Updated: 6/30/2005; 11:32:12 PM.


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  Monday, July 26, 2004

  On reading in a train and problems with task-based view of knowledge work

Spent the day reading papers on knowledge work in trains... Funny that reading papers in a train goes much better then reading them at home or in the office (I guess because of the rhythm and lack of distractions :). May be I just should schedule short meetings somewhere at far end of the Netherlands each time I have a pile to read :)

Two main things as a result: knowledge worker definition and thoughts on task-based view of knowledge work.

Knowledge worker definition (let's see if I reinvented the wheel :)

knowledge worker is someone who creates value by being subjective

Not sure for how long it will stand, but so far I think it captures two things:

  • value: something more or less objective, existing outside of a knowledge worker, defined (?) by a community/an organisation/"client" (don't know yet)
  • by being subjective: unique input of an individual (knowledge, experiences, intuition...)

Of course, this definition has a problem: it doesn't reflect social side of knowledge work. Will think about it.

Thoughts on task-based view of knowledge work

Today once more I realised how much current knowledge work literature is driven by organisational perspective on knowledge work. Will try to explain.

Last year I suggested that there is not enough attention to knowledge work:

organisations focus on things they can control and can measure, thus knowledge work is left to knowledge workers

I guess now I can refine it:

existing research on knowledge work takes process/activity/task-based view of knowledge work, but not personal (knowledge worker) view

I believe this is not enough and taking knowledge worker perspective is important. Don't have very strong arguments yet, just gut feeling and some people saying the same :)

Of course, focusing on specific processes or tasks of knowledge workers can be very valuable: one can design a system that supports a particular task in intelligent way. Lets assume it works.

The problem is that in most cases knowledge work is multidimensional and requires multitasking (for example, as a researcher, I need to be able to do different types of studies, write papers, present my work to different audiences and so on...). Optimising specific tasks will never optimise work of a knowledge worker.

Giorgio De Michelis provides nice example in his paper, The "Swiss Pattada": Designing the ultimate tool. It's the Swiss Army Knife: lots of carefully designed functions packed into one tool which is not easy to use at the end. He also looks at an alternative design: the Sardinian Pattada, a simple knife used by shepherds that allows multiplicity of uses...

Taking it to an extreme: researching specific knowledge work tasks will result in designing perfect "blades" for those tasks without taking into account how these "blades" are supposed to work together. 

One can argue that if we analyse all important tasks for a particular role in a specific context, we can think of an "optimised solution". Of course. This works if you believe that knowledge work is something that happens "at work" and that people do not have other "knowledge work" roles when they are out of the office. Which is never the case: cooking dinner or raising children is knowledge work, as many other things we do in life. 

I guess this is my main problem with task-based approach to knowledge work: I suspect that somewhere deep behind it there is an assumption that you can optimise "knowledge work at work" without taking into account "knowledge work outside work", without taking into account that multiple roles and contexts of people make their input so "subjective" and so valuable.


I know that this is messy and probably not understandable, but I need to get it out of my head, so sorry :) I'll work it out coming weeks and give you something nice to read ;)

Disclaimer: I need to do more careful reading of "task-based view on knowledge work" literature, I'm likely to take less extreme position. Especially because Jeremy Aarons is in task-based KM camp (1, 2, 3) and this means that there is something useful there :)

More on: knowledge networker 

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© Copyright 2002-2005 Lilia Efimova.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

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