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.
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!”