A Cycle of Knowledge Creation
Data => Information => Knowledge => Wisdom
- You gather a bunch of raw data.
- You order and categorize that data so that it makes sense based on a few concepts and assumptions and it therefore becomes information.
- You take that information and apply it in the setting of organizations and the information transforms to knowledge.
- With knowledge you engage varied organizational situations over time and the knowledge distills into wisdom.
- With that wisdom you have the capacity to respond to a greater variety of situations, circumstances including the fast pace of change and increased levels of complexity.
Knowledge Work Contrasted with Routine Work
Routine work tends to be programmed, have repeatable patterns, can be analyzed, is usually well understood and is often static. It tends to change more slowly than knowledge work.
Knowledge work is non-routine, non-linear, non-sequential, and iterative. It is varied, unique, dynamic, and emergent. In order to do knowledge work well you have to apply the skills of analysis, synthesis, and creative thinking. The most effective knowledge workers develop a capacity to deal with uncertainty, ambiguity, complexity, and change.
Through their experience effective knowledge workers develop judgement and insight that allows them to move beyond what facts they have command of to a state of “je ne sais quoi” where they have a schooled intuition (wisd0m) that allows them to quickly size up a situation and determine what they know and what they do not know and construct a path forward.
The reality of our work in organizations today is that most work is a mix of both routine work and knowledge work. An example of this is the work on a customer service Help Desk. Most calls can be resolved with the same basic hand holding and answering basic questions. That is routine work. But calls frequently need more diagnostic discussion, and careful thought about how you can help this individual accomplish what they specifically want to do. That moves into the more complex arena of knowledge work.
Another test of work is whether it is boring or challenging. Routine work is often boring. The repetition does not present a challenge and dealing with the same foolishness over and over again can drive a sane person nuts.
However, a word of caution, poor leadership and bureaucratic constipation can also make a very challenging knowledge work job enough to drive you nuts. So if you are going nuts, there are numerous factors to consider when trying to diagnose what is influencing your reaction to the situation.
Leading Knowledge Workers
A few years ago I gave a presentation to the IEEE Careers Conference that was not really a presentation. It was a panel discussion. The panel members were a bunch of dotcom geeks from Silicon Valley. I convened the panel because I had seen the contrast between a constructive knowledge worker (geek) environments and a destructive knowledge worker (geek) environments. Constructive environments lead to geeks contributing discretionary effort and initiative. The geeks invest themselves in the work and go beyond what they are asked to do.
But most environments are destructive and do not elicit that response from people.
What the geeks on the panel said was that if you want us to thrive and contribute our discretionary effort and initiative you need to:
- Treat us with dignity and respect
- Listen to us, honor our perspective (even when you don’t understand it, agree with it, or don’t know how to apply it in the organizational context)
- Be clear about expectations
- Be honest, don’t try to pull the wool over our eyes. We have great crap detectors
So leading geeks is pretty easy. Most people just don’t do it well.
Advice: Design your organizations so that you take the barriers out of the knowledge workers way.
Strategy & Organizational Capability
If you want to implement a new strategy for your organization you are going to need to have specific organizational capabilities in order to get the results you intend to achieve. How do I build new capabilities?
Individual Competency => Widely Shared => Organizational Capability
As an organization you want to move the organization in a specific strategic direction. It requires specific technical, business, and/or organizational capabilities that you do not have. You hire a couple of knowledge workers who have the competencies that will aggregate to be those capabilities. They train and coach some current people in the organization to develop these competencies. These people form a gaggle of competency and figure out the explicit and implicit (tacit) approaches and patterns of how people with these competencies work together in order to produce results. With the experience of working together to produce outcomes you gradually build an organizational capability.
As you interact with stakeholders they begin to realize that you have a new organizational capability that allows you to compete differently in the marketplace. This builds your reputation and with reputation you can accomplish things in the marketplace that you could not legitimately do before.
Tie It Together
Knowledge work is about how you transform data into knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge workers do that. They are easy to lead. Take them seriously and treat them well. Once you figure out how to do that and design your organization to facilitate their contributing their discretionary effort and initiative you are on the way to success. Without the knowledge workers and their competencies that aggregate into organizational capabilities you don’t have even a small chance of succeeding in implementing your strategy.
Stay tuned to my Blog to hear more.