Knowledge worker

Knowledge worker

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Knowledge workers in today's workforce are individuals who are valued for their ability to act and communicate with knowledge within a specific subject area. They will often advance the overall understanding of that subject through focused analysis, design and/or development. They use research skills to define problems and to identify alternatives. Fueled by their expertise and insight, they work to solve those problems, in an effort to influence company decisions, priorities and strategies. What differentiates knowledge work from other forms of work is its primary task of “non-routine” problem solving that requires a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking (Reinhardt et al., 2011). Also, despite the amount of research and literature on knowledge work there is yet to be a succinct definition of the term (Pyöriä, 2005).

The issue of who knowledge workers are, and what knowledge work entails, however, is still debated. Mosco and McKercher(2007) outline various viewpoints on the matter. They first point to the most narrow and defined definition of knowledge work, such as Florida’s view of it as specifically, “the direct manipulation of symbols to create an original knowledge product, or to add obvious value to an existing one” (Mosco and McKercher, 2007), which limits the definition of knowledge work to mainly creative work. They then contrast this view of knowledge work with the notably broader view which includes the handling and distribution of information, arguing that workers who play a role in the handling and distribution of information add real value to the field, despite not necessarily contributing a creative element. Thirdly, one might consider a definition of knowledge work which includes, “all workers involved in the chain of producing and distributing knowledge products”(2007), which allows for an incredibly broad and inclusive categorization of knowledge workers. It should thus be acknowledged that the term “knowledge worker” can be quite broad in it’s meaning, and is not always definitive in who it refers to.

Knowledge workers spend 38% of their time searching for information (Mcdermott, 2005). They are also often displaced from their bosses, working in various departments and time zones or from remote sites such as home offices (2005).

Knowledge workers are employees who have a deep background in education and experience and are considered people who “think for a living.” (Cooper, 2006). They include doctors
Physician
A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

, lawyers, teachers
Teachers
Teachers may refer to:* Teachers, people who provide schooling for pupils and students* Teachers , one of the five Ascension Gift Ministries* Teachers , a British sitcom* Teachers Teachers may refer to:* Teachers, people who provide schooling for pupils and students* Teachers (ministry), one of the...

, nurses, financial analysts and architects (2006). As businesses increase their dependence on information technology
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

, the number of fields in which knowledge workers must operate has expanded dramatically.

History


The term was first coined by Peter Drucker
Peter Drucker
Peter Ferdinand Drucker was an influential writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist.”-Introduction:...

 ca. 1959, as one who works primarily with information or one who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace.

Weiss
Weiss
Weiss may refer to:* Weiss , including Weiß* Mount Weiss, a mountain located in the Sunwapta River valley of Jasper National Park* USS Weiss , a cancelled John C...

 (1960) said that knowledge
Knowledge
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

 grows like organisms, with data serving as food to be assimilated rather than merely stored. Popper
Karl Popper
Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH FRS FBA was an Austro-British philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics...

 (1963) stated there is always an increasing need for knowledge to grow and progress continually, whether tacit (Polanyi
Michael Polanyi
Michael Polanyi, FRS was a Hungarian–British polymath, who made important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, economics, and the theory of knowledge...

, 1976) or explicit.

Toffler
Alvin Toffler
Alvin Toffler is an American writer and futurist, known for his works discussing the digital revolution, communication revolution, corporate revolution and technological singularity....

 (1990) observed that typical knowledge workers (especially R&D
Research and development
The phrase research and development , according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, refers to "creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of...

 scientists and engineers) in the age of knowledge economy must have some system at their disposal to create, process and enhance their own knowledge. In some cases they would also need to manage the knowledge of their co-workers.

Nonaka (1991) described knowledge as the fuel for innovation, but was concerned that many managers failed to understand how knowledge could be leveraged. Companies are more like living organisms than machines, he argued, and most viewed knowledge as a static input to the corporate machine. Nonaka advocated a view of knowledge as renewable and changing, and that knowledge workers were the agents for that change. Knowledge-creating companies, he believed, should be focused primarily on the task of innovation.

This laid the foundation for the new practice of knowledge management
Knowledge management
Knowledge management comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences...

, or "KM", which evolved in the 1990s to support knowledge workers with standard tools and processes.

Savage (1995) describes a knowledge-focus as the third wave of human socio-economic development. The first wave was the Agricultural Age with wealth defined as ownership of land. In the second wave, the Industrial Age, wealth was based on ownership of Capital, i.e. factories. In the Knowledge Age, wealth is based upon the ownership of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge to create or improve goods and services. Product improvements include cost, durability, suitability, timeliness of delivery, and security. Using data (attributed to Ann Andrews, citation?), in the Knowledge Age, 2% of the working population will work on the land, 10% will work in Industry and the rest will be knowledge workers.

Knowledge work in the 21st century


Davenport (2005, p. 4) says that the rise of knowledge work has actually been foreseen for years. He points to the fact that Fritz Machlup did a lot of the early work on both knowledge as well as knowledge work roles and as early as 1958 stated that the sector was growing much faster than the rest of the economy with knowledge workers making up almost a third of the workforce in the United States (Davenport, 2005, p.4). “According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1981), by the beginning of the 1970s around 40 percent of the working population in the USA and Canada were classified to the information sector, whereas in most other OECD countries the figures were still considerably lower” (Pyöriä, 2005, p. 118).

Tapscott (2006) sees a strong, on-going linkage between knowledge workers and innovation, but the pace and manner of interaction have become more advanced. He describes social media
Social media
The term Social Media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0,...

 tools on the internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 that now drive more powerful forms of collaboration
Collaboration
Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, — for example, an intriguing endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing...

. Knowledge workers engage in ‘’peer-to-peer’’ knowledge sharing across organizational and company boundaries, forming networks of expertise. Some of these are open to the public. While he echoes concern over copyright
Copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

 and intellectual property
Intellectual property
Intellectual property is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized—and the corresponding fields of law...

 law being challenged in the marketplace, he feels strongly that businesses must engage in collaboration to survive. He sees on-going alliance of public (government) and private (commercial) teams to solve problems, referencing the open source
Open source
The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials. Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology...

 Linux
Linux
Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system assembled under the model of free and open source software development and distribution. The defining component of any Linux system is the Linux kernel, an operating system kernel first released October 5, 1991 by Linus Torvalds...

 operating system along with the Human Genome Project
Human Genome Project
The Human Genome Project is an international scientific research project with a primary goal of determining the sequence of chemical base pairs which make up DNA, and of identifying and mapping the approximately 20,000–25,000 genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional...

 as examples where knowledge is being freely exchanged, with commercial value being realized.

Due to the rapid global expansion of information-based transactions and interactions being conducted via the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

, there has been an ever-increasing demand for a workforce that is capable of performing these activities. Knowledge Workers are now estimated to outnumber all other workers in North America by at least a four to one margin (Haag et al., 2006, pg. 4).

While knowledge worker roles overlap heavily with professions that require college degrees, the comprehensive nature of knowledge work in today's connected workplace requires virtually all workers to obtain these skills at some level. To that end, the public education
Public education
State schools, also known in the United States and Canada as public schools,In much of the Commonwealth, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, the terms 'public education', 'public school' and 'independent school' are used for private schools, that is, schools...

 and community college
Community college
A community college is a type of educational institution. The term can have different meanings in different countries.-Australia:Community colleges carry on the tradition of adult education, which was established in Australia around mid 19th century when evening classes were held to help adults...

 systems have become increasingly focused on lifelong learning
Lifelong learning
Lifelong learning is the continuous building of skills and knowledge throughout the life of an individual. It occurs through experiences encountered in the course of a lifetime...

 to ensure students receive skills necessary to be productive knowledge workers in the 21st century.

Many of the knowledge workers currently entering the workforce are from the generation X demographic. These new knowledge workers value life-long learning over life-long employment (Bogdanowitz and Bailey, 2002). “They seek employability over employment [and] value career over self-reliance” (Elsdon and Iyer, 1999). Where baby boomers are proficient in specified knowledge regarding a specific firm, generation X knowledge workers acquire knowledge from many firms and take that knowledge with them from company to company(2002).

Knowledge worker roles


Knowledge workers bring benefits to organizations in a variety of important ways. These include:
  • analyzing data to establish relationships
  • assessing input in order to evaluate complex or conflicting priorities
  • identifying and understanding trends
  • making connections
  • understanding cause and effect
  • ability to brainstorm, thinking broadly (divergent thinking
    Divergent thinking
    Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It is often used in conjunction with convergent thinking, which follows a particular set of logical steps to arrive at one solution, which in some cases is a "correct" solution...

    )
  • ability to drill down, creating more focus (convergent thinking
    Convergent thinking
    Convergent thinking is a term coined by Joy Paul Guilford as the opposite of divergent thinking. It generally means the ability to give the "correct" answer to standard questions that do not require significant creativity, for instance in most tasks in school and on standardized multiple-choice...

    )
  • producing a new capability
  • creating or modifying a strategy

  • These knowledge worker contributions are in contrast with activities that they would typically not be asked to perform, including:
    • transaction processing
    • routine tasks
    • simple prioritization of work


    There is a set of transitional tasks includes roles that are seemingly routine, but that require deep technology, product, or customer knowledge to fulfill the function. These include:
    • providing technical or customer support
    • handling unique customer issues
    • addressing open-ended inquiries


    Generally, if the knowledge can be retained, knowledge worker contributions will serve to expand the knowledge assets of a company. While it can be difficult to measure, this increases the overall value of its intellectual capital
    Intellectual capital
    The value of an enterprise is made of physical assets, various financial assets and, finally, intangible assets, i.e., intellectual capital . The term intellectual capital conventionally refers to the difference in value between tangible assets and market value. ....

    . In cases where the knowledge assets have commercial or monetary value, companies may create patents around their assets, at which point the material becomes restricted intellectual property
    Intellectual property
    Intellectual property is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized—and the corresponding fields of law...

    . In these knowledge-intensive situations, knowledge workers play a direct, vital role in increasing the financial value of a company. They can do this by finding solutions on how they can find new ways to make profits this can also be related with market and research. Davenport, (2005) says that even if knowledge workers are not a majority of all workers, they do have the most influence on their economies. He adds that companies with a high volume of knowledge workers are the most successful and fastest growing in leading economies including the United States.

    Reinhardt et al.'s (2011) review of current literature shows that the roles of knowledge workers across the workforce are incredibly diverse. In two empirical studies conducted by Reinhardt et al. (2011) they have “proposed a new way of classifying the roles of knowledge workers and the knowledge actions they perform during their daily work” (Reinhardt et al., 2011, p. 150). The typology of knowledge worker roles suggested by Reinhardt et al. are “controller, helper, learner, linker, networker, organizer, retriever, sharer, solver, and tracker” (2011, p. 160).

    Typology of knowledge worker roles
    Role Description Typical knowledge actions (expected) Existence of the role in literature
    Controller People who monitor the organizational performance based on raw information. Analyze, dissemination, information organization, monitoring (Moore and Rugullies, 2005) (Geisler, 2007)
    Helper People who transfers information to teach others, once they passed a problem. Authoring, analyze, dissemination, feedback, information search, learning, networking (Davenport and Prusak, 1998)
    Learner People use information and practices to improve personal skills and competence. Acquisition, analyze, expert search, information search, learning, service search
    Linker People who associate and mash up information from different sources to generate new information. Analyze, dissemination, information search, information organization, networking (Davenport and Prusak, 1998) (Nonaka and Takeushi, 1995) (Geisler, 2007)
    Networker People who create personal or project related connections with people involved in the same kind of work, to share information and support each other. Analyze, dissemination, expert search, monitoring, networking, service search (Davenport and Prusak, 1998) (Nonaka and Takeushi, 1995) (Geisler, 2007)
    Organizer People who are involved in personal or organizational planning of activities, e.g. to-do lists and scheduling. Analyze, information organization, monitoring, networking (Moore and Rugullies, 2005)
    Retriever People who search and collect information on a given topic. Acquisition, analyze, expert search, information search, information organization, monitoring (Snyder-Halpern et al., 2001)
    Sharer People who disseminate information in a community. Authoring, co-authoring, dissemination, networking (Davenport and Prusak, 1998) (Brown et al., 2002) (Geisler, 2007)
    Solver People who find or provide a way to deal with a problem. Acquisition, analyze, dissemination, information search, learning, service search (Davenport and Prusak, 1998) (Nonaka and Takeushi, 1995) (Moore and Rugullies, 2005)
    Tracker People who monitor and react on personal and organizational actions that may become problems. Analyze, information search, monitoring, networking (Moore and Rugullies, 2005)

    Note: From "Knowledge Worker Roles and Actions—Results of Two Empirical Studies," by W. Reinhardt, B. Schmidt, P. Sloep, and H. Drachsler, 2011, Knowledge and Process Management, 18.3, p. 160. Copyright by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

    Additional context and frameworks


    Drucker defines six factors for knowledge worker productivity (1999):
    1. Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: "What is the task?"
    2. It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves.
    3. Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
    4. Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
    5. Productivity of the knowledge worker is not — at least not primarily — a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
    6. Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an "asset" rather than a "cost." It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.


    The theory of Human Interaction Management
    Human interaction management
    Human Interaction Management is a set of management principles, patterns and techniques complementary to Business process management...

     asserts that there are 5 principles characterizing effective knowledge work:
    1. Build effective teams
    2. Communicate in a structured way
    3. Create, share and maintain knowledge
    4. Align your time with strategic goals
    5. Negotiate next steps as you work


    Another, more recent breakdown of knowledge work (author unknown) shows activity that ranges from tasks performed by individual knowledge workers to global social networks. This framework spans every class of knowledge work that is being or is likely to be undertaken. There are seven levels or scales of knowledge work, with references for each are cited.
    1. Knowledge work (e.g., writing, analyzing, advising) is performed by subject-matter specialists in all areas of an organization. Although knowledge work began with the origins of writing and counting, it was first identified as a category of work by Drucker (1973).
    2. Knowledge functions (e.g., capturing, organizing, and providing access to knowledge) are performed by technical staff, to support knowledge processes projects. Knowledge functions date from c. 450 BC, with the library of Alexandria, but their modern roots can be linked to the emergence of information management in the 1970s (Mcgee and Prusak, 1993).
    3. Knowledge processes (preserving, sharing, integration) are performed by professional groups, as part of a knowledge management program. Knowledge processes have evolved in concert with general-purpose technologies, such as the printing press, mail delivery, the telegraph, telephone networks, and the Internet.
    4. Knowledge management
      Knowledge management
      Knowledge management comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences...

       programs link the generation of knowledge (e.g., from science, synthesis, or learning) with its use (e.g., policy analysis, reporting, program management) as well as facilitating organizational learning and adaptation in a knowledge organization. Knowledge management emerged as a discipline in the 1990s (Leonard, 1995).
    5. Knowledge organization
      Knowledge organization
      The term knowledge organization designates a field of study related to Library and Information Science . In this meaning, KO is about activities such as document description, indexing and classification performed in libraries, databases, archives etc...

      s transfer outputs (content, products, services, and solutions), in the form of knowledge services, to enable external use. The concept of knowledge organizations emerged in the 1990s (Davenport and Prusak, 1998).
    6. Knowledge services support other organizational services, yield sector outcomes, and result in benefits for citizens in the context of knowledge markets. Knowledge services emerged as a subject in the 2000s. (Simard et al., 2007).
    7. Social media
      Social media
      The term Social Media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0,...

       networks enable knowledge organizations to co-produce knowledge outputs by leveraging their internal capacity with massive social networks. Social networking emerged in the 2000s


    The hierarchy ranges from the effort of individual specialists, through technical activity, professional projects, and management programs, to organizational strategy, knowledge markets, and global-scale networking.

    This framework is useful for positioning the myriad types of knowledge work relative to each other and within the context of organizations, markets, and the global knowledge economy
    Knowledge economy
    The knowledge economy is a term that refers either to an economy of knowledge focused on the production and management of knowledge in the frame of economic constraints, or to a knowledge-based economy. In the second meaning, more frequently used, it refers to the use of knowledge technologies to...

    . It also provides a useful context for planning, developing, and implementing knowledge management
    Knowledge management
    Knowledge management comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences...

     projects.

    See also


    • Effective executive
      Effective executive
      An effective executive is someone who can do what is needed. Knowledge, intelligence and imagination are important assets but they cannot bring effectiveness by themselves...

    • Explicit knowledge
      Explicit knowledge
      Explicit knowledge is knowledge that has been or can be articulated, codified, and stored in certain media. It can be readily transmitted to others. The information contained in encyclopedias are good examples of explicit knowledge....

    • Knowledge capture
    • Knowledge economy
      Knowledge economy
      The knowledge economy is a term that refers either to an economy of knowledge focused on the production and management of knowledge in the frame of economic constraints, or to a knowledge-based economy. In the second meaning, more frequently used, it refers to the use of knowledge technologies to...

    • Knowledge management
      Knowledge management
      Knowledge management comprises a range of strategies and practices used in an organization to identify, create, represent, distribute, and enable adoption of insights and experiences...

    • Knowledge market
      Knowledge market
      A knowledge market is a mechanism for distributing knowledge resources. There are two views on knowledge and how knowledge markets can function. One view uses a legal construct of intellectual property to make knowledge a typical scarce resource, so the traditional commodity market mechanism can be...

    • Knowledge organization
      Knowledge organization
      The term knowledge organization designates a field of study related to Library and Information Science . In this meaning, KO is about activities such as document description, indexing and classification performed in libraries, databases, archives etc...

    • Knowledge tagging
    • Knowledge transfer
      Knowledge transfer
      Knowledge transfer in the fields of organizational development and organizational learning is the practical problem of transferring knowledge from one part of the organization to another part of the organization. Like Knowledge Management, Knowledge transfer seeks to organize, create, capture or...



    • Knowledge value chain
      Knowledge value chain
      A knowledge value chain is a sequence of intellectual tasks by which knowledge workers build their employer's unique competitive advantage and/or social and environmental benefit...

    • Learning
      Learning
      Learning is acquiring new or modifying existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves.Human learning...

    • Library science
      Library science
      Library science is an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary field that applies the practices, perspectives, and tools of management, information technology, education, and other areas to libraries; the collection, organization, preservation, and dissemination of information resources; and the...

    • Lifelong learning
      Lifelong learning
      Lifelong learning is the continuous building of skills and knowledge throughout the life of an individual. It occurs through experiences encountered in the course of a lifetime...

    • Personal knowledge management
      Personal knowledge management
      Personal knowledge management refers to a collection of processes that an individual carries out to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his/her daily activities and how these processes support work activities...

    • Social information processing
      Social Information Processing
      Social Information Processing is "an activity through which collective human actions organize knowledge." It is the creation and processing of information by a group of people...

    • Systems thinking
      Systems thinking
      Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish...

    • Tacit knowledge
      Tacit knowledge
      Tacit knowledge is knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalising it. For example, stating to someone that London is in the United Kingdom is a piece of explicit knowledge that can be written down, transmitted, and understood by a recipient...


    Further reading

    • Davenport, Thomas H. And Laurence Prusak. 1998. Working Knowledge. Harvard Business School press. Boston, MA. 197 p.
    • Ikujiro Nonaka (1991). “The Knowledge Creating Company”, in Knowledge Management. Harvard Business School Press, 1998.
    • Leonard, Dorothy. 1993. Wellsprings of Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press, Boston MA. 334 p.
    • Alan Liu (2004). "The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, University of Chicago Press
      University of Chicago Press
      The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including Critical Inquiry, and a wide array of...

    • Mcgee, James and Lawrence Prusak. 1993. Managing information Strategically. John Wiley & Sons. New York. 244 p.
    • O'Brien, James, and Marakas, George. 2010. Management Information Systems, 10th ed. McGraw-Hill. Page 32.
    • Sheridan, William. 2008. How to Think Like a Knowledge Worker, United Nations Public Administration Network, New York.
    • Simard, Albert, John Broome, Malcolm Drury, Brian Haddon, Bob O’Neil, and Dave Pasho. 2007. Understanding Knowledge Services at Natural Resources Canada. 82p (in press, preprint available).
    • Thorp, John. 1998. Information Paradox. McGraw-Hill Ryerson Publishers, Toronto CN, 273 p.
    • Tapscott, Don and Anthony D. Williams. Wikinomics. 2006. Penguin Group, New York, NY. 324p.

    External links

    • How to think like a knowledge worker (UNPAN
      UNPAN
      The United Nations Public Administration Network mission statement is to promote the sharing of knowledge, experiences and best practices throughout the world in sound public policies, effective public administration and efficient civil services, through capacity-building and cooperation among the...

      )