The term ‘knowledge worker’ is now a meaningless concept in developed countries because the shift Drucker started to notice in the ’50s from jobs requiring manual work to jobs requiring knowledge work is now complete. Today all work is knowledge work because even the most manual of activities such as farmer digging post holes for a fence requires pre-planning using their spatial information system, the use of GPS to position the hole and entry of data when it’s done. The ubiquity of technology is one major factor that makes everyone a knowledge worker.
Sadly, when we use the term ‘knowledge worker’ today we are often unfairly saying one type of job is superior that another. It’s an dark undercurrent and tacitly becomes a basis for discrimination. “Our salespeople are knowledge workers but our gas fitters are not.” I suspect this feeling of superiority comes from the erroneous data-information-knowledge model where knowledge (and even more ridiculously, wisdom) sits at the pinnacle of the pyramid. See here for an alternative model for thinking about data, information and knowledge.
Have you ever seen anyone in recent years define what they mean by knowledge workers and knowledge work? They tie themselves in knots and confuse their readers. The people who write about knowledge workers see themselves as a knowledge worker and wish so very hard that the term is true and useful. But alas it’s not and the sooner we realise this the better so we can get back to asking more useful questions like, “How does knowledge help us to work better?”
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: