Introduction to Knowmad Society

Introduction to Knowmad Society

by John W. Moravec

The emergence of Knowmad Society impacts everybody. It is a product of the changes in a world driven by exponential accelerating technological and social change, globalization, and a push for more creative and context-driven innovations. It is both exciting and frightening. It presents us with new opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities. And, we recognize that in a world of accelerating change, the future is uncertain. This prompts a key question: In a world consumed with uncertainty, how can we ensure the success of ourselves as individuals, our communities, and the planet?


This book explores the future of learning, work, and how we relate with each other in this emerging paradigm. In a blog post at Education Futures, I defined a knowmad as:

[…] a nomadic knowledge worker –that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas industrialization required people to settle in one place to perform a very specific role or function, the jobs associated with knowledge and information workers have become much less specific concerning task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work within broader options of space, including “real,” virtual, or blended. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities. (Moravec, 2008)

In other words, knowmads are extensions of Peter Drucker’s (1992) knowledge workers concept, embracing the convergence of accelerating technological change and globalization. In particular, the use of advanced information and communications technologies enable knowmads to work beyond pre-19th century notions of nation states, corporate identity, and community identity. For some, knowmadism is realized through leveraging social media (i.e., Twitter or blogs) that add an additional layer of social and/or professional activities that defy the confinement to particular geographies and operational rules they may have been restricted to as recently as 10 years ago. For others, knowmads engage in work that is transnational, transcultural, and post-organizational in scope. And a few select others may develop and apply such individual expertise that their work in new context creation enables them to be considered postnational and postcultural actors in their own right.

Knowmads are valued for the personal knowledge that they possess, and this knowledge gives them a competitive advantage. Knowmads are also responsible for designing their own futures. This represents a massive shift from agricultural, industrial, and information-based work in which our relationships and responsibilities were static and clearly defined by others.

In the past, we applied for jobs. Now we are asked to design our work.

By 2020, we project 45% of the Western workforce will be knowmadic. Moreover, this number will grow. That is, the jobs we take on and the ways in which we relate with each other will require less specificity about task and place. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and advances in mobility afforded by technological development leads to the continuous creation of new opportunities. A knowmad is only employed on a job as long as he or she can add value to an organization. If not, it’s time to move on to the next gig.

Knowmads differentiate their jobs from work. Jobs are positions, gigs, or other forms of employment. Work is longer term in scope, and relates to the creation of meaningful outcomes. One’s work differs from a career in Knowmad Society. Whereas a career is something that “carries” a person throughout life, an individual’s work is a collection of activities that are backed with elements that are purposive at the personal level. In other words, the results of a knowmad’s work are that person’s responsibility alone.

Knowmads strive to continually define and refine their work. This can be expressed through occupying various jobs, apprenticeships, entrepreneurship, social activities, etc. If the knowmad once made a difference at their job, but there is little new opportunity for creating change, then it’s time to move on. Without having a purposive direction to herd one’s various jobs into work, we must question if that person has found his or her way.

Knowmad Society brings in a futures orientation, projecting not only the future of our workforce, but also examines the social, educational, and political implications for developing human capital that is relevant for the 21st century. We are at a crossroads where we can design a new human renaissance, built on leveraging our imagination, creativity and innovation – or we can doom ourselves to repeating the mistakes of our past.

This book builds on the ideas of many others who also observe the rise of Knowmad Society. Intriguing examples include:

  • At the 2011 Lift Conference, Yasmine Abbas shared her vision of neo-nomadism, which she constructed from an urban planning perspective. Mobility is increasing, spatially, mentally, and electronically. This, in turn, creates new opportunities and challenges for how we integrate interpersonally and as organized cities (see Abbas, 2011).
  • Digital nomads, as defined in Wikipedia (“Digital nomad,” n.d.), are: “individuals that leverage digital technologies to perform their work duties, and more generally conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner. Such workers typically work remotely—from home, coffee shops and public libraries to collaborate with teams across the globe.” This is an idea that Makimoto and Manners (1997) explored extensively in their book, Digital nomad.
  • 1099 workers – independent contractors (named from their frequent use of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service form 1099) – are a growing segment of the economy in the United States (see esp. Kotkin, 2012).
  • Richard Florida developed the concept of the creative class of innovation and context-creation workers, consisting of a super-creative core, traditional knowledge workers, and new Bohemians (Florida, 2004; Florida, 2005).
  • Richard Oliver (2007) discusses purposive drift – a need to connect with our inner humanness as we explore uncertain futures. Even if we are not sure where we our lives are going, as individuals, we need to develop a sense of purpose, or we would be simply lost.
  • The U.S. Air Force, in its futures-based research, warns of hyper-powered individuals, aided by technologies, that create more harm and havoc than any nation could in the previous century. The technological elimination of time and distance barriers means a greater number of individuals and organizations will play a role in charting future societies (Geis et al., p. xv).

…and so on.

The bottom line: Individual talent is becoming increasingly important in the 21st century. What one knows and can do with their knowledge in differing contextual formats drives their employability. In other words, people who can innovate and generate new value with their knowledge will lead employment growth. Those who do not will be replaced by machines, outsourced, or be outmoded by those who can (inspired by Clarke, 1980, p. 96).

In 2010, Cristóbal Cobo and I started the Invisible learning project, which was intended to result in Spanish and English-language editions of a book freely available under a Creative Commons license. We got sidetracked when the University of Barcelona Press contacted us, and indicated that they would like to publish it – but in Spanish only (as “Aprendizaje Invisible”). They were great to work with, and allowed us to release a free digital edition of the book in 2011. The product was a hit and over 50,000 copies were distributed in the first year (that we could count) – not bad for an education text!

The chapters Cobo and I share in this book are the direct descendants from the Invisible learning project. In the first chapter, I introduce the Knowmad Society concept in the context of redesigning education. This is a translation and update of Chapter 1 in Invisible learning, where I describe the transitions from what I label Society 1.0 through Society 3.0. In the following chapter, Cobo provides a summary of key points we made elsewhere in the book, with updates, and more meaningful contextualization for Knowmad Society. While I focus on theory construction, Cobo connects it with policy studies and perspectives.

The impact of the remixing of places and social relationships on education cannot be ignored any longer. Students in Knowmad Society should learn, work, play, and share in almost any configuration. Nevertheless, there is little evidence to support any claim that education systems are moving toward a knowmad-enabled paradigm. We need to ask ourselves: What are we educating for? Are we educating to create factory workers and bureaucrats? Or, are we educating to create innovators, capable of leveraging their imagination and creativity?

Thieu Besselink offers an aesthetic approach toward re-imagining teaching in Knowmad Society, where teachers need to refocus from information delivery and measurements toward one where, together with students, they aim to build something new and meaningful for everybody. Rather than worrying about learning in top-down approaches to education, he offers a pathway for reinventing teachers as learning choreographers –guides who, “tease out experiences, sources of inspiration, and energy that can be the building blocks for the Quest.”

Christel Hartkamp offers a different approach than the policy-driven schemes Cobo suggests, and argues that for youth to become successful in Knowmad Society, they must be enabled to find and build their own way, which requires skill development that is not present in mainstream education. Reflecting on her own experiences, she presents a case for expanding Sudbury-type education to best enable children to, “grow up as self-starters, showing initiative and entrepreneurialism, knowing how to use knowledge, their talents, and how to make decisions on the basis of their own judgments.”

Pieter Spinder co-founded the Knowmads Business School in Amsterdam in 2009. The school offers an alternative platform for youth interested in developing their creative entrepreneurial skills in sustainable, socially innovative contexts. He jokes that students do not earn a diploma, but they have the possibility of earning a tattoo when they finish. But, like tattooing one’s self, the school provides for the possibility for personal design and (re)definition – this individual-level development and expression is critical for success in Knowmad Society.

Edwin de Bree and Bianca Stokman relate their experiences in flattening hierarchical organizations. That is, in Knowmad Society, they ask if we need many layers of management, or can we form organizational structures that empower people to serve as their own “bosses” and do what is right for the institution? They provide several examples from their own work in “de-hierarching” organizations, and discuss the potentials for not only cost savings, but also for new opportunities provided by an empowered workforce.

Christine Renaud runs a Canadian startup called E-180. Utilizing social technologies, they are working to take learning out of classrooms and other formal environments, and instead embedding it into places that are more natural for humans – namely coffee shops. She reflects on the knowledge-sharing meetings that her company facilitates, and argues there is a hunger for collaborative learning that we can embed into society. Education researchers have been talking a lot about life-long learning, but what about life-long teaching?

Ronald van den Hoff has built a business out of supporting knowmads. I was pleased to meet him in 2009 after we realized that we were both working with nearly identical “Society 3.0” models (he prefers to label his “Society30” to match the URL of his recent book, Society 3.0: His company,, provides not only co-working spaces for knowmadic workers, but also blends in technologies that help enable collaboration, co-creation, and building productive relationships with others. In his contribution to this volume, he argues that knowmads are an essential component of “Organization 3.0” – and engaging them in the co-construction of his business has been very rewarding.

Finally, U.S. Sen. Gary Hart presents an insightful afterword that calls for policy leaders to wake up to the realities of Knowmad Society, and attend to its support as a matter of maintaining security among nations. Knowmads break down barriers rather than create new ones, and we must define new public responsibilities to provide for positive futures for citizens, nations, and our planet.

We provide a diverse range of perspectives, but unite under the core notions that the future is becoming much more unpredictable and old social structures have less value – especially those connected with education. Above all, we agree that we can lead with change today.

There is a strong Dutch presence in this book, and it is by no coincidence that the Dutch are breaking the path in realizing Knowmad Society. They have had a head start, aided by the geography of the Randstad conurbation, which connects many smaller cities together in a larger metropolitan-like area. Central to its success is a reliable rail network. Traveling by train to various cities to work and meet with others has become an activity as casual as taking the subway to a regular work place in a regular, concentrated city. In essence, many Dutch citizens are already nomadic in where they work – and growing into this mode of work is a natural transition.

Change is naturally frightening for humans, and living in Knowmad Society implies that the “securities” that we enjoyed in the past are obsolete (e.g., lifelong employment at an organization, the promise of retirement, and steady streams of income). Indeed there are many challenges, and they can be construed as opportunities for knowmadic workers and policy makers to co-create new solutions. We instead choose to focus on the positive features of Knowmad Society – and how to generate positive outcomes.

In our approach, we differentiate little between learning and working. Knowmadic thinking and individual-level entrepreneurship exposes the fuzzy metaspaces in between each, opening new opportunities for new blends of formal, informal, non-formal and serendipitous learning. As in the Invisible learning project, we focus on educating for personal knowledge creation that cannot be measured easily. In the business world, this is reflected in flattening our organizational relationships (“de-hierarchizing”) and attending to the inherent chaos and ambiguity in knowmadic systems, rather than fighting it (inspired esp. by Allee, 2003 & McElroy, 2003).

I organized this book to present a spectrum of ideas from the abstract and academic to the practical. My editing philosophy is not to conform each author’s chapter to a unitary perspective (or standardized language), but rather to present an ecology of perspectives – in their own words. When reading this volume, you will read many incongruities and outright contradictions. They are all intended. Nobody knows the future, and we do not pretend to have all of the correct answers. What we hope, however, is that we will provoke you to join the dialogue.

Please break the rules. We did.

This book embodies a conversation in process. It is meant to be rough on the edges. We present our ideas as sparks to ignite dialogue, and invite your input and further development. My philosophical approach to assembling this book is to present the ideas of each author as his or her own. In my editing, this meant that I touched the text of each as little as I could so that individual voices and opinions can best emerge. And, we want to hear your voice, too.

If you are holding onto a paper copy of this book, please do not treat it like a book. Write on it, draw on the margins, highlight the parts you like, and write “bullshit” over the parts you do not like. Tear out pages; mix in your own ideas, and share alike with others. This entire volume is Creative Commons licensed, which means that we encourage you to copy, redistribute, and remix this work. All that we ask is that you share it alike with others, give proper credit for the ideas you use, and let us know how you have added to the conversation.

On behalf of the team that contributed to this book, we look forward to co-developing Knowmad Society with you.


Abbas, Y. (2011). Design for transience: Distributed selves/distributed spaces. Retrieved from

Allee, V. (2003). The future of knowledge: Increasing prosperity through value networks. Amsterdam; Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Clarke, A. C. (1980). Electronic tutors. OMNI, 2(9), 76–78:96. Retrieved from

Cobo, C., & Moravec, J. W. (2011). Aprendizaje invisible: Hacia una nueva ecología de la educación. Barcelona: Laboratori de Mitjans Interactius / Publicacions i Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona.

Digital nomad. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 26, 2012, from

Florida, R. L. (2004). The rise of the creative class: And how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Florida, R. L. (2005). The flight of the creative class: The new global competition for talent (1st ed.). New York: HarperBusiness.

Geis, J. P., Kinnan, C. J., Hailes, T., Foster, H. A., & Blanks, D. (2009). Blue Horizons II: Future capabilities and technologies for the Air Force in 2030. Maxwell Airforce Base, Alabama: Air Force Press. Retrieved from

Kotkin, J. (2012). The rise of the 1099 economy: More Americans are becoming their own bosses. Forbes. Retrieved from

Makimoto, T., & Manners, D. (1997). Digital nomad. New York: Wiley.

McElroy, M. W. (2003). The new knowledge management: Complexity, learning, and sustainable innovation. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Moravec, J. W. (2008, November 20). Knowmads in Society 3.0. Retrieved from

Oliver, R. (2007). Purposive drift: Making it up as we go along. Retrieved from

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