How to Avoid Getting Left Behind Digitally in Your Profession (Part 1 of 2)

We all know somebody who just naturally seems to always be up-to-date on the latest technology, whether it be personal or professional. I’m not one of those people. I categorize them roughly into three not mutually exclusive categories:

  1. THE NATURAL: The Natural is a person who has an innate aptitude for and/or interest in tech.
  1. THE PROFESSIONAL: The Professional is a person whose work is by its nature technical (information technology professionals, software developers, etc.) This person’s job requires them to be digitally fluent.
  1. THE DIGITAL NATIVE: There are somewhat varying opinions on the exact definition of this term, but I use it here to mean any person who grew up using the Internet, apps, smart devices, etc. Digital fluency is essentially already integrated into this person’s life. Digital Natives were typically born in 1980 or later, but age alone does not make a person a Digital Native. For example, a 25-year-old who grew up in a household with little technology might not be a Digital Native.

If you are a Natural, a Professional, or a Digital Native, you probably don’t need to read this article. But if you are not one of those people, keep on reading.

Here’s something you can do to avoid getting left behind digitally in your profession:  “Proactively develop relevant digital skills and knowledge.”

That’s the thesis statement/recommendation of this article: “Proactively develop relevant digital skills and knowledge.”

(I said it out loud while writing this article, so that I could legitimately put quotation marks around it. One of my pet peeves is when writers put things in quotation marks that are not quotes.)

Let’s work through each of the words and phrases in that thesis statement, in order.

PROACTIVELY DEVELOP RELEVANT DIGITAL SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE”

Assuming you’re not a Natural, a Professional, or a Digital Native, your default setting moving forward is probably going to be to NOT develop relevant digital skills and knowledge. And as virtually (pun intended) every career is going to be more and more impacted by digital technology in the coming years, NOT developing relevant digital skills and knowledge is NOT an option … unless you’re scheduled to retire within the next few months. (In which case, congratulations!)

So you will need to override your default setting; you will need to be  PROACTIVE about developing relevant digital skills and knowledge. You’re going to have to make choices you haven’t made before, and do things you haven’t done before. As a million personal trainers have said, and I don’t know who said it first, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting the results you’ve always gotten.”

“PROACTIVELY DEVELOP RELEVANT DIGITAL SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE

The word “DEVELOP” implies a process that happens over a period of time. One of the biggest psychological barriers to learning a new skill is that it just seems like too large a task. Break the task down into bite-sized chunks. You don’t have to develop a new skill or set of knowledge quickly — just do it a little bit at a time. One of the main reasons people do nothing is that they can’t do everything. Don’t fall into that trap. Do something instead of nothing.

If you don’t have a lot of time to devote to acquiring new skills and knowledge, devote just a few minutes a day. Even 5 minutes a day will add up to 150 minutes in a month, and you can probably learn/produce something new and valuable in that time. 

When I was doing comedy in my younger days, part of my act consisted of a series of unrelated short jokes, a.k.a. “one-liners.” I made a commitment  to daily joke-writing. For almost 5 years, I wrote ~ 10 new jokes each day, which usually took only a few minutes, for a total of 15,000+ new jokes. Only approximately 150 of those jokes made it into my comedy routine. Even though the % yield was not high (150/15000 = 1%), 150 jokes is a hell of a lot better than 0 jokes, and it only took a few minutes each day.

“PROACTIVELY DEVELOP RELEVANT DIGITAL SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE

Like mothers from the 1970s with their peanut butter, you should be choosy about which digital skills and knowledge you will learn. You have a limited amount of time and energy to devote to learning new digital skills and knowledge, so why not choose the ones that are most relevant to you professionally? 

For example, I’m a full-time teacher at a University. Upon the advent of COVID-19, Zoom suddenly became extremely relevant to me, so I devoted time and energy to mastering Zoom for much of 2020.


“PROACTIVELY DEVELOP RELEVANT DIGITAL SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE

Here I use the term “DIGITAL” broadly to refer to anything technical, app-related, computer-related, data-related, etc. Fun fact: The term “digital” has to do with the fact that computers operate in binary, through a series of zeros and ones. Zeros and ones are digits, hence the term “digital”.


“PROACTIVELY DEVELOP RELEVANT DIGITAL SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE

I include both “SKILLS” and “KNOWLEDGE” since they are not exactly the same thing, though they are related.

My two main areas of interest are the Future of Higher Education and the Future of Work. In recent months I kept reading and hearing about Blockchain as being potentially important in the Future of Higher Education. The problem was, I had no idea what Blockchain was. So I spent a few months reading and watching content about Blockchain (and Bitcoin), and about Blockchain and Higher Ed. I would say that this process did not develop a new SKILL for me, but it did develop my KNOWLEDGE about Blockchain.

So there you have it. To avoid getting left behind digitally in your profession…

“PROACTIVELY DEVELOP RELEVANT DIGITAL SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE”

In the 2nd and final part of this article, which will be published next month, we’ll explore a few additional concepts that will help you optimize HOW you develop relevant digital skills and knowledge — for example, how to effectively leverage the concepts of BREADTH and DEPTH.

Ranjit Souri is a Lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He writes about the Future of Higher Education and the Future of Work at BeyondAcademics.com.

All imagery courtesy of iStockPhoto