“Are there new ways to think about our digital workplace skills that allows us to take our thinking up to a new plane, the next meta-level of thinking and working where we have much higher leverage, can manage change that is an order of magnitude or greater in volume than today, work in fundamentally better and smarter new ways — and perhaps even work a bit less — yet produce much more value?”
Dion Hinchcliffe asks What Are the Required Skills for Today’s Digital Workforce? and provides an image that addresses a good spectrum of skills for the network era.
I would like to add my perspective to each of these seven digital workplace skills.
Working Out Loud
Without learning out loud, working out loud can become mere noise (e.g. look at what I am doing!). Without taking action on ideas, working out loud is mere whimsy. But when complex work, the driver of the creative economy, gets a stream of new ideas that have been developed in trusted communities of practice, which are informed by even broader social networks, then we have the foundation for a true digital workplace.
Learning out loud in our social networks helps to seek new opinions and share our own with a diverse group of people. Outside the organization we can make new connections without permission. In addition, trusted spaces, like communities of practice, give us a place to take our half-baked ideas and test them out, with minimal risk. Meanwhile, we can sharpen these ideas and share them in our digital workplaces when we discern the time is appropriate. All of this is an art, requiring ongoing practice, and countless negotiated conversations and relationships.
Digital Sense Making + Personal Knowledge Management [Mastery]
PKM is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world and work more effectively. If it is not personal, it is not PKM. Connecting people and knowledge is the focus of personal knowledge mastery. PKM builds reflection into our learning and working, helping us adapt to change and new situations. It can also help develop critical thinking skills. The discipline of PKM helps each person become a contributing node in a knowledge network. It is the foundation for social learning, which can help us develop new network era infrastructures to replace outdated institutions and markets. The PKM Seek > Sense > Share model may be simple, but it has multiple layers, such as diversifying our networks, adding value to what we find, curating for later use, and developing new skills to enhance communication: like storytelling.
I use the term ‘mastery’ instead of ‘management’ because PKM is a discipline. It takes time to master. Even if you participate in one of my workshops, you do not gain mastery. This is a difficult concept for managers who want everyone in the organization to have the required skills in ‘X’ months. Human learning does not happen this way. Mastery of a discipline is more than attending a course and taking a test. This is why I do not offer certification in PKM. It would be a useless piece of paper. Instead, recognition by one’s peers [the network] as a master, is an indicator of success.
Open Digital Collaboration
I differentiate between collaboration and cooperation. Collaboration is working together for a common goal, often with someone in charge. Cooperation is sharing freely amongst equals. Cooperating is a way of nourishing our knowledge networks. Cooperation is not reciprocal, so that what you give does not equate to what you get. This is the nature of networks and goes against many workplace practices, such as staying focused on your job. Being cooperative, so that the entire network gets stronger, helps individuals and organizations in the long run. Cooperation is missing in most workplaces, but as many freelancers already understand, cooperation pays off in the network era.
Network leadership focuses on building better work structures. It consists of strengthening social networks, so that people can connect to do their work better. Network leaders practice and promote personal knowledge mastery, so everyone takes responsibility for sense-making and knowledge-sharing. Active experimentation is encouraged through constant learning by doing, as best practices are useless in dealing with complexity. Business results emerge from the entire network, while everyone is responsible in a transparent and open organization. Network leaders are builders. They focus on creating a more social workplace first and foremost.
Network leadership is helping the network make better decisions.
The social contract that we call employment has been changing for a while. Unions are shrinking, the self-employed are growing, and low wage service jobs are becoming our largest growth sector. What can unite us is our ability to easily connect with each other, without traditional intermediaries. Seb Paquet calls this “ridiculously easy group-forming“.
In a digital workplace, the role of management is to give workers a job worth doing, the tools to do it, recognition of a job well done, and then let them manage themselves. Working smarter means using social media tools, which are inherently designed for transparency, and doing something worthwhile. Social media are the equivalent of an industrial factory for each worker.
Digital DIY Know-How
We can always learn from the edges of the economy and society, where creativity is usually in higher supply. Take for instance the hacker, defined as “one who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations”. Playfulness, cleverness, and exploration constitute essential parts of creativity as well. Like hacking, creativity requires an ongoing commitment. We cannot merely take creative time; it has to be part of our workflow. David Williamson Shaffer says that we need to make space for conversations in order to be creative.
“Creativity is a conversation – a tension – between individuals working on individual problems and the professional communities they belong to.”
Behaviour change comes through small, but consistent, changes in practice. So how do we move from responsibility, to creativity, and potentially to innovation? Play, explore, and converse. But first we need to build a space to practice. This is where management plays a key role: providing the space to ‘Do it Yourself’.
Letting the Network Do the Work
In an age when information is no longer scarce and connections are many, organizations must let all workers actively manage their knowledge networks. Systemic changes are sensed almost immediately in an interconnected world. Therefore reaction times and feedback loops have to get faster. Workers need to know who to ask for advice at the moment of need. However, this requires a certain level of trust, and we know that trusted relationships take time to nurture. The default action in emergencies is usually to turn to our friends and trusted colleagues; those people with whom we have shared experiences. Workers have to start sharing more of their work experiences now, in order to grow their trusted professional networks to deal with new and more complex situations. Practices like learning out loud can build trust.
Sharing complex knowledge in trusted networks does not happen overnight. It requires a combination of actively engaged knowledge workers, using optimal communications tools, all within a supportive organizational structure. Hierarchies, concentrated power, and control are remnants of market dominance and institutional dynamics. Networks are different, for better and worse.
“It’s all about thriving in networks that are smarter and faster than you are. It’s all about being utterly screwed if you don’t know what I’m talking about.” – Hugh MacLeod