Another point in Lilia’s paper is that knowledge work is “discretionary behavior”, in that knowledge workers have to be motivated to do knowledge work. Many companies are tryng to find ways to motivate their knowledge workers. This makes me wonder about Peter Drucker’s comment that the corporation as we know it won’t be around in the next 25 years (Managing in the Next Society, 2002). Perhaps the actual structure of work, especially the Corporation itself, is an obstacle to knowledge work. Instead of tweaking the mechanisms of the corporation, through job redesign or cultural initiatives, we should be re-examining the basic structure of the corporation. It is an industrial age creation, designed to maximize physical capital and may not be optimal for maximizing “knowledge capital”.
Yesterday, Jack Vinson asked, Is the term Knowledge Worker no longer useful?:
When Drucker coined the term and others borrowed it, I don’t think the idea was differentiation so much as identification. Traditional “work” was the physical labor variety. As management ideas grew into the information age, they wanted ways to categorize (and measure) other workers within the organization. Knowledge work seemed a good way to describe what a larger and larger portion of the working population were doing.
The challenge for our society, our economy and all organizations will be to ensure that most, if not all, workers are knowledge workers. If not, we may not have a functioning society because simple, mechanical work will continue to be automated and merely complicated work will be outsourced to the cheapest labour market. The only work of value that is left in the developed world is complex work that requires passion, creativity and initiative.
As long as there remains a difference between workers and knowledge workers, the latter term is useful in reminding us how far we have yet to go.