Four Pillars: We need a Hippocratic Oath

You’re right. I’ve put the next recap off for a short while, trying to give me enough time to get my head around a few things. An example:
It all started with my attending the Professionalism in IT Conference arranged by the British Computer Society early last week. I’ve been involved with the initiative for a while now, and it’s truly fascinating. Particularly when it comes to figuring out what the profession stands for. What any profession stands for.
Which leads me on to someone I met at the conference, Mari Sako. Fascinating person. She’s a Professor at the Said Business School, Oxford, who has recently written a book called Shifting Boundaries of the Firm. I’d heard of the book, seen the Table of Contents, dismissed it as too focused on Japanese issues for me.

I was wrong.

I’ve now ordered the book. What Professor Sako did was to connect some important dots for me, dots that matter in Four Pillar Land.

I was expecting a presentation on global sourcing, which I got.

  • I was not surprised to hear about corporate functions being disaggregated and reaggregated.
  • I was not surprised to hear about the effects of outsourcing and offshoring.
  • I was not surprised to hear about a constant pressure on IT professionals to repackage their skills and knowledge.

And then I had a Road to Damascus moment …. when Mari Sako  mentioned Andrew Abbott and his System of Professions. Some of the things she said resonated differently in my head. Two key examples:

  • Technology and corporate restructuring have led professions to redraw their knowledge boundaries.
  • Change in content of professions is as significant as change in location of jobs.

Now, I’d read Abbott before, and for sure I liked what System of Professions was getting at, and thought I understood where he was going. But hearing Professor Sako speak of it in a different context many years later, I began to see something else.

Wonderful what conversations can do.

In the past I’ve interpreted Abbott as an extension of the old priests and lawyers and doctors arguments, and railed against IT  “professionals” who play the This-Is-Complex-You-Don’t-Understand-And-Never-Will card.

What I saw this time around is that social software and collaborative tools represent a real threat to those knowledge-hoarding “professionals”. A clear and present danger that they have to deal with. And keep dealing with. Which explains the reaction of a number of professions to blogs and wikis.

I’d love to see a profession-by-profession analysis somewhere. Accountancy. Law. HR. I guess you can call them professions.

I’m also of the opinion that the ratios these professions exhibit within a firm vary by culture and by market segment, bringing a different dynamic into play. So it would be interesting to see this reaction broken down not just by profession but also by geography and market.
My final twist. Maybe the Abbott to Sako to me snowball explains something else to me.

The Four Pillar world is not for people who are professionals in the traditional sense.

It is for people who have a vocation, a calling.

It is only when you have that calling that you feel comfortable with sharing information, with giving information away for free. I guess those readers who are teachers or doctors understand where I’m going with this. I could not imagine a doctor not sharing his knowledge, his expertise, his information hoard, when a life may be at stake.

We need the equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath. About ideas and sharing. About patents and intellectual property. About identity and privacy and secrecy. There’s probably something in what Larry Lessig has already been doing, something in what Cory and  John Perry Barlow et al have been doing, something in what Rishab Aiyer Ghosh et al have been doing.

We need a Hippocratic Oath.

Let me know what you think

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