Latest ESJ Column – Crafting Uniqueness in Knowledge Work

I have another column up at ESJ. I’ve been arguing that knowledge work is best thought of from a craft perspective for a long time. This time I took a look at knowledge work deliverables and came to a new insight (I’m just a bit slow sometimes). Knowledge work products achieve their value from their uniqueness not their uniformity.

This contributes to the failings most organizations have had with their efforts at knowledge management. Managing activities in an industrial economy is about achieving and enforcing uniformity. When it works, we get the PC revolution where my computer gets better and faster and more reliable every year. When it doesn’t, we get everyone in the call center reading from the same debugging script after I’ve been on hold 30 minutes while they ignore the problem diagnosis I’ve already done before I ever called.

Knowledge management efforts need to be rethought to bring this issue to the forefront. They need to put attention toward how to enable knowledge workers to be more proficient at creating unique results, not at creating an artificial uniformity that undermines the real point of knowledge management in the first place. The more sophisticated your knowledge workers, the more likely they are to ignore ill-conceived efforts toward uniformity. Also, the more likely they are to support efforts that address their real concerns.

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