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The knowledge (worker) economy

This article appears in the issue October 2005 [Volume 14, Issue 9]


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Far too many people in business still don't get it. They continue to believe that technology is the answer to pretty much any problem in their organization. It's completely understandable, though--today's technology is astoundingly sophisticated (and seductive). But often overlooked through all that allure and investment of time and dollars are the people who will be using the systems--the knowledge workers. They aren't completely understood or given proper credit, nor do they themselves always contribute up to their potential because of organizational hurdles.

That can be easily remedied by reading Tom Davenport's new book, Thinking for a Living, How to Get Better Performance and Results from Knowledge Workers, published by Harvard Business School Press. You know Davenport, of course--he has written 10 very well received and highly respected books, including Working Knowledge (with Laurence Prusak) and The Attention Economy (with John Beck).

For me, knowledge management has always been an elusive term; so, too, is knowledge worker because it has been widely under- and overused. Davenport's definition, which he has used for more than a decade, is the clearest I've encountered: Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution or application of knowledge.

And just how many are out there? Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not include it as a specific category, Davenport estimates there are 36 million, or 28 percent of the labor force, based on categories BLS does identify. Other estimates place the number as high as 45 percent of the work force. What really matters is knowledge workers comprise a huge segment of the labor force, and that's why this aptly titled book is so important. It's time for all organizations to completely embrace the concept that people, not technology, are their most important asset. If Thinking for a Living is read by enough of the right people, Davenport could, again, have a dramatic and lasting impact in the workplace.

Those of you who are especially interested in this topic may want to consider reading Jonathan Spira's new book, Managing the Knowledge Workforce: Understanding, the Information Revolution That's Changing the Business World, published by Mercury Business Press. Spira, an occasional contributor to KMWorld and chief analyst at Basex, has done a nice job of combining original research with excellent case studies with his own insight into what he calls "a manual on corporate thinking for the 2000s."


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