How to address techposter syndrome

A new consultancy aims to help companies and individuals overcome ‘techposter syndrome’ and feel more confident about the role technology plays in their job.

Image of people at work in the background with technology overlay indicating techposter syndrome


Do you feel you are a bit of a fraud when it comes to understanding the implications of technology in your job? Are you struggling to keep up and do you worry about what that might mean for your job? Have you taken a career break and are concerned that the world will have moved on so fast and so far that you will never get back in?

If so you may be suffering from techposter syndrome. “It’s everywhere,” says Joy Poole, founding partner of tech consultancy Emergence. “The reason for that is that technology is evolving at an exponential pace. It is changing faster than it ever has and slower than it ever will again and that can be overwhelming. Imposter syndrome is when you have doubts about your value and competence and fear that you will be exposed as a fraud. Techposter syndrome is a flavour of that, but focused specifically on technology.”

She says that the good news is that it is a fear-based mental habit that can be broken. “We need to crowd out the fear with curiosity,” says Joy.

The problem, she says, is particularly well hidden in executive leadership positions. “The more senior people are the more lengths they tend to go to to cover it up,” says Joy. It is not as simple as saying that they are older and therefore less likely to be ‘digital natives’. What matters is having an openness to learn about technology, she adds. She points out that a lack of general understanding about technology and the inability to admit it can make for a dangerous combination in senior leadership teams. It can mean people are setting a digital strategy with incomplete understanding. It can lead to senior leaders avoiding setting a strategy altogether or delegating too much to others. And that attitude sets the tone for the rest of the organisation because it trickles down. “People feel they shouldn’t be the one to ask ‘silly’ questions. It means they are focused on learning and growing,” says Joy.

Showing vulnerability

She adds that every sector of business, including HR, needs to ask those questions because all of them will be impacted by technology. “It feels daunting to take that first step and show vulnerability and say that you don’t understand something. Closing the knowledge gap is easy once you understand your ability to gain knowledge about technology is no less strong than to gain knowledge of any other subject. Ninety-five per cent of this is mindset.”

Emergence is one of a new breed of tech consultancy firms focused on people-centred design and how tech interacts with people. It launched last year during the pandemic. It offers one to one coaching, workshops and consultancy for senior managers, including HR managers, who need to understand the implications of technology for their roles and who need a broad understanding of technology in order to shape business strategy. It also works with companies who are going through transformational change. Joy herself has worked in consulting and technology for over 20 years, most recently for Facebook. “I have seen these issues in myself, colleagues and clients across my career,” she says, “and it is why organisations who embark on transformational change are often disappointed.”

She adds that techposter syndrome can be particularly acute among those who have taken career breaks, especially those who don’t have a technology background. They can feel the world has moved on at pace and they have been left behind. But Joy says technology is changing so fast that any new systems that are in place when you return will change rapidly, meaning everyone will be in the same boat. The important thing is to be confident about the value you bring and to be curious about how technology can affect your job. Joy also recognises that there is a big diversity and inclusion element to what Emergence does, given many tech jobs are dominated by men.

Practical tips for overcoming techposter syndrome

Her tips for those who want to build their tech knowledge is to start their research by writing down basic questions that they want to understand in relation to their job and carving out time to look into them, using trusted sources and editing their media diet to include general knowledge about technology developments [for instance, adding BBC Click and podcasts like Flash Forward to their regular media consumption]. Emergence produces its own video series of bit-sized information on technology developments, TechKnow [on the Emergence YouTube channel].

“It’s not as daunting a process as you might think if you can avoid being overwhelmed by all the information there is around and it allows you to hold your own with a specialist,” says Joy.

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