Old dogs, new tricks

Senior folks have seen technology hucksterism too many times before to fall for hard sell, but equally more and more of them are becoming aware that, partly thanks to the internet, things are changing as never before. They know that they need to get their heads around what is happening — even if they decide that active engagement in it isn’t right for them or their organisations. —Euan Semple

After a presentation to the Conference Board of Canada’s HR Executives Forum, a senior VP told me that there was no way some kid was going to advise him on social media. However, he was willing to listen to me, as I was in my fifties, seemed to understand his situation, and didn’t make him feel uncomfortable. I think there is a great need to teach old dogs new tricks, especially senior managers and executives — my generation.

For example, the project leader for a client of mine was suddenly laid off, after 15 years in the same job. His professional network consisted almost entirely of people in that company. They were mostly useless in helping him find new work. A new LinkedIn profile, created the day someone needs to find work is like seeing a deer caught in the headlights. The sad part is that many salaried professionals think that social networks have no value other than looking for new work.

I have spoken at various venues and always come across people who do not see any reason to adapt to the network era. I am also seeing people who desperately jump on some social media platform because everyone else is doing so. But merely having a LinkedIn profile does not make you a networked professional. As Céline Schillinger recently remarked, “if you cannot find a community of practice for your professional development, then create one”.

Here’s the new trick for old dogs: you have to take some control in this networked, do-it-yourself, world. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are plenty of communities and networks to engage with, but creating a profile and waiting to see what happens is not engagement.

dogs_playing_pokerAs a single node in a network, you have to show that you are of some value. This means contributing your knowledge, in whatever form you like. I have suggested 14 ways to add value and 10 ways to share for starters. If you do not share, you will not benefit from a knowledge network or community of practice. But knowledge sharing requires practice, like working out loud or narrating your work.

The trick for old dogs is to find some way to practice these new skills. It may be difficult to do this at work, especially for those in positions of authority. But these skills can be developed outside the workplace as well. Take a hobby or interest and find networks where others share their passions. It could be finding wine lovers on Twitter, Facebook, or a more niche network. While it may take thousands of hours to master a skill, basic competence can be developed fairly quickly. I have seen people become adept at Twitter for professional knowledge-sharing within a few months.

I offer coaching and more structured workshops to show that even we old dogs can learn new tricks. As I look back on my own learning, I note that I took my first computer programming course in 1978 and swore I would never touch a computer again for as long as I lived. Over time, we learn not to say things like that.

5 Responses to “Old dogs, new tricks”

  1. Brent Mackinnon

    I’m just starting to help with a new community of practice that focuses on youth unemployment. It’s focus is to generate new ideas(initiatives) that can support or help youth in a landscape were career jobs for youth are not available. I sent your post on to my colleagues as I thought it very encouraging. Breaking out of the old dog mindset can be tough.
    Thanks Harold

  2. Jon Husband

    Simply excellent in its clarity.

    It continues to boggle my mind that senior people in many organizations don’t seem to or want to understand very deeply that operating via connections and hyperlinks in flows of information is clearly how most work (other than very routine work which is semi- or fully-automated) will be carried out in these less-and-less ‘new’ conditions .. from now on.

  3. Harold

    I hope it helps, Brent, and thanks Jon for your comments. This post was simmering for a few days, with many edits, before I posted it.


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