Sunday, October 2, 2011

The New Knowledge Worker

What are knowledge workers? Are they a new breed or just a variation of the 20th century professional class? Neal Gorenflo, co-founder and publisher of Shareable Magazine, has identified (a very preliminary idea) a certain type of knowledge worker:

  • Knowledge workers understand information as currency. Sharing is a core strategy for success even in a corporate context. This can bring knowledge workers to the commons.
  • Their worldview is informed by systems thinking or is polyglot. It's not informed by a single political ideology.
  • They understand that influence depends on the ability to persuade, and that choice of language is important. They will not use political language that has been marginalized. They're all in this sense salespeople.
  • Knowledge workers can become moderate radicals, meaning they believe that fundamental change is needed but are politically a mixed bag, they borrow ideas from left and right, from religion, from science. And they have friends and relatives on both side of the political spectrum.
  • They do not have stable identities or their identities are not wrapped up in a single belief system. They are always wondering who they are. This is a source of angst.  But what they lack in identity, they make up for in opportunity. They have options.

My first reaction to this list was how obvious it is that these knowledge workers practice critical thinking; questioning all assumptions, including their own. These knowledge workers are united by networked and social learning and connected more so to the external environment than whatever internal team they happen to be working with. They have the long view, often unencumbered by dogma, but also short on quick, simple answers. They see the humour in H.L. Mencken's comment that, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

If this is the new knowledge worker, what could that mean for the 21st century workplace?

  • We are already seeing the knowledge worker (creative, passionate, innovative) marketplace becoming more competitive.
  • Organizations may have to become more flexible and caring to attract good talent.
  • Organizations & corporations may have to become more ethical and less politicized.
In the long run, this should be a good thing; but what about the rest of the workforce? Stories from the economic edge indicate frustration and desperation with a broken system. How do we get to a state of enlightened organizations in a transparent environment providing meaningful ways for people to contribute to society? The new knowledge workers may have some of the answers, if they decide to flex their minds and their networks. As a knowledge worker, with the luck and skill to be in this situation, there are some big responsibilities to shoulder very soon. Is it time to lead, follow, or get out of the way?
Thanks to Harold Jarche / Jarche / Harold Jarche

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