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The New Profile of a Knowledge Professional

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The New Profile of a Knowledge Professional

by Riitta Suurla

A knowledge professional is expected to have creativity and intuitive thinking, since know-how is based on knowledge and the generation of new knowledge. In competition in know-how, creativity and innovativeness must be permanent properties of a professional, not incidental results of specific inspiration. What kind of personality conception includes creativity?

An increasing number of professionals today are knowledge professionals. Knowledge work does not include only EDP work or even increasing work as an expert. All tasks emphasizing the demands of work associated with the transfer and processing of information and the generation of new knowledge are classified as knowledge-intensive work. The challenges of knowledge work are insight learning, wise care and development of knowledge, skills and communication, as well as values. Mastering of knowledge also presupposes new, creative and responsible management.

Conventional professional know-how no longer suffices for a knowledge worker; he must be a creative, independent, resourceful, innovative, enterprising, co-operative and versatile person who learns new things throughout his life.

A knowledge professional does not repeat the same tasks from one day to another. He does not act according to instructions given by others but uses his own know-how and thinks for himself. Knowledge and doing are one. Success in knowledge work presupposes that one works voluntarily and not because someone tells one to do so. An independently thinking person who uses his own creativity seeks challenges and not merely instructions.

Processing values reveals a view of what constitutes a human being

In knowledge work it is important that information is spread, that new meanings are created and new knowledge is continually generated. Therefore, skills in interaction and dialogue, as well as innovation and co-operation, are increasingly emphasized. A person acts on the basis of meanings and as a creator of meanings. Understanding cannot be transferred directly; each person produces interpretations for himself – what is not understood is not seen. For this very reason it is important to speak openly on a view of the human being and the philosophy of life.

Conceptions promote or prevent possibilities for change. The attitude towards people prevailing in many workplaces continues to be based on an authoritarian superior-subordinate relationship and on doing things alone. I have even encountered a view that people do not even dare plan a new mode of action because the boss is the one who decides. Thus people downright even refuse to think; and, on the other hand, superiors complain that their subordinates hang their thinking capacity on a hat rack together with their hats when they come to work.

If people have the conception that one must not be resourceful or creative at work, it is futile to expect a change towards an innovative direction. If we do not believe, how can we change? However, a sense of reality must exist alongside believing.

Instead of aiming through limitations or unrealistic value idealization to force people into behaviour of a certain type, it would, in my opinion, be profitable to concentrate on learning people’s possibilities and potential for creative thinking and even for unexpected, limits-breaking assumption of responsibility.

Whenever we present a philosophy of life, someone will think we are not only wrong but may have violated his values. Even though I have here made an attempt to profile a knowledge professional, this does not need to mean that there no longer should be anything else. It need not even mean that one cannot be successful in any other way. Rather, the pondering of the profile of a knowledge professional could create new conceptions. Nevertheless, this occurs only if the matter is discussed together.

In knowledge work it is essential that people together see possibilities, create space together, and understand their own choices and those of others. In this manner it is possible to learn co-operation in which responsibility is borne – together and separately. However, if we think that the colleague is always merely a competitor and a back-stabber, and that the organization will wear people out, what possibilities can we have to become inspired to develop something new? Idealism may create energy, but realism – ability to see a shortfall – proves work. Together they form the joy of work, inspiration, and self-assessment.

Goal-oriented action is emphasized in creativity

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1996) has carried out research into creativity, with very interesting results regarding the profile of a knowledge professional. His research findings indicate that creativity is generated through interaction between individuals and a socio-cultural context. As a phenomenon, creativity is systemic and not restricted to individuals alone. Creativity cannot flourish without support, freedom, feedback and encouragement.

In work communities I often hear that encouragement is unnecessary praise, but people receive too little feedback and even then it is negative and not constructive. In this view the possibility for encouragement as a real and correct means of caring is first mitigated and then it is noted that we only use the whip. This view is put into practice every day, and there is no chance for change, because only a perfect, idealistic "constructive feedback" would be acceptable. Encouragement is a skill that requires practice. Csikszentmihalyi speaks of an optimal flow, which is an enjoyable and self-rewarding experience. Such an experience is typical of creative people.

Central features of a flow experience

· The objectives for action are clearly identified at all times. We always know what to do next.

· We receive direct feedback on our actions.

· The relationship between the challenge of a task and the skills of the actor is balanced.

· Action and the individual’s awareness are unified.

· People exclude any disturbing factors from their awareness.

· There is no fear of failure. Fear of failure or "being wrong" prevents creativity.

· Action is autotelic – an end in itself.

· Self-awareness disappears.

· The sense of time becomes obscured.

Creative people get satisfaction from working towards self-defined goals and jobs well done. They are passionate learners and optimists who listen carefully to their emotions and intuition. They are complex people whose action models include seemingly contradictory characteristics that are typical of creative individuals. They may be energetic but self-effacing, intelligent and naive, playful and disciplined, imaginative but realistic, humble and proud, traditional but revolutionary – thus complicated and even controversial.

Ethically transparent organization

If knowledge professionals are expected to be such creative people, organizations and business enterprises must pay special attention to how it is possible to co-ordinate the purposes of creative people themselves with the objectives of the organization. If a creative person does not experience the challenges and objectives as his own, or if they are unclear, he soon grows tired of the organization. The objective of a creative person has arisen out of free will. He wants to reach his objectives. A creative person is also highly future-oriented. If he does not see opportunities for the future, he becomes frustrated.

The profile of a knowledge professional is highly similar to the profile of a person doing creative work. From the viewpoint of the organization it is to be noted that independent and strongly goal-oriented people are also demanding and often bad subordinates. They cannot be ordered into a creative performance and productive co-operation, but they can be encouraged to both. Clear objectives that have been set together, good working tools and a continuous opportunity for development are elements of encouragement – but so also are feedback regarding work, gifts of information, and genuine respect. Encouragement is not the duty of only the superior; it belongs to all.

In order for the ideal profile of a knowledge professional to emerge at least to a sufficient degree, the functioning environment must be learning, co-operative, responsible and ethically transparent. From the views of different experts writing about the information society, it is possible to draw the conclusion that this challenge has been posed to individuals as well as to organizations and society. To no one alone – but to all together.

When the character of work and its requirement level change, the operating modes, management and work culture of the work community must also change – otherwise there will not be room for new ways of thinking and acting. However, they change only when conceptions of people, life and values change.

About the author

Riitta Suurla is a consultant who has worked extensively with the International Association for Continuing Engineering Education (IACEE). She is particularly interested in the philosophy of values and learning. She gives lectures and training in the field of continuing education and enterprise training, and has developed new methods for lifelong learning. She is managing director of Taitoakatemia Oy (Skills Academy Ltd.), a company supporting and developing creativity and a skills-based culture for individual and communal needs. She was project manager of the Knowledge Management Project in the Finnish Parliament. The results of this project will be available also in English in 2002.

This article first appeared in issue Number 1/2002, Volume 1 of the IACEE News Bulletin.

For further information contact Riitta Suurla ([email protected]).

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