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[aspen] The new professionalism

I’m at the Aspen Ideas Festival, at a panel on how professionalism has changed.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Reid Hoffman (chair of LinkedIn) says the concept of the professional has changed. It used to be something you got intensive training for, and then moved from apprentice to master within your chosen field. Now it means constantly learning, and adapting to changes in tech and business.

Deirdre Stanley is general counsel at Thomson Reuters (host of this panel). She says that professionalism used to mean meeting peer standards. Now she thinks about professionalism in terms of project ownership, problem solving, a defined end goal, and it’s left to your discretion how to reach that goal.

Susan Peters says GE thinks of professionals as problem solvers. They have 160,000 professionals around the world. It’s about how you do the problem solving. Do leaders create cultures, or do cultures create leaders, she asks.

Mark Penn, the pollster, says that professionals are the new middle class. 85% of Americans say they’re middle class. 54% say they’re professionals. This is the new backbone of the economy. We don’t recognize it enough. There’s not enough talk about making the professional sector as big, vibrate, and cutting edge as possible.

Moderator Heidi Moore says that professionalism is not seen as soulless and oppressed as in Dilbert and Office Space.

Reid: It’s called work because you wouldn’t do it if you weren’t paid for it. The key question: Tech is transforming industry, and tech requires new sets of skills. How do we invest in ourselves and our society? Purpose is an important element, but it’s also how you maintain a competitive edge in the skill set.

Mark: Many professionals don’t want to retire. 25% in an AARP poll said that they don’t want to retire because they like working.

Heidi: Because they feel like they’re working for themselves?

Susan: A cohort is drawn to mission-based work. And it’s the environment in which you’re doing it: the people you work with, the management structure, are you enabled to be a problem solver. At GE last summer we took 21 people from around the globe and had them spend time together, and tell us what you think GE needs to be like: who, where, how. They came up with 250 ideas E.g., a career navigation tool.

Deirdre: Not every company has the luxury to do that. Law students are not getting jobs. And of course not just law students. People have to learn new skills.

Heidi: What does the new professional look like? What should we be doing to manage our careers?

Reid: Think of yourself as the business of yourself. My skillset? How do I invest in myself? What’s your individual product market fit.

Mark: You need education and knowledge. And we need to prepare people for independent problem solving, which is what professionals do.

Deirdre: The proliferation of info affects professionals. 20 yrs ago, your doctor told you what’s wrong with you. Now, you google your symptoms and go to the doctor.

Susan: The organization has to do some forward thinking in helping people become problem solvers. People need to never stop evolving.

Reid: To be a professional, you have to take responsibility for your own evolution. That doesn’t mean the society and business shouldn’t provide the tools and environment to enable that. In Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of discussion about what people seeing about how companies are working; individuals need to do that also

Mark: Prof orgs needs to having training tracks, mentoring. Problem solving is best taught through mentorship. But it’s also about their social environment.

Heidi: Working at home?

Mark: The better the collaborative tools, the better the quality of work.

Reid: Startups are working on this. E.g., LiquidSpace, etc. You do have to have some high bandwidth in-person interactions. It’s going to be ablend.

Deirdre: Tech is accelerating this virtual environment, and also putting increased pressure on the professional. The ability to master the tools may change the profile of the professional. Also, the ability to work with many different sorts of people matters. And, yes, you need some in-person team-building.

Susan: It’s not the old demographic. It’s about the work space, about tech, and about connectedness. The old corporate structure, patterned on the military, is antiquated.

Reid: If you don’t find risk, risk finds you. This is because tech drives globalization. People say they want meaning and stability from their work. Adaptability is the new stability. You accomplish that by being able to take intelligent risks. That’s what entrepreneurs do well, which is why it’s important to become the entrepreneur of your own life. You can’t manage risk to zero. By learning how to be adaptive is how you manage risk in a modern professional career.

Deirdre: When you sit in a corporation, you see some areas growing and some not. If you’re an employee, you want to be in the growing part or in the group figuring out the strategy for the other areas.

Mark: 75% of voters have some college. 26% of two-income households make over $100K. The new prof class is much more pro-environment, much more socially tolerant. We currently have two professionals running for president.

Heidi: Yet all they talk about manufacturing jobs.

Mark: That’s because Ohio is a swing state. But we don’t have enough people to fill all the professional jobs. So why isn’t that the central focus of our economy?

Susan: We do need manufacturing in this country. The professionals in GE are helping to make those manufacturing jobs as advanced as possible. Our aircraft factories are very flat: an hourly worker can stop an assembly line. No foremen. The professional work class comes up with the ideas that brings the next product to be manufactured. GE is big enough that we can experiment. Eg., we’ve given some of our most senior people by giving them events outside of GE for 2-3 days. We send them to Silicon Valley, etc., to be out of their own context. Our research into 21st leaders shows that the people who make the best decisions are the ones with the best context — not just knowledge, but contacts wide in the world.

Heidi: I wake up early every morning and check Spanish bond deals. You have to be thinking about what’s happening around the world.

Reid: Use your network. In Silicon Valley we are constantly talking about “Have you seen…?”

Deirdre: There’s so much info that there may not always be the opportunity to step back and make informed decisions.

Reid: The books I read are the ones strongly recommended by my network.

Susan: Think about reflection. It’s an under leveraged aspect of what has to happen.

Q: You’ve been talking about changes individuals needs to make as professionals. I just spoke with student journalists all of whom are being taught very traditional ways of building a career. How do our higher ed institutions have to change.

Reid: Massively. Ivory towers worked better when there was less change in the world. Also, the dividing line between education and work is going the way of the dodo. You’re in permanent beta.

Mark: American professionals are pretty successful. We’re doing something right. Our system produces people who are the leading edge of change. I think we need more cultural change. Is it education or values that matters?

Heidi: Can we get a work ethic in a free-er culture?

Susan: The community does a great job with that. We’re getting peer evaluations: Who added the most value.

Heidi: Reverse mentoring?

Reid: For me the network is the mentor

Deirdre: At Thomson Reuters especially in diversity training we use reverse mentoring.

Susan: We do reverse mentoring, typically in the tech space.

Q: Many people are unprepared to be entrepreneurs. Shouldn’t public ed teach the basics of entrepreneurship?

Reid: Can it be taught? You can at least give people a grasp of the concepts.

Mark: It’s an important point. In the polls, American youth are becoming less entrepreneurial. They’re more interested in becoming professionals. Arab youth and Vietnamese are hotbeds of entrepreneurship.

Q: The future seems to take more time than we think. In the lifetimes of people here, what will professionalism look like?

Reid: The future is sooner and stranger than you think. I do think we’ll see more free agency; more network thinking, but orgs thinking about networks across boundaries; employment contracts will maintain relationships.

Susan: Some people will get very far very fast. It depends on the person and the product. You don’t want your aircraft engine to be totally freewheeling. Orgs will get more horizontal. People will have to become better all the time or they won’t make it; otherwise they’ll be selected out by their peers or mgt structure. You can’t be what you were.

Mark: We’re bad at predicting the future because we don’t understand the present. But AI will be important.

Heidi: Wall Street’s inability to adapt these days is like Mad Men: People who have an ideal of life they don’t want to change.

[me] Reid’s answers have generally been about being a good professional by using the Net. We have an idea of what a professional looks like in the real world. What does a professional look like on the Net?

Reid: There won’t really be a distinction between professionalism on the net and in life. About ten yrs ago, people said everyone would be blogging, but not everyone has those skills. Having a presence and an identity, being able to find info, to operate through these networks (public and private) will be an essential tool set to be able to operate effectively as a professional. E.g., search cna find all sorts of things, e.g., who ar the right people to talk to to figure things out, what should I be reading to figure out what’s going, etc.

Deirdre: Yes. E.g., knowing how to do Big Data.

[One of the unsaid things: To be professional used to imply a down-to-work, efficient attitude. Now we expect and encourage professionals to have the social skills — including a sense of humor — that enables them to succeed in social nets of all sorts.]

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