A book review of a book that is sitting on my reading list: Davenport’s “Thinking for a Living“. (Get it at Amazon.com or Kalahari.net).
I’m really excited about reading this book soon.

From: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/mentor/2006/02/20/stories/2006022000531100.htm
HOW TO get better performance from knowledge workers? This is the question that Thomas H. Davenport answers in Thinking for a Living, from Harvard Business School Press (www.HBSPress.org).
Knowledge workers have been around us as monks and professors. But now such workers are “probably larger than ever before as a percentage of the workforce in sophisticated economies.”
For instance, NASSCOM (http://nasscom.org) informs that from a base of 6,800 knowledge workers in 1985-86, the number increased to 5,22,000 software and services professionals by the end of 2001-02. “It is estimated that out of these 5,22,000 knowledge workers, almost 1,70,000 are working in the IT software and services export industry; nearly 1,06,000 are working in IT-enabled services and over 220,000 in user organisations.”
Who are knowledge workers? They are the ones who are responsible for innovation and growth, writes Davenport. “They invent your new products and services, design your marketing programs, and create your strategies.” And, “they are the horses that pull the plough of economic progress.”
The author defines thus: “Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution, or application of knowledge.” In short, “Knowledge workers think for a living.”
However, it is difficult to point out who are not knowledge workers, says Davenport, because “most jobs require some degree of knowledge to perform them successfully”. For example, “London taxi drivers have to possess `the knowledge’ of its streets before getting their licences.”
Common attributes of knowledge work and workers that the book lists include: One, they like autonomy, though they like to be told things such as “the broader significance and implications of their tasks and jobs”. Two, they will often resist “describing the steps they follow to carry out an assignment”. Three, they usually have “good reasons for doing what they do”, so you need to take them at their word — “or more importantly, their deed”. And four, “commitment matters,” because they care “not only about the fairness of outcomes, but also about the fairness of the process used to arrive at outcomes.”
There are useful insights in the book on knowledge work vis-à-vis physical environment. One learns, for instance, that knowledge workers prefer closed offices, congregate in particular geographical areas, move around in the course of their work, collaborate, concentrate, work in the office, communicate with people who are close by, and don’t care about facilities gewgaws.
Based on complexity of work and level of interdependence, Davenport classifies knowledge work into four models, viz. transaction (for example, call centre work), integration (as in information system development), collaboration (such as in investment bank), and expert (like what a primary-care physician practises).
Also, knowledge workers differ, depending on whether they find, create, package, distribute or apply knowledge. For example, publishing packages knowledge, while researchers create it. One other classification is based on the type of ideas, big or small. Interestingly, Intel’s eWorkforce has categorised people based on mobility and attitude towards technology, as follows: functionalists, cube captains, nomads, global collaborators, and tech individualists.
Though it is difficult to define and measure the performance of knowledge workers, intervention is required, argues the author. He cautions against things that don’t work — such as top-down reengineering, which is usually visible as “detailed maps of processes, subprocesses, and sub-subprocesses, and released in binders”.
Make the improvement process as participative as possible, advises Davenport. “The most common forms of process intervention for knowledge work are participative, incremental, and continuous.”
Create knowledge-friendly cultures, exhorts the author. Managers also need to “fend off bureaucracy so that their workers are not overly burdened by it.”
Essential knowledge, to keep the plough moving!

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