Knowledge Work Productivity LO29356

From: Fred Nickols (
Date: 10/18/02

Replying to Terje Tonsberg in LO29337 --

Terje responds at length to my citing of Drucker's comment that we still
don't know much about making knowledge work productive.

I think I can agree with most of what Terje writes. It should be pointed
out, however, that most of what Terje says focuses on the knowledge
worker, not the work itself. Moreover, it clearly has roots in
materials-based work (e.g., as is the case when Terje talks about
'output'). The interactions of many knowledge workers are with
information, knowledge, ideas and other people more so than with materials
and so I am inclined to think more in terms of 'outcomes' or 'results'
than 'output.' But we needn't focus on that distinction at this point.
Besides, in the last analysis, efficacious action is the heart of the
matter when it comes to productivity, regardless of the kind of work.

One of the biggest differences Drucker has pointed out between so-called
knowledge workers and equally so-called manual workers is that knowledge
workers must configure their responses to the situation at hand instead of
simply carrying out prefigured routines. In other words, knowledge
workers are interventionists. They are results oriented. They take stock
of the situation, the means at their disposal, and they craft a course of
action that will produce the required results. This is in stark contrast
to workers whose jobs require of them that they comply with prescribed
work routines. In the end, then, perhaps the labels "knowledge work" and
"knowledge workers" are of little practical value and the central issue
with respect to productivity is the extent to which one's working
activities are configured or prefigured.

When we focus on the work instead of the worker, we again come to Drucker,
who has repeatedly and, in my view, quite correctly, pointed out that work
is a process and it has a result. This requires of us that we concentrate
on results and on the process that produces them. This was the approach
taken by Frederick Winslow Taylor in his study of materials-based work.
If we view the so-called knowledge worker as an interventionist, then
focusing on the work instead of the worker would lead us to examine the
structures in which the sought after results are embedded and in which the
knowledge worker intervenes. We would search for a science of
intervention and not simply strive, as we did with manual workers, to make
knowledge workers work longer or harder or even in a more focused manner.
We would instead focus on identifying efficacious actions, that is,
productive interventions, and that, I believe, has more to do with the
structures in which people intervene than it does with them.

Anyway, thanks for responding, Terje. Your comments certainly helped
focus and clarify my own thinking.


Fred Nickols


Fred Nickols <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.