Joe’s Journal: On Knowledge Work and Learning

“Demanding of knowledge workers that they define their own task and its results is necessary because knowledge workers must be autonomous. As knowledge varies among different people, even in the same field, each knowledge worker carries his or her own unique set of knowledge. Knowledge work requires both autonomy and accountability”.

–Peter F. Drucker

It’s true that for any society to develop it first needs manual productivity. But with the changes in society and technology today, we need to be sure that we understand the life of the knowledge workers as well as the assembly line workers.

Knowledge work has brought about a need for a new kind of manager. In this new climate a manager needs to understand his place in the larger system or organization. For example if you’re medical chief in a hospital, your own specialty might be gastroenterology, but your role still requires that you manage people who are experts in oncology, pathology, neuroscience, orthopaedics, pediatrics and so on. You can’t possibly expect to know how to do their job. And you certainly wouldn’t tell any of those experts on your team how to do their job, because you can’t. You have to give your team autonomy as their manager, but you also have to be able to make the whole unit work. You have to understand the mission and understand management well enough to integrate the various disciplines into the larger mission, but you cannot expect to know as much about the details of the various jobs under your management.

[EXPAND More]Managers need to give the knowledge workers a firm understanding of the mission, and then allow the workers themselves to define the tasks and results. There are multiple ways to define open-heart surgery: You could tally how many surgeries you’ve completed, or you could tally how many were successful. Once you define results, you have to associate quality with them, and that’s where the manager or executive has a role. In 1966, Peter Drucker wrote the Effective Executive and directed it to the knowledge workers. He explained that executives are people who make contributions to the results, but it’s the worker who does the work and who must learn to manage him or herself for productivity. Results and quality and opportunities for continuous learning are also up to the knowledge worker.

In order to improve and to keep developing the critical skills for their roles, workers need to be pushed, not beyond their limits but to the fullest extent of their capabilities. I had to really be pushed and push myself in my latest book project. I had to be my own manager in the sense that I knew that in order to get to the next level of analysis I’d have to stretch and challenge myself. I had to tap back into the lessons of Mortimer Adler on syntopical reading and I had to rethink what I know about research and I relearned a lot about the power and complexity of online research. I had to really tap into my own learning processes and get better at a few things.

I think it’s important for knowledge workers and for students to learn not just information and content that is useful right now, but to learn how to learn so that they can keep up with the ever-changing knowledge out there. We all need to understand the process of learning in order to thrive in a knowledge society. You know, just before Peter died he said to me that he thought his ideas would only live on for about another ten years. I think he was wrong about that, but I also think that his more important legacy is the example he set by the way he worked. The staying power in all of his books and ideas is his process.

–Joe Maciariello[/EXPAND]