The Rise of Knowledge Work

18/3/2013 |

Remember the days when you did jobs that didn’t require any judgement? You worked behind the bar somewhere, or in a cake factory.These are the types of jobs where you have a big box of cherries, and down the conveyor belt comes a line of cakes with icing on them. Your job is so simple you could do it in your sleep: put one cherry on top of each cake.

Cherry cupcakes demonstrating worker v boss thinking
Image By Shimelle Laine

Low Attention

Not much to procrastinate about there, not many opportunities to look foolish or lose control over, and not many issues for your brain to take home at the end of the shift. In fact, these kinds of jobs use precious little of your attention at all, are easily done with a hangover and you never really need to be on top form. Sounds wonderful in some ways, doesn’t it?

Success Indicator

They also have a satisfyingly simple success indicator – if you put all the cherries on all the cakes, you win. If you missed off half of them, that’s not so good. It’s easy with such jobs for a supervisor to check up on you and see how you’re doing, and it’s easy for a boss to see the bigger picture and see whether it’s all working.

Switch Off?

Imagine it’s 5pm on Friday at the cake factory and you’re about to go home and start your weekend. Do you think you’ll even think about cherries before 9am on Monday?! Do you think you’ll be sat there on Sunday evening at home, worrying about the potential things that could go wrong in your job tomorrow?! Of course not. Whilst there may well be boredom in that job, there’s clarity. It’s really easy to know exactly what you need to do, how you’re getting on and what you might need to do to improve.

The Rise of Knowledge Work

Many years ago, Peter Drucker predicted the end of the industrial age and the dawn of the information age. People would move from the kind of functional jobs in bars and cake factories and into ‘knowledge work’ jobs.

Knowledge work is about adding value or creating value out of information rather than performing a specific function. If you think about it, that’s at the heart of what you do today, and many of the UK’s more industrialised cities are now making the transition to entry level knowledge work jobs on a huge scale.

Your knowledge work job is different from putting cherries on the cakes in the factory because in your work there are so many levels of ambiguity: in the cake factory scenario, imagine all of a sudden having to be not just the person putting the cherries on the cakes but also:

> the person checking up on the cherries

> the person deciding what time the shift starts and how fast the conveyor belt goes

> the person occasionally filling in for the icing person when they’re on leave

> the person running the shop floor

> the strategic CEO responsible for deciding whether, with all this emphasis on healthy eating in the outside world these days, the factory should just sell cherries as part of fruit salads and ditch the cakes altogether.

It’s exhausting isn’t it? Welcome back to your world!

The key to good productivity is recognising the “worker” part of your day, and the “boss” part, and planning around them!

Ready for the next stage? Find out how to be Productive Like a Boss?


cherry cupcake
Image By Shimelle Laine


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Peter Drucker on Knowledge Worker Productivity


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