Knowledge Workers as Craft Workers  

On Friday I was musing on the idea of knowledge workers as artists. Related to this, in a comment on a previous post, Brett Miller pointed me to a post on his own blog, where he asks what we can do to apply an apprenticeship model to knowledge workers. This, in turn, sent me a wonderful article by Jim McGee on knowledge workers as craft workers. Writes Jim:

Curiously, most of the discussion around knowledge management is decidedly industrial in flavor. How do we reuse knowledge assets more broadly in the organization? How do we raise the standard of practice in the organization to that of the best units? Standardization and reproducibility have been the watchwords of the industrial economy. Shouldn’t they also be the watchwords for the knowledge economy?

There is a dangerous tension between industrial frameworks and knowledge work as craft work that needs to be managed. Forcing industrial models onto the management of knowledge and knowledge work accounts for much of the disappointing results of knowledge management efforts to date. Harking back to some idealized pre-industrial craft world is likely to be equally disappointing. Designing a synthesis that recognizes the essential features of the knowledge economy is the challenge at hand.

What we need, says Jim, is transparency in our work processes, a sort of cognitive apprenticeship model that makes our thinking and production processes more visible to others. Managing knowledge is not simply a matter of sharing knowledge objects. It’s about sharing multiple layers of thought, making each iteration of what we produce visible to ourselves and to others as a way to further develop our thinking. This allows us to return to earlier versions of ideas and to backtrack and re-evaluate what we do.

This actually opens up a couple of lines of thinking for me that deserve more investigation–how do we better use social media to make knowledge work more transparent and how can we create cognitive apprenticeships to support the development of knowledge workers (which is Brett’s original question)?