My Daughter is Not a Knowledge Worker

September 21, 2009

“I could never do your job, Dad. When I leave work, I actually clock out. Ca-chunk, and I can go home and be with your grandsons and my husband. You never leave work, you’re always thinking and writing. I couldn’t do that.”

Some people would look at that diatribe and conclude: my daughter is not a knowledge worker. She punches a clock, probably some sort of shift work or “pink collar” profession. “Knowledge workers,” as we all know, are continually engaged, they live to work – not work to live. My poor underachiever is not a knowledge worker.

However, if I began instead by introducing her to you as a nurse, you might have a different impression. While my daughter is not at work, she cannot do her job. She cannot telecommute. In fact, someone else is doing her job in her absence as the need continues. Further, the job circumstances will evolve, often dramatically, in her absence, she cannot pick up where she left off.

She must, in many respects, clock out at the end of her shift.

Of course, she is a knowledge worker. In addition to her schooling and her growth as a practitioner, the principles of knowledge exchange matter more to her than a knowledge worker who does not ‘clock out’ at the end of his shift. In a real sense, the ability to gain and share situational awareness matters in her world. Without a confidence that knowledge regarding her patients has been transferred from the departing shift, she would begin her day with deserved trepidation.

With this perspective, it is possible to see my daughter qualifies (possibly more than I) as a knowledge worker. Whereas my work can abide some fairly sloppy processes for retaining and processing knowledge, she has the need to interact with others – and therefore must be more intentional on a daily basis about the knowledge that is essential for her work. (Didn’t that used to be one of the 43+ definitions for KM, being ‘intentional’ about knowledge?)

She must negotiate individual context and bias to gain an appreciation for the status and trending indicators regarding her charges. Often, this learning occurs on “unpaid” time, as someone stays late or arrives early for their shift. In her experience, few employers will pay for any overlap time; arguably the most important parts of a nurse’s day.

I wonder how many formal KM frameworks could be applied without major and unattainable renovations to a nurse’s life? Or perhaps a chef’s? More on that tomorrow.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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