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The phrase “knowledge worker” was coined by Peter Drucker in his 1964 book Managing for Results. The notion of a knowledge worker was one whose authority stems from their knowledge rather than corporate hierarchy. Knowledge work is non-routine work that involves problem solving. It requires a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking and often needs deep domain expertise. Knowledge workers are employees who have a deep background in education and experience and are considered people who think for a living. They include academicians, economists, software developers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, writers, journalists, inventors, teachers, bankers, financial analysts, architects, and many others who uses knowledge and information to do their work.
Vincent Mosco and Catherine McKercher broadly defines knowledge work as “the work of those who handle and distribute information”.
Peter Drucker made an interesting observation: “Workers throughout history could be ‘supervised’. They could be told what to do, how to do it, how fast to do it and so on. Knowledge workers cannot, in effect, be supervised“. This is an important observation that signals the need for new management tools and processes.
Nathaniel Palmer in the book Empowering knowledge workers wrote “As we move to the 21st century business model, the focus must be on equipping knowledge workers with tools and infrastructure that enable communication and information sharing, such as networking, e-mail, content management and increasingly, social media. Yet supporting the inherent dynamic nature of knowledge work does not mean abandoning all aspects of governance and information management.”
Enterprises that employs knowledge workers, creates a lot of information, knowledge, needs a process to manage the information, and use this knowledge as capital for business. There is growing need of common tools and systems to enable teams to share information and collaborate.
Additionally these enterprises needs tools and processes in place to allow for some degree of holacracy. The knowledge worker needs to be enabled to work autonomously, plan and manage their own work, create information, learn from others and teach others when necessary. At the same time the organization needs to be able to move together towards a common goal.