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As Jim Sinur writes here, "The knowledge worker will be the key resources in the digital age, but the knowledge worker will be made to be a super hero with all sorts of assists..." So how would you define a knowledge worker, and what do they do at work?

Tuesday, April 12 2016, 09:50 AM
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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 10:00 AM - #Permalink
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    A knowledge worker is someone who has considerable flexibility about how and in what order goals are accomplished.

    Historically, knowledge workers have excelled by relying on instinct and experience to give them an edge. Today, they collect myriad tools and techniques strung together informally and through muscle memory more than relying on any systemic or organisational strength.

    The challenge then to BPM and the vision that Jim is espousing is to systematise these 'assists' to achieve orders of magnitude more than smart individuals can today.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 10:14 AM - #Permalink
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    First thing that springs to mind... endangered species... As the knowledge worker faces quite some change IMO. And we need to better understand how we'll deal with that. Both from a social ((un)employment perspective) as eductional perspective (skill shift from processing / analysing/ applying data to creating data related business solutions). Having said that...

    A knowledge worker creates value (is able to take decisions) by having access to the right data, at the right time and in the right context; get these right and you may wonder how much longer it takes before algorithm's replace knowledge workers completely. I suppose we therefore need to find some answers in the moral space here.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 11:22 AM - #Permalink
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    Knowledge workers will be sentient drones with military capabilities and we'll all be runnning for cover. :D

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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 11:28 AM - #Permalink
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    Agree with Walter Bril's decription of a knowledge worker. As digitisation moves forward with help of BPM thinking and next generation supporting software so "knowledge" how individual outcomes are achieved will largely transfer to the business. And so that gap between workers and the silo legacy mess is at last bridged. But not a one way deal such knowledge workers will become empowered as realtime feedback allows better decision making and also as change will be readily supported so such workers can make a positive contribution to continous improvement in their work place.

    Then there is the benefit to all that there is less need for "controlling" managers; a real bottom up approach to operational running of a business. Yes it may well resultin a few "super heros" but based upon reality of measured achievements not smoke and mirrors!

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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 12:53 PM - #Permalink
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    Could we perhaps go out on a limb and say that “knowledge workers” are those whose work involves the manipulation of information (AKA “knowledge”) rather than objects? Sure, that leaves plenty of gray area (for example: is your waiter a knowledge worker? Their primary job is to transfer information about the food to you, and about your order to the kitchen), but then, so does the concept itself.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 02:56 PM - #Permalink
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    In the digital world, because of “routine work will be highly automated and optimized” only knowledge workers will be working in or for enterprises. Consequently, the managers must become “knowledge” workers as well. Thus the traditional separation in knowledge vs non-knowledge staff will disappear.

    People with higher abilities to work with super-tools and to process abstract data & information & knowledge will become digital entrepreneurs – thank to forthcoming software-defined enterprises.

    Thanks,
    AS

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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 03:02 PM - #Permalink
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    ok, here's my tongue-in-cheek response.

    A knowledge worker is a worker that finds traditional BPM less than useful ;)

    References:

    1. https://tmail21.com
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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 09:53 PM - #Permalink
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    Considering the current widespread enthusiasm for the new occupation of "knowledge worker", I'm reminded of Professor Richard Florida's fetishization of the "creative class" and the cities that host them. Knowledge worker-preferred newspapers (e.g. the NYT) like to feature stories on Mr. Florida's theories. But it's difficult to separate "knowledge worker" propaganda from the reality of modern work.

    Is an accountant a "knowledge worker"? So why not call them accountants? Or mechanical engineers? Or manufacturing and supply chain business process analysts? I'm not convinced that any business will ever hire a "knowledge worker" - it's almost the definition of "overhead". I can see the business case now: "Let's add to our overhead!" "What will the overhead do?" "Manipulate generic symbols." "Uh, come back when you have something specific for them to do."

    Work has always required knowledge; often the knowledge is tacit ("two squirts of grease on this bearing nipple every morning"). I actually agree with Mr. Sinur's original posting, which concerns the evolution of work in an age of automation. My suggestion is only that "knowledge worker" = "worker".

    • John Morris
      more than a month ago
      Our discussion has focused on work products (the results of physical or mental effort), but the worker/actor itself is a cipher.

      We could however break work effort down into the physical effort or mental effort performed by the worker/actor, both bodily functions consuming mainly glucose as fuel (interestingly the at-rest energy consumption of the brain is an astonishingly high percentage of the total).

      Sorting out work tasks according to which organs of the body consume energy for such tasks is the subject of lots of research. And clearly all work, including mostly physical work performed almost automatically or by habit, requires thinking. It's to distinguish such regular work from the work of the so-called knowledge worker that Richard Florida et. al. like to refer to "symbolic manipulation".

      These distinctions between different kinds of work however mash up multiple domains, including biology, physics on one hand and sociology and labour economics on another. Interestingly, BPM technology is unique in almost bridging multiple domains (which is probably why the question has come up here).

      For the purposes of this discussion though, I am of the view that most of the time ("knowledge worker" == "worker").
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  • Accepted Answer

    KM Mukku
    KM Mukku
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    Tuesday, April 12 2016, 10:53 PM - #Permalink
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    We used to use the term domain expert earlier, but this fell out of fashion. The term knowledge worker has replaced it, and as with all such things, it now seems to mean what ever one wants it to mean. Must be an attempt at democratisation or just PC, or maybe a dislike of the word expert, in comparision worker sounds so working class. Your knowledge worker knows (or at least should) the processes (end-to-end perhaps) and the checks and balances required to ensure the success of each process instance. Where the term domain and expert has some clarity, meaning and are bounded (at least for now), knowledge is too amorphous, there are whole philosophical treatise on the subject. The surgeon, the chief nurse are the experts for the surgical processes and the resource usage, not the hospital administrators or their bean counters, irrespective of how much knowledge they claim to have, in most cases this knowledge is restricted to time and money.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Wednesday, April 13 2016, 03:10 AM - #Permalink
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    Knowledge worker. Never liked the term. Like all other people are stupid.

    And besides that; who cares?

    This site is called BPM.com, so we are always talking about processes here. And processes are, very simply stated, a collection of work. And, depending on the desired process result, that work can be anything:

    • Entering data
    • Welding some steel
    • Writing 200 lines of code
    • Doing a surgery
    • Holding a presentation
    • Taking decisions

    And since "as cheap as possible" is still a thing when designing a process, who? will be doing the work might change.

    That means that tasks can be completely automated and the people who did it, have to look for another job.

    It can also mean that parts of the job will be done by technology to support the employee.Take for example surgeons. They are assisted now by technology to improve the quality (or is it still costs?) of surgery.

    So, when companies are continuous improving their processes (I heard gurus say taht organizations seem to do that), people might be substituted for technology. Wether or not you call them knowledge workers.

    I think the Why? and What? of processes doesn't change so fast.  The Who? and How? does.

    But I mostly agree with Walter's concern; the social impact.

    But, after reflecting, I don't think that's a problem as I wrote in part 2 of my april's fool joke, this year.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Wednesday, April 13 2016, 04:00 AM - #Permalink
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    I define a Knowledge worker to be a good leader with creativity, getting work done from the employee effectively. He should be an expert to manage things well in his business even in down falls.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Wednesday, April 13 2016, 04:53 PM - #Permalink
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    In general, knowledgeworkers are those who know what to do when others and machines do not.

    In highly automated process environments, knowledgeworkers are the ones who know when to press the OFF button,.

    .

    • John Morris
      more than a month ago
      Hi Karl, in general I agree with you. But here's a question though. What's the difference between "a knowledge worker" and a "worker with a skill"?

      In the study of work, workers and automation there are lots of interrelated and complementary terms, a taxonomy of the domain if you will. I'm not convinced that there is any unique semantic value in the term "knowledge worker". (Which is not to say that having someone around who knows when to push the off button is not worthwhile.)

      [Except interestingly Toyota's manufacturing production line innovations include the famous "Andon cord", i.e. any worker on the line can stop the line if they notice a problem. One could say then that this is a counter-example concerning the putative existence or importance of the knowledge worker. At least where pushing your off-button is concerned, Toyota has "designed out" the need for a knowledge worker.]
    • karl walter keirstead
      more than a month ago
      It would be interesting to go back and read the various Peter Drucker books from circa 1950 - I am sure his definition of "knowledge worker" changed over time and from the time of his last book,everyone has evolved the definition in multiple directions.

      How about this?

      we know the relationship between data and decisions

      i.e. data ->information->knowledge -> decisions -> action -> data

      It seems reasonable to say that knowledge workers operate on either side of "knowledge", typically closer to "knowledge" as opposed to farther away except that complex manipulation of data requires a knowledge worker and "actions", in the absence of process templates that are capable of providing governance, also require knowledge worker.

      Conclusion :they are everywhere and more predominately, of course in knowledge industries.

      I recall reading someone said . . . . we hire knowledge workers to tell us what to do as opposed to us telling them what to do,.

      "Skill" seems to run on a different track. Can we say it is more difficult for a skilled worker to work "outside of the box"? Is skill always narrow or can one be skilled at doing work for which they have had no in-depth training?

      is the following valid "learning -> experience -> skill" ?
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