Future-proofing your career as a knowledge and information professional

The below article was published in the 2-May-17 edition of the Records & Information Management Professionals Australasia (RIMPA) News. Membership of RIMPA is required to access the below-linked templates:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an apocryphal ancient Chinese curse, and while our times are interesting perhaps they are both cursed and potentially blessed in equal measure. Part cursed in that those in the so-called X, Y and Z ‘list’ generations in developed countries will not in the main have stable jobs for life, generous organisation-contribution, pension/superannuation programs and corporate entitlements that interestingly enough all seem to be coming to an end, coinciding with baby boomer retirements. However these times must also be part blessed, as for those of us in information management—and its various knowledge, content, records management guises—in both developed and undeveloped countries, information underpins so much vital business and social functioning and possession of an interest in information and passion for harnessing it for the greater good—or evil for that matter—is a significant advantage. Social and enterprise networks, artificial intelligence, analytics and predictive algorithms of now and beyond all rely to some degree on both new and historic information.

So if you aren’t lucky enough to be a baby boomer and are interested in continuing an information-related career of some kind for the next ten or more years, do recognise that you still have the opportunity to develop your skills in a complementary fledging area of expertise.

On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!

It’s as easy as one, two, three!

  1. Look into the crystal ball
  2. Assess required skills + experiences
  3. Plan accordingly

Okay, as crystal ball wielding skills are in short supply it may not be quite so easy, but as in the Alice in Wonderland quote leading this article, it’s helpful to have a plan to work towards than not.

Before we start, perhaps just thinking about future scenarios might be enough to trigger some ideas for your future, however, if you’d like an aid to help focus your attention I highly recommend the Life in Boxes concept by Tim Urban of Wait But Why. Simply review the Life Calendar spreadsheet I’ve created based on this concept (linked below this post) and grey out the boxes of your life already completed, note when you expect to retire and what your expectations are of the future, what you’d like to achieve, how much time you can expect to spend with family members, and so forth. Don’t be alarmed, while in some ways confronting, this certainly helps you focus on what’s important to you to achieve.

1. Crystal Ball Gazing

While long-term predictions are notoriously inaccurate, a few information sources that might be helpful for crystal ball gazing to gain some sense of the road ahead and skills and personal attributes that will be in demand in the future include the following:

  • RIMPA news where peers share insights into key developments in our field of interest!
  • Technology and innovation publications or articles (from professional journals, grey literature sources, reputable online news sources)
  • Interesting posts from ‘thought leaders’ such as those you might already follow on LinkedIn
  • The Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations has been issuing every two years since 1988, revised estimates and projections of the urban and rural populations of all countries in the world and of their major urban agglomerations
  • Informal or formal conversations about required skills and personal attributes which will be in demand, with your colleagues, manager, mentors, fellow conference attendees etc.

Emerging Technologies

One well-known example of grey literature is the Gartner ‘Hype Cycle’, which in July 2016 provided a listing of some emerging technologies of interest:

  1. Cognitive AnalyticS
  2. Bots
  3. Data Visualisation & Insights
  4. Virtual Assistants & Predictive Engagement
  5. Robotics
  6. Artificial Narrow Intelligence (includes the Internet of Things)
  7. Artificial General Intelligence
  8. Artificial Superintelligence

2. Assess Your Current vs Required Skills

A SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) is a simple tool to aid your thinking. Spend five minutes undertaking a personal SWOT analysis, considering the following:

  • Strengths: What key strengths can you build upon to differentiate yourself in your career?
  • Weaknesses: What weaknesses do you need to address or compensate for in order to overcome any potential obstacles?
  • Opportunities: What opportunities exist for your unique experience, skillset and passions?
  • Threats: What threats are presented by your personal shortcomings – unfortunately we all have them?

Review your personal SWOT analysis and use this to inform your “population” in the personal Ten Year Plan template I’ve created based on a range of common concepts in future planning (linked below this post).

3. Plan Accordingly

Based on your personal thinking above, and perhaps aided by discussions with any trusted mentor, colleagues, family and friends, look to set three goals (again using the Ten Year Plan template) to work towards. It’s always easiest to play to your personal strengths, while recognising that not all work will always involve activities you enjoy, so do consider framing your future path with a very pragmatic, reflective view of what you actually love doing (it will usually relate to what comes most naturally to you, what spurs you into action most easily, and what you can lose yourself doing when you’re in the ‘flow’).

Some ideas for consideration are noted below:

  • If you have good people skills (do check with trusted, honest friends and family on this point) and are good at engaging with people and working with them to solve their business problems, perhaps consider developing formal or informal business analysis and customer relationship management skills; business process optimisation and business process modelling notation skills; information visualisation and reporting skills.
  • If you prefer to work independently away from people and are all about the data then perhaps consider a more technical specialism such as data management; information architecture (being aware that enterprise architecture is heavily focused on the needs of the business and its stakeholders); programming; metadata related specialisations.
  • If you prefer the pace of records and information management of the past, then perhaps some pocket of archival expertise or setting up an independent business incorporating artisanal skills such as book-binding; calligraphy; and similar may be rewarding and in all seriousness, there is certainly a sentiment for the past. An innate love of order and information will complement the skillset. With recognition of the stress of pace of life and the popularity of hand crafted skills this may present rewarding opportunities.

Do recognise of course that the above options are by no means comprehensive and these views are my own, just ideas for further consideration as a starting point for your personal review and perhaps further discussions with trusted advisors.

Whatever future path you choose, do choose, don‘t let life and the world make choices for you!

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