Are we all knowledge workers now?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

I can remember first coming across the term "knowledge worker" about 10 years ago at a conference and assumed it was the latest management buzzphrase imported from a consultancy or Ivy League professor. It turned out to have first been coined by the management guru Peter Drucker nearly fifty years ago and he used the term to describe "anyone who works for a living at the tasks of developing or using knowledge"

So what has this to do with networks?

Well putting aside the rather jargony label, I think there is some real depth to the concept. If we think of knowledge workers as people who add value to an organisation primarily by the quality of their thinking and the quality of their decisions, then this term probably applies to most of the people reading this. But if most of our value to the organisation is the quality of our decision-making, then how we do we know whether we are making high quality decisions or poor decisions and how do we learn to make better decisions?

There are 3 components to a high quality decision:

1) Having real clarity on both the problem and desired outcome

2) Generating a wide variety of options

3) Choosing the option that is most likely to produce the desired outcome.

This seems obvious and simplistic and yet it is rarely practiced within the NHS. In many of the NHS organisations I have worked with, managers tend to work with ill-defined problems, come up with one or two solutions (which have usually been tried before) and then quickly choose one. In the high-pressure world of today’s NHS, decisions are often made in minutes and solutions tend to be one of a handful that managers use over and over again. Even on development programmes and in workshops, people are uncomfortable spending more than 10 minutes on a decision or generating more than 10 options, even if they then spend weeks or months trying to implement a poor decision and dealing with the subsequent problems.

The next time you have a problem to solve, try setting an egg-timer and allow 20 minutes to generate as many potential options as you can and don’t stop until you have generated at least 30 different options. Typically when I work with managers on this process, the best options tend to appear towards the end of the list when the brain starts thinking more laterally and starts connecting with other ideas and associated areas.

If you want to become a real expert at this, networks are an invaluable decision-making aid. Firstly members of a network can help you bring clarity and focus to your problem simply through the act of them trying to understand exactly what you mean. Secondly, you can find out a whole range of options simply by asking people how they have seen this problem solved elsewhere and the more diverse the background, role and organisational types of people in your network, the more numerous and diverse the options will be.

One of the most useful networks that I have found is NHS Networks which is a genuine network of networks and can help you solve clinical and organisational problems. So if you want to take the fisrt few steps to being an expert knowledge worker, set that egg timer, visit www.networks.nhs and open your mind to a new world of possibilities.

1 comments:

Roger 10 March 2008 at 01:30  

I agree, but think you're glossing over a valuable component of the equation. In order to come up with the best possible decision you have to have the best possible information. "Having real clarity" alludes to this but isn't specific enough, IMO.

The benefits of networked distributed decision making are derived through the ubiquitous availability of information, which allows the knowledge to reside anywhere in the system, not just geographically proximate to the origin of the data. So your talent can be sourced dynamically.

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