Know thyself (social media and self-knowledge)

I’ve been reading an interesting and thoughtful post by Adam Knight about the effect of social media on the testing community. Adam was right to say that the response to my CAST talk was possible only because of social media. I’d go further than that. I would never have been in New York at all if it had not been for social media. When I became self-employed I had no option but to get out there on the internet, to network and write. That opened doors and eventually led me to CAST in New York.

One of the surprising aspects of my story is that I never intended to go down the route of being a Stop 29119 guy, or even a critic of standards. I wanted to concentrate on other things.

However, I got better and more interesting feedback from what I’d written about standards and governance. I responded to that and the story developed naturally in a direction I’d not anticipated. I hadn’t realised what aspects of my career were unusual, even unique, to me. It was only through interacting with other people and responding to their interest that I came to understand what particular insights I could offer.

If I had set out a fixed timeline of action for the topics I was originally interested in I would probably just have hit a wall, and never noticed the more realistic and relevant alternatives.

I am still plagued by the fear that I’m just bluffing, and that I’m not really qualified to tell people anything. I try to get past that by telling myself that it’s true, but the same applies to everyone else, most of the time, in most contexts. What sets me apart isn’t that I know a whole load about testing, or about auditing.

What does make me unusual is that I’ve worked inside both professions, and also dealt with both from the outside. That makes me extremely unusual, and it is that rarity which gives me an interesting perspective. It was only through being open and public on Twitter, blogs and articles that I was able to work through to that insight and see what I could offer. In marketing terms I didn’t know my own USP (unique selling proposition).

Tacit and explicit knowledge are fascinating and important topics, especially for testers. A blinding flash of understanding that we all need to grasp is that we do not know which aspects of our knowledge and experience are of greatest value. We think we do, and we may be reasonably accurate in our judgement, but these assets change over time. I don’t know all that I’m capable of doing or contributing, but I now have a better understanding that my grasp of my intellectual inventory has always been limited.

Social media, conferences, Twitter, networking all help me enormously to know other people and their work. But they’ve also helped me to know myself better too, and that might be the most important revelation of all.

4 thoughts on “Know thyself (social media and self-knowledge)

  1. James,
    Nice write up about the self evaluation of ones knowledge and worth in this line of work. We all have doubts, concerns and hubris (some more than others) about what we know and have experienced during our careers. If someone is not questioning their knowledge, experience and worth then they are not growing. And as part of this job we call software testing we need to keep growing. Just sometimes we take a break because there is so so much to learn, but again that is where we need to specialize. Try to do what we do best.

    Just remember that the uniqueness of your experience and how it influences your work and what you write is a benefit that we all can gain from because of social media. I know from my consulting work that at times I’ve had to do what I call “finding the right villiage idiot” to get the right information I need to do my work. And at times I’ve been that villiage idiot as people have sought me out for my knowledge.

    What you have done with the new ISO standard is bring to light (and scrutiny) the information that may/will have an impact upon us all. Thanks for doing that. Now it is up to the rest of us villiage idiots to go figure out how best to deal with it.


    Jim Hazen

  2. Thanks Jim. One of the great things about working as an auditor is that you learn to ask the apparently stupid questions that have occurred to other people, but which they’re scared to ask because they don’t want to look like an idiot. It’s these questions that often lead to the most interesting answers.

  3. “I am still plagued by the fear that I’m just bluffing, and that I’m not really qualified to tell people anything.”

    You aren’t the only one to feel this way. I have felt that way for many years, but I had the good fortune to watch Art and Copy in which Dan Wieden said “I think most of the creative people are so damn insecure that they want to think they know everything, but they know deep in their hearts they’re just in deep trouble from the minute they get up in the morning. So if you can tell them “that’s what you’re supposed to be”, that’s kind of liberating.”

    I think something similar is true in any analysis, including testing. You’re suppose to feel that way. I suspect that it’s your integrity kicking in because you know your limits. Thanks to Dunning–Kruger’s effect, I think it can be even further explained that those who are knowledgeable, by default, in western culture, feel like they are not knowledgeable. They know how little they know, so by default they want to claim they aren’t experts. However, your presentation shows you’ve given this some considerable thought, and belies your fear of being called ignorant.

    In summary, your presentation was great and I for one really appreciate you going out on a limb in spite of your personal fears. Thanks, and please do keep writing, even subjects not involving standards.

    – JCD

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