Adapt to Experience Journal writing is your private record of what you know

Future Proofed Employment

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Knowledge Workers

If a large element of the work you do that is entirely self chosen, and not really defined on your job description, it's quite likely that you've become a knowledge worker.  This is a potential problem that you need to understand.

Knowledge workers are very much like artists and performers.  Sometimes they do good work, but the quality of the work isn't immediately recognized.  Often, when they are working with great intensity, what they are doing, and how that is productive may not be obvious to a superior who's opinion matters.  Sometimes in the process of doing one's work, barriers appear that prevent progress in that direction.  You don't always have control of the journey.  Perhaps more correctly we never have control of the really important work we do. 

Part of a Team - COP

Knowledge workers need to be members of several groups to function most effectively.  Each of these groups might be defined as a community of practice (COP).  There may be several such groups somewhat overlapping in membership within the company.  There will also be groups outside the company, that are important to maintaining one's professional skills and understanding. 

We learn best from people we know and respect.  As a member of a COP you learn the language of the group.  You learn not only the technical jargon, but also the context and how to sort the relevant from the less important.  So inside these COP groups we need both to know who the people are, and to understand what they are saying.  No person's ideas are entirely their own.  We absorb knowledge and wisdom in such a group quite easily: learning is facilitated by the peer to peer relationship.  In the same way if our views are challenged and corrected inside a COP, we are likely to accept that in a positive way.  We build our own minds using the knowledge developed by others as raw material.  We slowly develop a breadth of viewpoint and call it our own.

Train Your Brain

However, being part of a COP is not enough.  You need to engage there to learn well.  This means making choices about what the best ideas are, and trying to build that knowledge into your own understanding and work.  Somewhere you'll have some records of the best or most interesting ideas that you've chosen to collect.  When I was in my early 30's I began to collect the best thinking I could find in a handwritten journal.  I've maintained that practise for 30 years.  In this electronic age most of us will find a digital method of maintaining a record.  A blog might be suitable. 

Choosing what is, or is not, important, is an exercise in personal sense making.  You are making your choices; choosing to impose your own sense on the world.  Over time you become more and more sure how your own view is developing in it's own right.  Eventually you have to be responsible for these choices you are making, and for how that changes you.  Your education is finally your personal doing, or undoing. 

Collecting printed documents off the Internet is not on it's own a solution.  The key is to put yourself into the document.  If you have not processed the content of the document by fully understanding what it is, by making your own notes, or by writing to someone else about it, you have not "made it your own" and there will be no long lasting benefit for you.  A file of newspaper cuttings suffers the same way.  You will collect far too much text and you spend far too little time making it your own.  We only learn from what we DO. 

Your Own Knowledge Base

Over time the data you've collected in your journal or blog becomes intensely your own.  You are the only person in the world with easy access to this particular set of personally chosen records.  The value of that to you will depend entirely on the quality of your choices, and the intensity of your engagement with those ideas. 

One of the critical skills to learn is the simple ability to count, and to do some basic statistical analysis.  No matter what you are involved with, much can be learnt by a simple process of gathering some numbers.  Since almost nobody ever bothers to do such an analysis, you'll be amazed how quickly people begin to respect your ability to shine light on the subject by providing some numerical data.  Choosing what to count is important.  We are seeking first to understand a process.  Count what's unstable or changing in that process.  Any variable is a potential target.  Once you understand the numbers, why do they change in that way?  What does that tell us about the process? 

You are likely to discover that your own knowledge base has a focus that has changed over time, as you have changed, and as your responsibilities have changed.  Having your own data makes you more powerful as a team member, especially after 5-10 years.  As the depth of your collected material increases, it becomes more and more productive as a resource in your current work.  It's productive for you because it's uniquely yours. 

Most people, in the age of digital text and search engines, will claim that they can get all the information they need online.  Not true.  Your own data has this advantage, it's yours, collected because it was meaningful to you.  It's when you compare this collected material with what the Internet provides that the value becomes obvious.  The collected material gives you context and understanding, and an easy entry into the current topic.  Because the collected material is grounded in your life, there's more chance that you trust that assessment, and that will give you the confidence to make a strong decision you can act on.  There's the difference, you can't in the long run fake having real knowledge. 

Your Own Context

While the idea you bring to you job may be the same idea many in your profession share, only you can make that idea effective in the context in which you work.  What you choose to do or not do counts.  Rarely does a single person have all the ideas, talent and resources to make an innovation a reality.  We work in team situations.  Our ideas develop and mature through dialogues and conversations.  Despite what the success books say, we can't always know what to do.  Slowly what we didn't understand becomes more obvious, and the vague idea becomes more focused.  Over time we become capable of achieving more. 

Social Networks

You can support the work you've done in COP's by joining an online social network.  Many of the people in your professional groups will be there, but this is a wider context.  The focus will be on business, social, political and economic matters.  The forums are more general.  The people you meet probably describe themselves as friends.  The best social networks have discussion forums that are well populated by members letters.  You get to know people by reading the mail.  You learn who people are and what they believe.  People get to know you as a person, when you begin to post.  We learn about each other by engaging in discussions.  Activity in these networks will improve your general knowledge, increase your ability to write constructively, and develop your leadership qualities.  Most people in social networks fail to develop enough contacts, so quietly work on that.  Many of the people in these networks are amibitious for themselves and run some sort of business so it's quite possible you might find some direct business opportunities too.  

Future Proof?

In an ideal world as your skills and knowledge become more developed, the firm will be able to use your increased ability to contribute.  If that can happen both you and the firm might prosper together.  But there are no guarantees. 

Like Martin Luther King, you night find that your best efforts are not appreciated, and that the company chooses to take a different direction, or to maintain the old direction.  If that should happen your own data, the skills and the knowledge you've developed remain your own.  You have the ability to find a new firm, or to start out on your own.  I'm not suggesting at all that such a move is desirable. 

It's been the experience of far too many people that skills that were highly regarded when you are 30, are not wanted and considered redundant by the time you are 50.  So in that 20 year period what else did you learn?  For too many people the answer is not too much.  If you've spent time in that 20 year period collecting your own data, growing your knowledge, you should be well placed to show the company that you have a future with them.  You should also be a solid bet for any other company that decides to look at your skill set.  If not, you still have your skill set.  The option of working alone always exists. 

John Stephen Veitch (Google me)
+64 3 352-8372
Skype Name: johnsveitch