The Myth of the Modern Knowledge Worker, Part 1: Preface

In the late 80’s, and into the end of the mid-90’s, a new type of worker evolved: The Knowledge Worker. The Knowledge Worker is the subject of lots of books– some of them even good- so I’m not going to go too in depth into the social psychology of it all, but the Knowledge Worker was someone who was hired because of what they knew. It had little to do with aptitude or potential, but rather “We want to insert a square peg into a square hole, so let’s hire someone who can do it”. This was a vast departure from the traditional “We want to insert a square peg into a square hole, so let’s hire someone who could do it if they were trained”.

This was pre-to-primitive Internet, before you could pick the brains of millions of people, thousands of which probably know how to put square pegs in square holes. This is when no one was going to hold your hand and wipe your tears, you had to know how to do things. In the technology space, this meant you had to know how to do a lot of things. Some of us thrived in this era (although some of us wish we were born a bit earlier and could have thriven more) because we knew a lot about a lot of things. We were infinitely marketable, not because we could do things, but because we did things. Any pubescent teen with some Mountain Dew and the Internet can set up a mainframe with the help of a few thousand Internetters, but could they tear up an E6500 in a dark zone, where the only other electric-powered devices are fluorescent lights? Of course not.

Now I can hear the collective-thinkers out there rushing to defend their example-fodder brethren: After all, why shouldn’t anyone be allowed to do anything? Why should her accomplishment be any less impressive? After all, wasn’t the result the same?

Was it? Is the work done by someone who- even after they did the work- does not understand (and probably doesn’t even care) more or less valuable to an employer (and to the collective society) than the work done by someone who understood what they were doing? I know that’s a big sentence, and the collective-thinkers will need to create a new forum thread to fully understand it, so let me make it simple: Society needs people who do things more than people who can do things.

Perfect example: Medical doctors. I don’t know too many people who would go have surgery by someone who said “I’ve never done this before, but I googled it and I’m pretty sure I can do it.” Yes, the collective-thinkers will be upset because that is an extreme example that has life-or-death consequences, and isn’t appropriate when applied to Knowledge Workers.

Isn’t it? As a culture, a society, a workforce, if we are overrun with drones who don’t know how to do things; Who rest assured in their self-confidence believing that they know how to find how to do things. How will we move forward? How will we survive? It is a life-or-death issue.

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