Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Exit “Knowledge Worker”; Welcome “Knowledge Networker”


By Holger Reisinger

The era of the knowledge worker is over. Get ready for the new breed of super employees who believe that sharing and connecting is better than tremendous amounts of personal knowledge. Here comes the “knowledge networker.”


Just the other day I saw the most hilarious video of kids trying to explain what their parents do for a living. Never having set foot in a modern workplace, the kids clearly struggled imagining what strange tasks classical knowledge workers are actually performing behind our desks. And, honestly, I personally also struggle to understand when some of my engineering and IT friends start explaining what keeps them busy all day.

I found the clip so amusing that I couldn’t help thinking about how work has changed in the past few decades – and what it will look like in, say, 20 years.

The new breed of knowledge networkers

I guess we can all easily agree that working with knowledge is here to stay. Knowledge is the core of virtually all trades today. However, inspired by, among others, the Kotter Institute’s Ken Perlman, I also believe that a new breed of knowledge workers is on the rise. While the knowledge worker of the present is capable of collecting, refining, and thereby developing new knowledge, the knowledge worker of the future will be capable of much more than this.

The super employees of the future are interlinked in immense knowledge networks where all kinds of challenges are solved, ideas float freely, and people of all backgrounds come together to share their thoughts. These networks will be organic and ever-expanding, based on a mutual understanding that sharing knowledge and expertise will benefit everyone.

Being part of this super network takes new skills. These new knowledge networkers are constantly “connected,” both physically and virtually, sharing their own expertise and knowledge, introducing people to each other, and building new knowledge by combining data from many sources – both known and unknown via the many links in their network. The network is the blood in their lifelines – not the knowledge itself.

Sure, the new knowledge networkers know a lot of stuff. But, more importantly, they also know that they do not know everything. That’s why they are closely attached to a tremendous number of people, and have many different information sources and favors everywhere in their ever-expanding network. To them, sharing and connecting is the new currency.

The new knowledge networker is not really concerned about output, but is exceptionally interested in outcome. In the future it matters less what you can personally provide to the solution. It’s the total outcome you are capable of producing by way of your network that’s important. Crowd sourcing will be the standard – also between competing companies. We already see the frontrunners of this movement today. Just recently, a group only connected on the internet managed to crowd source the complete design for a car in just one year – a task taking most car companies up to ten years.

Data-driven evolution

It’s the current explosion in data that is driving the birth of the new knowledge networker. In 2013 alone, humans generated more data than in the previous 5,000 years combined. Most companies will suffocate from information, and in a few years, not even big companies will be able to fund enough people to track all the knowledge it needs to keep up with the speed of development in their industry.

They have to take in experts from all over the world and utilize their knowledge to be able to compete.

The prize for companies tapping into these services will be complete openness and access to the company’s own knowledge. You have to give something in return. Offices will more or less be a thing of the past. With your knowledge base spread all over the world, you might as well stay at home or meet with the parts of your network that you need to in order to solve today’s tasks in virtual meeting rooms.

As a consequence, the new knowledge networker will completely break down any borders between their work and their personal lives. Work will be done when we are in demand, and the rest of the time we will link with new people, grooming our network, making new acquaintances, and connecting with the acquaintances of our acquaintances, thereby constantly expanding our network.


If my predictions about the future are right, it will be rather easy to anticipate what the kids of the future will say when asked about their knowledge networker parents’ workplace. They will simply say: “Mom and Dad are in our living room networking!”

3 comments:

  1. The interesting thing ( one of them ) is what will happen to peoples stress level?
    - Will they now constantly be at work?
    - Will they constantly be on leave?
    - How will those who prefer a plan react?

    My best estimate is that most of them will be "at work" 24/7...and only a few will master being off grid. Specially as we'll be talking every kind of wearable IT; glasses, implanted etc.

    And if we agree to that ... and that it already today seems like a challenge for most people to leave the cell phone off for more than an hour during a meeting or a weekend .. I foresee some serious challenges and changes to be made for the knowledge networker to function optimally

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    1. I agree very much with you Soren. This is why I believe it is important that we try to arrange work around “what our brains are capable off” - and not our bodies. Last week the blog was about the Ultradian Rythm that tells us something about how our brain works in intervals throughout the entire day and night. As knowledge networkers we can stay uber-focused and concentrated for just 90 minutes and then rest for 20 minutes. NOT 24/7. So what I’m suggesting is that knowledge networkers has to adopt new ways for working in chunks of 90/20 - placed through-out the day - maybe even night - to accommodate the globally dispersed colleagues. It does require change, but I believe it would be a change for the MUCH better. The most important change being – take control of your work! Not letting your concentration and flow being disrupted by the ever incoming e-mails and alerts 24/7.

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  2. Speaking of knowledge and knowledge creation.

    Ikujiro Nonaka, Professor Emeritus at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy of the Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, Japan, best known for his lifelong study of knowledge management, has for decades tried to “convince” management and organizations in the western part of the world, that ”Theories and practise of knowledge management has to date treated knowledge as substance. Rather than substance we should understand knowledge as process, created and used in relation with the knowledge of other human beings who exist in relation to others” (Nonaka, 2010).

    So when the label “Knowledge networker” came up in a study of mobile workers we did last year, it somehow dawned to me that the knowledge workers in the western part of the world heavily supported by mobile, social and cloud technology - and competition from the rest of the world - has come to the conclusion themselves. Knowledge is created in interaction with others.

    I see this shift as very positive. It as shift away from the believe that knowledge is information (hence can be stored and saved) towards knowledge is created “in people and their interactions with each other and the environment”. That knowledge is created through – and in practice – here-and now - when dealing with a particular situation. That knowledge is NOT a set of universal rules! Knowledge work is an art or craft, more than it is science, since it is based on insight, vision, intuition and experience (Nonaka, 2010).

    So the new technologies giving people the possibility to stay connected with their network, while working, is a big step in the right direction. But as already commented above, it does not mean that you have to work 24/7 at an ever increasing pace.

    Nonaka would oppose to this – I’m sure  He would say something along the line that you have to balance between pace and patience. Knowledge takes times, since it is created when reflecting. Reflection requires focus. On the other hand pace is needed when we have to create new products in competition with others.

    Freely translated from an interview with Nonaka on the danish site: Kommunikationsforum, Nonaka says: "Today's businesses face a number of paradoxes,"… "One of the biggest is how to achieve a balance between what I call the speed economy on the one hand and patience economy on the other." "Speed economy is the primary challenge to adapt to a changing world. Companies may, for example, adapt to new technologies constantly emerging, and use these technologies to improve their business practices”… “It is absolutely necessary. On the other part, they must be careful that they do not adapt to the economy of speed. This is about adapting when companies go hunting for sake of speed. ". "It is a mistake and one that many companies make these days. Everybody loves the speed economy. All companies focus on speed, efficiency, and to increase their use of IT. They do not take enough time for dialogue or for sharing experience sharing” (Wester Hansen, 2004).

    For the super interested in knowledge creation - you can follow these links and suggestions. Or write to me!

    Book: Nonaka 2010: "Managing Flow – a process theory of the knowledge-based firm". Ikujiro Nonaka, Ryoko Toyama and Toru Hirata, Palgrave Macmillan 2010, ISBN 978-0-230-55376-7
    Article on speed and patience: Wester Hansen, 2004. You need google translate since it is in Danish.
    http://www.kommunikationsforum.dk/artikler/taalmodighedens-oekonomi
    And a link to Nonaka’s famous article on the knowledge creating company: http://www3.uma.pt/filipejmsousa/ge/Nonaka,%201991.pdf

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