare and I am still working with the concept of community learning.


Shortly after the MOOC I bought the book 'Je Binnenste Buiten' by Manon Ruijters and colleagues. I think it's a great subject they explore with the book: professional identity. It is also a central concept in the theory of communities of practice. The book is recommended if you are also interested in developing professionals and knowmads. They argue that more attention is needed for professional identity in case of changes in a domain, career- and cooperation issues. Professional identity is not something that is fixed, but your identity is continuously developing, and therefore requires maintenance and attention. Unfortunately, the book is 'technology blind'. Surprisingly, I often read books & articles which are completely focussed on technology, or they are about other topics, and do not really address technology influences. The interface is still not fully explored. Or do I have a professional deformation?

The knowmad's identity is strong
The definition of professional in the boek is:
A professional is a person who chooses and seeks to be able to serve customers in a competent and comprehensive way, with the help of specialist knowledge and experience. In addition, he uses, and actively contributes to, a community of fellow professionals who continuously develop the subject.
I love this definition, because it clearly describes that a professional wants to develop his or her knowledge and compentencies like the knowmad, and also contributes to a community of peers. The knowmad is by definition someone with a strong identity and self-knowledge. These people prove to be more stress-resistant, to be more successful and to have more self-esteem. A strong lesson I take away from this book is that stimulating knowmads and knowmadic work in organizations means paying attention to professional identity. We do a regular exercise by making an I-cloud with topics of interest to you, but there could be more questions.

Serial masters
Lynda Gratton describes the new professionals as serial masters. A serial master has deep knowledge and competences in a number of domains. So, you need to specialize yourself, and you will be in a new domain for a year, but building on your past experiences and interests. A strong and rapid development in identity. I think the identity of a knowmad meanders more and changes more rapidly than the average professional by curiosity and changing assignments. Identity questions and self-knowledge are therefore more important to stay grounded.

Technology's influence on professional identity: online identity 
An important influence of technology on contributing to professional development is that professionals are increasingly online in (informal) networks: sharing about their work and thoughts in Tweets or other micro-messages. This is a new level of contribution to professional development that previously did not exist. Identity has to do with what makes you unique? In the book, working on your identity is linked to self-knowledge and influence by how others think about us. Social media forces you to work continuously on your professional identity. If you are very active online, this forces you to make choices and think.

Boundary crossing
A second change is that it is becoming easier to look around you and cross borders with other professions, become members of communities you would not normally become members of (eg, like in my case marketing communities). A knowmad not only contribute to developing his profession with fellow professionals, but also innovates by looking across the boundaries of his own domain into other communities- boundary crossing. Online it is incredibly easy to take initiatives with others with different expertise to contribute to new areas. An example? I got to know Jos Maasen and Peter Staal online and we are now writing a blog together about using community principles to design social MOOCs. In other words, there are numerous new ways to work on professional development.

Personal branding
I once wrote a blogpost about personal branding. As a consequence of the need for personal branding, the process of professional identity formation will develop in a substantially different way, and way less linear. You can already build a reputation as a young, starting professional. I think that Erikson's identity creation phases (trust, autonomy, initiative, fidelity, identity, intimacy, care, integrity) do not apply anymore. To give a practical example. The book shows the example of co-assistents who struggle with who they are. Solid feedback during their internships influences their identity. However, the online world offers a whole new space, contacting other co-assistants in an online community, possibly online valuation from unexpected angles. The new space that the online world offers is huge.

Conclusion: A great book that puts the theme of professional identity on the map, but with very little attention for the influence of technology. Huge need for a new chapter about online identity!

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