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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Knowledge Work Types

Several people have asked for some clarification on my definition of Concept Work and Concept Workers. To help clarify this and to begin thinking through implications for Work Literacy Skills, I went back through a couple of different sources.

Thomas Davenport classifies Knowledge Work Types in Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performances And Results from Knowledge Workers using a variety of classifications. One was based on the complexity of the work. Work that requires greater interpretation/judgment vs. work that is relatively routine. He also classified these according to the level of dependence on others. Within that he then defined the following types of knowledge workers:
  • Transaction Worker - Routine, individual, ex. call center.
  • Integration Worker - Routine, collaborative, ex. systems development
  • Expert Worker - Interpretation/judgment, individual, ex. family physician
  • Collaboration Worker - Interpretation/judgment, collaborative, ex. investment banker
Concept workers work on things that are higher on the interpretation/judgment side. Developers and call center employees for the most part are not concept workers. However, they will shift into concept work for some kinds of problems. It's generally when new situations arise that are outside the norm. A new technology is encountered. A particularly hard customer situation. Etc. These require the worker to shift into a mode of judgment and interpretation.

When you look around many organizations, I believe you find a lot of workers spending greater portions of their days as concept workers. Think about the following areas:
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Product Design
  • Engineering
Yes, some portion of the work is routine, but most of the value provided is handling the non-routine. It's the marketing person who can figure out how to understand customer needs and position the product and reach the customer in changing media channels. It's the sales person trying to figure out an entry point, how to handle an objection, how to translate product features to a customer's needs. And the list goes on.

In the world of learning, it's determining how to handle particular performance needs, learning needs. Where do authoring tools, LMS fit? What about eLearning 2.0? There are no right answers, and a lot of interpretation and judgment required.

In Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Don Tapscott discusses exactly the change towards concept work:
At the same time, the nature of work itself is changing. Work has become more cognitively complex, more team-based and collaborative, more dependent on social skills, more time pressured, more reliant on technological competence, more mobile, and less dependent on geography. Many employees are already given far more autonomy to decide how and where they want to work. A growing number of firms are decentralizing their decision-making function, communicating in a peer-to-peer fashion, and embracing new technologies that empower employees to communicate easily and openly with people inside and outside the firm.
I just saw that there was a Wikipedia article on the Conceptual Economy talking about Pink, Friedman and other perspectives on the move towards greater cognitive oriented work - more judgment and interpretation - more conceptual. Interestingly, the article did not refer to Concept Work or Concept Workers.

Hope this helps clarify.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy cruising work literacy sites and reading what's happening.

As the Domestic Auto Industry is about to be relegated to the analog scrap heap, I found myself amused as I read Tapscott's quote below:

"the nature of work itself is changing. Work has become more cognitively complex, more team-based and collaborative, more dependent on social skills,"

Amused because the estimated 1/3rd of illiterate or semi-literate in the workforce have no idea of what he's talking about. Indeed, imagine waking up today an uneducated/low skilled UAW member! Your future bleak (as it should be) and zero understanding of the issues raised here.

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