Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Networked Knowledge Worker in the 21st Century

Harold Jarche talks about the new knowledge-worker (via @DavidGurteen) as defined by Neal Gorenflo,  highlighting the role and importance of information sharing, systems thinking/complexity and mixable politics to a certain (emerging?) group of people.

But I like the way Harold ties the idea into a lot of what I've been thinking - that this kind of "worker" is a big part of the puzzle staring us in the face. He raises the question of how companies and organisations can attract such a person, and says they need to become more caring, flexible and ethical to take advantage.

But why is this such an important question?

Because right now, it feels like we've run out of map. We can see a cliff looming, built out of superfluous bureaucracy, management fear, economic uncertainty, and political distrust. There's no map, no plan. Optimism is the main strategy still running, and another bit of it drops off the cliff every week.

Knowledge workers, as outlined above, are fundamental to where we go next, for the following reasons:

  1. We need to know what the possibilities and the alternatives are. The "solutions" we've been relying on at all levels - economic cutbacks, party politics, representative democracy, quantitative easing, debt-first economics... - will take either a long time, or will continue to entrench non-solutions. New solutions, or new takes on existing solutions, require local/small-scale thought and experimentation, but rapid communication to interested parties, like any other meme.
  2. We need to understand a more diverse population and set of viewpoints. Maintaining a status quo "intended audience", or idea of what constitutes the "general public", will result in outdated and narrow answers. To caveat, I think there's always a danger of birds of a feather forming into networks, rather than diversity being realised inherently, but at the same time networks are key to "making diversity more transparent". The old, broadcast-only models of understanding who we are are no longer relevant or useful.
  3. We need to maintain a systemic perspective. This is tricky, because we're so unused to organic modes of thought. We like to simplify in order to communicate and persuade, but over-simplification is useless - it leads to faulty solutions and worse, to solutions that create new problems. The logical approach of a single person is irrelevant when dealing with organic systems. The "wisdom of the crowds" needs to step up to meet the way of the world - some people will have some of the solution, but networking is the only way we can bring the pieces together.

Blocking the transfer of ideas happens all over the place for all sorts of reasons, good and bad. Yes, it's bad to inflict rapid change on people. Yes, it's bad to inflict badly-thought-out change. But it's also dumb to wait for an answer that everyone will agree to. It's dumb to old back from doing something because there's no short-term economic gain. Understanding when and how to apply change needs to be a skill that knowledge workers, and knowledge management need to get to grips with.

Guess what? The networks are massing. But in their raw form, they're only good at disrupting - tearing down existing structures, routing around "slow power". But the ability to problem solve collectively - to bring about unity rather than entropy - still has yet to be proven.

It's about more than knowledge. Or work.

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