At present, the term 'knowledge worker' is widely
used to describe people with considerable theoretical knowledge and
learning: doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, chemical engineers.
But, the most striking growth will be in 'knowledge technologists':
computer technicians, software designers, analysts in clinical labs,
manufacturing technologists, paralegals. These people are as much manual
workers as they are knowledge workers; in fact; they usually spend far
more time working with their hands than with their brains.
So, knowledge does not eliminate skill. On the
contrary, knowledge is fast becoming the foundation for skill. We are
using knowledge more and more to enable people to acquire skills of a
very advanced kind fast and successfully. Only when knowledge is used as
a foundation for skill does it become productive. For example, surgeons
preparing for an operation to correct a brain aneurysm before it
produces a lethal brain hemorrhage spend hours in a diagnosis before
they cut- and that requires specialized knowledge of the highest order.
The surgery itself, however, is manual work- and manual work consisting
of repetitive manual operations in which the emphasis is on speed,
accuracy, uniformity. And these operations are studied, organized,
learned and practiced exactly like any other manual work.
ACTION POINT: Outline the skills required in your
work. Analyze and refine these skills for optimum quality and
Management challenges for the 21st Century
A knowledge society and society of organizations
"Specialized knowledge by itself produces
Post capitalist society is a knowledge society and a
society of organizations, each dependent on the other and yet each very
different in its concepts, views, and values. Specialized knowledge by
itself produces nothing. It can become productive only when it is
integrated into a task. And this is why the knowledge society is also a
society of organizations: the purpose and function of every
organization, business and no business alike, is the integration of
specialized knowledge into a common task. It is only the organization
that can provide the basic continuity that knowledge workers need to be
effective. It is only the organization that can convert the specialized
knowledge of the knowledge worker into performance.
Intellectuals see the organization as a tool; it
enables them to practice their techne, their specialized knowledge.
Managers see knowledge as a means to the end of organizational
performance. Both are right. They are opposites; but they relate to each
other as poles rather than as contradictions. If the two balance each
other there can be creativity and order, fulfillment and mission.
ACTION POINT: Write a letter to your boss and
colleagues describing the contributions you expect to make. Indicate
your understanding of how your contributions integrate into the
contributions of your colleagues to produce results for the
Managing in a time of great change.