Barriers to Knowledge Work

If sense-making is a key part of knowledge work and is also essential for both innovation and creativity, does the average workplace help or hinder sense-making? I noted before that seeking works best with a playful attitude, exploring new possibilities in diverse networks with many connections in order to enhance serendipity. Sense-making, the most difficult aspect, requires a willingness to try new things, empowering through learning. Sharing is necessary in almost all work contexts today and it is through sharing that we can inspire and be inspired.

Barriers to seeking playfully


Jobs are designed around work that can be copied and workers who can be replaced, but anything that can be reduced to a flowchart will be automated. Relying on the job as society’s main wealth-sharing mechanism is a major mistake in the network era, but one that politicians and many others continue to make. We are entering a post-job economy.

Project Management:

Executives may believe that they want insights and innovations but are most receptive to new ideas that fit with existing practices and maintain predictability [e.g. project plans]. Business organizations treat disruptive insights and innovation with suspicion. – Gary Klein in Seeing What Others Don’t

Barriers to empowered learning

Designated learning & development specialists:

Staff who carry out day-to-day duties—and whose productivity you’re looking to improve—should ultimately be the source for defining what knowledge they need and what knowledge they know is valuable to others. – BloombergBusinessWeek

Training as a separate activity

As work becomes more networked and complex, the social aspects of knowledge sharing and collaboration are becoming more important. Learning amongst ourselves is getting to be the real work in many organizations.The New Challenge for Learning Professionals: (PDF)

Barriers to inspiration through sharing

Individual performance measurement:

Performance appraisals are like academic grades and keep the focus on the individual. In the collaborative, social enterprise this is counter-productive. There is no place for this practice in doing net work. In today’s enterprise, work is learning and learning is the work, and it has to be done cooperatively.

Enterprise software:

When it comes to knowledge, and learning, only open systems are effective. All closed systems will fail over time, especially if discovery and innovation are happening outside that system.

6 Responses to “Barriers to Knowledge Work”

  1. Ara Ohanian

    Harold, I agree with so much of what you write but I’m wrestling with what seems to me to be a paradox. In the knowledge economy, companies can only differentiate by exploiting their unique intellectual property. At the same time, we know that knowledge workers work best by sharing. And that includes sharing outside the organization, which will surely dilute the company’s ID. Is this a paradox? And if so, how can this be resolved?

  2. Jiahong Juda

    Sense-making seems to be challenging especially when there are full of diversity. To me the diversity does not just come from genders or races, and even more frequently from people with different styles and different life experiences. It is hard for us to understand or have high enough sensitivity to an issue, if we have not personally experienced it directly or indirectly. I know Karl Weick talks a lot about sensemaking. I am curious about what are your take or insights on sense-making in relationship to KM or in general?

  3. Ara Ohanian

    Harold, that made me smile. But it always good to know you can spot a paradox when it pops up. As you say in the blog you link to, the elephant in the room is human nature. Do you think, in the future, employers and employees will accept that knowledge and information, while vital assets, must effectively be owned by both parties for either to succeed?


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