“My dad is a knowledge worker!”

While I was reading Martin Roell’s Terminology: “Knowledge Worker”, a TV commercial I saw a while back came to mind: elementary school students were telling the class what their dads did for a living, and after a couple of well defined jobs (policemen, construction, etc.) were announced one boy proudly stood up and stated, “My dad’s a pencil pusher!” I don’t remember what the commercial was for, but the imagery stuck with me I think for the same reason Geoffrey Rockwell, as described by Martin, doesn’t like the term “knowledge worker”: the job title gives you no real idea of what the job is.

When my kids were finally old enough to ask me what I do, I told them simply, “I figure out how to solve problems.” That seemed to satisfy them, at least for now. Trying to explain to friends what I do everyday is a bit more difficult. When asked, I usually give my official job title, Systems Engineer. Of course, that instantly begs the question, “OK, but what do you do?”

I work with technology.

I prepare papers and briefings.

I conduct studies.

I work with other people to figure out what needs to be done.

Then we figure out how to do it.

But, like the tasks that go along with the equally generic pencil pusher and knowledge worker, that doesn’t really tell the story. Not sure there is an easy answer to what terminology is best suited here. After all, there is still not really any consensus on the definition of knowledge itself, the very basis of the discussion.

From a practical standpoint, of course, definitions don’t really matter. Or, in Martin’s words:

Most organisations don’t care about the differences between different “knowledge workers” or “knowledge work” and “information work”: They want to solve business problems. They want to improve the bottom line.

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