A knowmad is what I term a nomadic knowledge and innovation worker – that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Knowmads are valued for the personal knowledge that they possess, and this knowledge gives them a competitive advantage in social and work contexts. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas industrial society 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 in regard to task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work either at a specific place, virtually, or in any blended combination. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments and relationships. Greater mobility afforded by technologies creates these new opportunities.
In other words, knowmads are extensions of Peter Drucker’s 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.
By 2020, we project 45% of the Western workforce will be knowmadic. And, we expect this number will grow. 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.
In the past, we applied for jobs. Now we are asked to design our work.
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 taking on various jobs, apprenticeships, entrepreneurial endeavors, 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.
The remixing of people and ideas through digital and social formats has already become commonplace. Consider, for example, coffee shops. These environments have become the workplace of choice for many knowmads. What happens when an investment banker sits next to an architect and strikes up a conversation? What new ideas, products, and services might be created?
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., life-long 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 choose to focus on the positive features of Knowmad Society – and how to generate positive outcomes.
More: Knowmad Society
Characteristics of knowmadic workers
- Are not restricted to a specific age;
- Build their personal knowledge through explicit information gathering and tacit experiences, and leverage their personal knowledge to produce new ideas;
- Are able to contextually apply their ideas and expertise in various social and organizational configurations;
- Are highly motivated to collaborate, and are natural networkers, navigating new organizations, cultures, and societies;
- Use new technologies purposively to help them solve problems and transcend geographical limitations;
- Are open to sharing what they know, and invite and support open access to information, knowledge, and expertise from others;
- Can unlearn as quickly as they learn, adopting new ideas and practices as necessary;
- Thrive in non-hierarchical networks and organizations;
- Develop habits of mind and practice to learn continuously; and,
- Are not afraid of failure.
Note: List inspired by Cobo (2008).