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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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".
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.
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:
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.
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,.