Thinking for a Living Book Summary
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A Summary of the Davenport book Thinking for a Living

A Summary of the Davenport book Thinking for a Living

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  • 1. Thinking for a Living – Book Reading Thinking for a Living Book ReadingObjectiveThe objective of this assignment is to a critical analysis of the book Thinking for a Living on the lines ofInformation and Knowledge Management. This book was written by Thomas H. DavenportBook DescriptionThis book originally written in 2005 talks about the approaches, techniques and ideas to manageKnowledge workers in an organizational setting. This book highlights the diminishing and unsuccessfultrend of managing employees in the Industrial age method. The book comprises of nine chapters. Thechapters 1-3 try to establish some introduction to Knowledge intensive companies‟ jobs, KnowledgeWorker profiles & their characteristics and Knowledge economy in general. The subsequent chapters 4-9are observations and suggestions given by the author based on the series of research studies mainlycatering to Knowledge Work Processes, Organizational Technology, Knowledge Worker Capabilities,Working Environments and Management of Knowledge Workers.Here is a breakdown summary of the book by chapter. The reader‟s critique is also provided for eachchapter with key points.Chapter 1 - What’s a Knowledge Worker, Anyway?SummaryThis chapter gives an introduction to knowledge work and knowledge worker from a beginner‟s viewpoint.It creates a basement on which the subsequent chapters are built.Key PointsThere is an interesting mention of the term „Market to Book Value‟ in connection to Knowledge intensivecompanies. The insight is that the market‟s perception of the value of knowledge and knowledge workersin these companies is higher than the book values (tangible assets) indicating that knowledge asintellectual capital is most important to these companies. (Pg 4-5) The snippet “How Many Are There?” isabout the US Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) classifies its workers and gives a good indication on theprofile(Management, Business and Financial Operations, Healthcare practitioners to name a few) andnumber of people involved in Knowledge Worker type jobs contributing to about 30% of the totalworkforce in 2003. The snippet also provides similar information from UK, to re-iterate the fact thatknowledge workers form a substantial part of the current day workforce and the numbers will steadilyincrease moving into the decade. (Pg 5-7)A business case of KM is raised by the author after coming to the conclusion of his research on BusinessProcess that the most important processes for organizations today involve Knowledge work (Pg 9)The author offers a critique to the original definition of Knowledge Worker by Peter Drucker. He claimsthat Drucker‟s definition mistakenly involves jobs of taxi drivers, movies ticket takers and ditch diggersand also implies that the definition refers to only one knowledge workers per job per organization. (Pg 12)The author provides clear elucidation of Knowledge Worker characteristics. Some excerpts are givenbelow Page 1 of 9
  • 2. Thinking for a Living – Book Reading 1. Many people use knowledge in their jobs and have some degree of education and expertise, but for knowledge workers the role of knowledge must be central to the job 2. Despite a few necessary shadings in the definition of knowledge workers, it’s clear that organizational success depends on the innovativeness and productivity of these workers within their organizations. 3. Knowledge workers are dispersed across the organizational structure and the globe, yet the interdependence and complexity of their work requires them to collaborate effectively with others in different functions, physical locations, time zones and even organizations. (Pg 12)The author at the end of the chapter gives some basic principles and observations about knowledgeworkers. Some of them are Knowledge Workers like autonomy, Knowledge workers usually have goodreasons for what they do, Knowledge workers value their knowledge and don’t share it easily toshowcase the implication that knowledge workers can‟t be managed in the traditional sense, a claim thathe had made in the start of the chapter.Personal CritiqueI thought this chapter was pretty good. It is quite informative for both KM students and other generalreader. In the section „Knowledge Workers as a Class‟, the author could have avoided taking a jibe atanother person who doesn‟t believe in having separate management methods for knowledge workers.Chapter 2 – How Knowledge Workers Differ and the Difference it MakesSummaryThis chapter makes distinctions about the different types of Knowledge Workers and their characteristics.The distinction is based on 1.) Judgement and Collaboration 2.) Knowledge Activity 3.) Type of Idea 4)Cost and Scale 5.) Process Attributes 6.) Business Criticallity 7.) Mobility.Key Points An excellent classification structure for knowledge-intensive processes based on the dimensions „Levelof Interdependence‟ and „Complexity of Work‟ rated from low to high, is provided. As per the structure,four main models are identified as 1.) Transaction model 2.) Expert model 3.) Integration model and4.)Collaboration model. Four main activities of Knowledge Workers are identified as Creation, Packaging,Distribution and Application of knowledge. The author opines that Knowledge creation is the toughest withfew examples. (Pg 28-30)There is a distinction drawn between big and small ideas and a prediction is made – The organizationsthat will be most successful in the future will be those in which it’s everyone’s job to creating and usingboth big and small ideas. An example involving the company Chaparral Steel is made to showcase thekind of success that even an industrial company can achieve when its employees are made toconsistently as a part of their job definition (Pg 31) The author talks about the difficulties in measuringcertain knowledge work processes (eg: patent search and filings, market research) in contrast to the onesthat can be measured (eg: medical coding) and also states the importance of measurement in today‟scompetitive world. (Pg 33) There is reference made to the book Good Company written by Don Cohenand Larry Prusak on the point that mobile work doesn‟t build social capital or social networks. (Pg 34)Personal Critique Page 2 of 9
  • 3. Thinking for a Living – Book ReadingContinuing with the good introduction in ch1, the author looks to differentiate knowledge workers again inthis chapter and also creates some key distinctions within them. He views KM professionals asdistributors of knowledge which is interesting but personally I think KM pros should be seen as purveyorsof knowledge. The choice of words with classification of ideas into big and small could have been better.Chapter 3 – Interventions, Measures and Experiments in Knowledge WorkSummaryThis chapter is about the possible interventions and experiments that can be taken by organizations tosee if knowledge worker efficiency can be improved. Some meta-issues of knowledge work interventionsalong with the reasons, methods and common mistakes are also mentioned.Key PointsThe author mentions a relatively straight forward way to deal with Knowledge Workers – HSPALTAmeaning Hire Smart People and Leave Them Alone. (Pg 39) A example of semiconductor company istaken up to show that the notion with companies viewing knowledge worker performance as a „black box‟can be removed by studying the factors affecting the performance of high performing groups whencompared to the low ones. (Pg 41) The author sites some new observational techniques like forms ofethnography or corporate anthropology to understand the so-called invisible knowledge work processes.(Pg 42)On the earlier methods meant to improve performance, a reference is made to Frederick Taylor‟s work inthe 1880 – Scientific management to improve worker efficiency in the industrial age. The method causedunwanted „class wars‟ within the society due to the demarcations it created. (Pg 45) On the topic ofKnowledge Worker Productivity, the author states that this classical term is not applicable to Knowledgework. A reference is made to Charles Leadbeater‟s quote to underline the output of knowledge work Mostpeople in most advanced economies produce nothing that can be weighed: communications, software,advertising, financial services. They trade, write, design, talk, spin and create: rarely do they makeanything. The assets they work with are just ephemeral as their output. Author suggests alternate termslike Performance and Results instead of using Productivity. (Pg 47)Some practical issues in measuring knowledge worker performance are raised and also some ineffectivemethods used by organizations to measure performance are also mentioned. One example is to measurethe number of lines written by a programmer which is ineffectual. Few alternate methods such as Peergroup reviews and multiple peer evaluations are provided with intent of measuring both quality andquantity. (Pg 49) Few output measures are suggested 1.) The volume of knowledge produced 2.) Thequality of the decisions or actions taken on the basis of knowledge and 3.) The impact of knowledgeproduced (as judged by others). IT industry came up with its Capability Maturity Model (CMM) thatmeasures the quality of software engineering. This has meant the IT work could be outsourced as theoutsourced company can assure quality for its products with appropriate CMM certificates. (Pg 50-52)The failed case of Business Process Re-engineering is taken. It was due to its top-down re-engineeringmethod and also because it is of prescriptive nature that seldom works with knowledge workers. The newprocess change that the companies wish to bring should be based on Representational Democracywhere Knowledge workers are made a part of the change process. Other failed methods are scripting,treating all knowledge workers in the same way and a blind computerization of processes (Pg 53-54) Acompany that is shown as a paradigm of Disciplined Experimentation is Capital One, with its series ofprojects involving „Productivity and Knowledge Management‟ Page 3 of 9
  • 4. Thinking for a Living – Book ReadingPersonal CritiqueThe author sounds a bit clichéd when he says knowledge based products can be made affordable byimproving knowledge worker productivity as I think product price range and employee actualizationshould be distinct and not interdependent. Some facts are outdated when he says very little knowledgework has been outsourced which is quite contrary to current day where all of knowledge work isoutsourced to Asia.Chapter 4 – Knowledge Work ProcessesSummaryIn this chapter, the author talks about some process oriented approaches to improve knowledge work, soas to create an environment where innovation and discipline can co-exist.Key PointsThe chapter starts off with an excellent explanation of process. Quoting the author “To treat something asa process is to impose a formal structure on it-to identify its beginning, end, and intermediate steps toclarify who the customer is for it, to measure it, to take stock of how well it is currently being performed,and ultimately to improve it” (Pg 61)The work of researcher Paul Adler is cited with respect to studying knowledge worker behavior withrespect to changes in process. Adler states that “the more routine tasks in software development wererendered more efficient by standardization and formalization, leaving the non-routine tasks relativelyunstructured to allow more creativity in their performance” (Pg 63)Some thumb rules are provided on the ways to handle the different Knowledge Worker profiles mentionedin chapter 2 (Pg 65). Process recommendations are given by the type of Knowledge activity of which astaged based approach is prescribed for Knowledge creation. Examples of new drug compound processand oil exploration are given. Corning R&D‟s labs follow a model called “stage gate” model applied toinnovation process with freedom within each stages. Under Knowledge Application process, theimportance of Knowledge Re-use is given. Three critical factors – Leadership, Asset visibility and Assetcontrol are provided (Pg 67-72) The author explores some techniques from „fuzzy logic‟ and „statistics-Quality function deployment‟ and „conjoint analysis‟ on the notion of breaking process into stages. Pg 73The author does some introspection and realizes too much of focus on process without actual practicewould be of no benefit therefore he advises an integrated approach of following process and practice foreffective results. He takes a dig at process analyst tendency to do abstract analysis on every aspect. Thequote “I know you think for a living. But I can think better about your work than you can” represents theattitude of process analysts aptly. (Pg 75) A warning is made in adapting process design as anengineering discipline as there is very less focus on the practical aspects in this method. When combiningprocess and practice, six implications are given which are quite implementable. One of them is “Use theGolden Rule of Process Management. Ask yourself, Would I want to have my job analysed andredesigned on the fashion that I am doing it to others” (Pg 76-77)Different types of process interventions are given. The prominent being „Participative‟ so that knowledgeworkers are involved in the process lifecycle with changes implemented gradually and not in a single go.The author extends this to two more factors – incremental and continuous and relates the example of SixSigma that has adopted at a global level.GE is a pioneer with it „Design for Six Sigma (DFSS)‟. (Pg 78 ).Ernst & Young is credited for its “Power-pack” – a toolkit on the methods to propose projects to clients by Page 4 of 9
  • 5. Thinking for a Living – Book Readingimproving their order management processes. A mention on the now famous „agile‟ process is donewhich shows less focus on specific steps and more on the urgency of the output. Extreme programming isone such technique which uses agile methodology (Pg 78-81)Personal CritiqueI found this chapter to be quite good as it brings in the process perspective which is quite scientific andless risk prone. KM is shown as a technology oriented movement instead of a process which is quitestartling as the author is seen as a KM pioneer. The talk about „fuzzy front end‟ process of new productdevelopment is quite good and informative.Chapter 5 – Organizational Technology for Knowledge WorkersSummaryThis chapter focuses on the technology aspect of knowledge work. It looks at the cost vs trade-offs ofusing certain technologies that aid knowledge workers in their job activities. The author comes up with theconclusion that technologies will work out if they fit into the context of jobs.Key Points Technologies work at two level- Organizational level and individual level with specific set of tools. Theauthor builds on the different knowledge worker models mentioned in chapter 2 with the organizationaltechnologies applicable for each model. Some of them are Decision automation, Embedded knowledge,Knowledge reuse and Data mining. Of these, Decision automation is common to all models. (Pg 87) Twounfulfilled pervasive dreams with regard to knowledge worker and technology are mentioned “One of thatis knowledge workers would be able to easily access all of the data…” and “the second dream is thatknowledge itself – typically unstructured, textual knowledge-could be easily captured, shared and appliedto knowledge work”. (Pg 88)A brief history about Decision Support Systems are provided starting with Management Decision SupportSystems(MDSS) to the latest Multi-dimensional Online Analytical Processing (MOLAP) and some of theirshortcomings are mentioned with regard to computer augmented decision making. Failure of ArtificialIntelligence is provided with few examples. One of them being “The knowledge intended for the systemwas difficult to extract from the expert‟s brain” (Pg 89-90)Interestingly, author also talks about the failure of KM with the employees failing to contribute theirknowledge to knowledge bases thereby becoming stale systems. Technologies that embed knowledgeinto jobs are the ones that are highly successful as the employee doesn‟t have to spend additional time inlooking for it. An integration of Business Process and Knowledge Management could be a good thing forthe enterprise. (Pg 90-92)The author takes the case of Partner Healthcare in mentioning many successful implementations ofembedding knowledge into the actual work of doctors, surgeons and other hospital staffs. Some of theimplementations are Knowledge base, logic modules with integrated patient record system, clinicaldecision support system, even management system for alerts and intranet portals. (P 94-96)Some important factors are highlighted along the chapter. A prominent one is the prioritizing whichprocesses and knowledge domains to address and Developing a measurement and improvement culture.(Pg 96-98) Medical informatics is mentioned as a new area with focused IT support for healthcaredomain. British Telecom‟s role specific portals and its high usage as per the worker profile are mentioned. Page 5 of 9
  • 6. Thinking for a Living – Book ReadingTowards the end of the chapter, the author talks about social networking software or socialware thatcould benefit employees in an organization.Personal CritiqueFrom this chapter, the author begins to look a bit hackneyed and outdated. He gives some silly reasons ofnot able to connect to wifi to show how handling technology can be tough. He gives an indirect referenceto the failure of KM as an organizational technology which could have been avoided as many KM criticsmay take this point and highlight it. The author shows his reclusiveness to social tools like blogging bysaying that it is not that useful. I personally think blogging was very new in 2005 and that‟s the reason,the author might have seen it that way.Chapter 6 – Developing Individual Knowledge Worker CapabilitiesSummaryThis chapter focuses on the personal improvement of knowledge workers on correlation to informationand knowledge management. The author talks about three types of companies – first one that addressesthe change, the second one that thinks change will happen in due course of time and the third one thatdoesn‟t want to change.Key PointsThe author again makes reference to software industry for its processes called Personal SoftwareProcess (PSP) and Team Software Process (TSP) that underline enforcement of improvement atindividual and group level. Xerox is mentioned for its conducting of periodical meetings which is veryimportant to knowledge workers. (Pg 112-114)A series of research projects conducted by Information Work Productivity Council (IWPC) is highlightedhere. Findings of two classes of managers – Information managers and Knowledge managers arebrought to the reader. Companies that have invested in Personal information and knowledgemanagement like Cisco‟s „Change the way we work‟, Capital One‟s Experimentation methods, Intel‟seWorkforce and Novartis‟s „Global Head of Knowledge Culture‟ are of prominence.In the section of Measuring and Increasing Individual Performance, Microsoft is highlighted for its uniqueapproach of designing products that handle all the required change by themselves and not expectingusers to change their behaviors while using MSFT products. Communities of Practice approach of Xeroxis mainly used to bring together different types of workers to collaborate and share knowledge. (Pg 119-121)In terms of accessing information for work related activity, Pull approach is much preferred than Pushapproach as users would only want to get information which they want and not other unnecessaryinformation. This inference is made based on a survey. (Pg 127) Other survey findings indicate thatyoung staffs are far better in technology when compared to others, quite expectedly.Personal Critique Page 6 of 9
  • 7. Thinking for a Living – Book ReadingSome of the research findings in this chapter are clearly outdated as technology adaption in companieshas grown leaps and bounds. The distinction between information and knowledge managers is not thatclear, the same could be said for information and knowledge workers. Overall, I found this chapter to benot very useful mainly because it is outdated.Chapter 7 – Investing in Knowledge Workers’ Networks and LearningSummaryThis chapter focuses on the learning aspect starting with on how workers solve problems by finding therequired information. Comparison is done between „idea based firms‟ and „product based firms‟ to see ifthey are any stark differences in the way information is searched for and results show that there are verylittle differences. The author concludes the chapter by mentioning that organizations are caring less aboutthe traditional mentoring programs and investing more on e-learning systems that may not always yieldthe expected results.Key PointsThe author starts the chapter talking high performing workers and the importance that they give to theirhuman social networks for getting what they want. There is a section on the different ways Knowledgeworkers find information – Individual Expertise, Internal Networks and Personal Networks. The authorthen concentrates on the successful traits of high performing workers 1.) Continuous learning throughexperience 2.) Ability to mix many disciplines 3.) More Risk taking 4.) Focus 5.) Asking others for help 6.)Being social butterflies and 7.) Prioritizing activities. Overall, the key aspects are Experiential learning,technology use and networks.Under the managerial implications section, the author mentions about the combo of CoP and expertiselocator in being useful for employees to leverage networks and find information thereby forming a humanresource chain. One interest aspect of some organization is hiring people who have a flair forcollaboration, particularly using tools like Critical Incident Technique to simulate how one will perform in aparticular situation. At the end of the section, certain key attributes like communicate, model and rewardbehaviors supportive of collaborative culture are deemed important for leaders. A mention is a madeabout some key initiatives taken by companies like HP with its Yellow Pages application, 3i with its„InterAction‟ system which is based on Relationship Intelligence to achieve its „one-room‟ corporatestrategy while expanding its global presence.Personal CritiqueSome of the sub sections in this chapter seemed redundant while reading. For example, the talk aboutindividual expertise and the sub sections in „Investing in Personal Networks‟. This chapter is much betterthan the last two chapters as very good toolkits such as AAR and Critical incident techniques arementioned with good references made to companies.Chapter 8 – The Physical Work Environment and Knowledge Worker PerformanceSummaryThis chapter focuses on a comparatively less important aspect of the physical work environment toimprove knowledge worker performance. The author shows some evidence on how this aspect could beof good change. The chapter concludes with some suggestion on tweaking the work space as per theworker model Page 7 of 9
  • 8. Thinking for a Living – Book ReadingKey PointsThe chapter starts off with some observation on knowledge workers with respect to the physical workenvironment. Some of the prominent ones are Knowledge workers prefer closed offices but seem tocommunicate better in open ones, Knowledge workers move around in the course of their work,Knowledge workers communicate with people who are close by and Knowledge workers don’t care aboutfacilities gewgaws. One important aspect that is uncovered here is that most knowledge workers preferTelecommuting these days.The author remarks that most companies that experiment a lot with the work environment fail to measurethe improvements achieved from them. A classic case of „fad, fashion and faith‟ but notes that finance isthe most important factor with respect to changes as the firm needs to have the money to spend on thisaspect. Some examples are given. DEGW‟s „city as office‟ that provides a layout based on a employee‟schoice, Cisco‟s shared language concept that brings together people from different departments to makedecisions that are acceptable to all.A set of work settings recommendations is given by a matrix based on two dimensions – Degree ofsegmentation of group work setting and Degree of individual choice. This matrix is quite useful forcompanies to make decisions with respect to changes in the physical work environment. The authorconcludes the chapter by posing a set of questions that firms can ask themselves to decide on thephysical work environment changes. Some of them are How homogenous is your organization? and Howimportant is it for your organization to align knowledge workers’ needs and their work settings?Personal CritiqueThe biggest flaw with this chapter is that no pictures have been used when talking about physical workenvironment which is quite a basic expectation from a user. But the author makes up with goodobservations and good pointers to this slightly trivial aspect of physical work environment in a company‟sviewpoint as telecommuting has become the norm these days.Chapter 9 – Managing Knowledge WorkersSummary In this final chapter, the author gives recommendations based on the facts of the preceding chapters. Ittalks about the changing times with respect to people management which has evolved from authoritarianstyle to „one among you‟ style. Emphasis is shown on the measuring and learning aspects from the newapproaches that are implemented in terms of improving knowledge worker performance. The selection offactor such as technology, physical work environment is termed important. Author advises changeimplementers to go for a holistic and long term approach instead of going for short term wins.Key PointsThe author starts the chapter by looking at some traditional views of management. He cites thebureaucracy concept that was followed for a long time. In the section where the new managementpriorities are laid out, some of the important ones are From overseeing work to doing it too, From hiringand firing workers to recruiting and retaining them and From supporting bureaucracy to fending it off.The key aspects are as follows Page 8 of 9
  • 9. Thinking for a Living – Book Reading 1.) Managing and doing knowledge work 2.) Building knowledge work communities 3.) Recruiting and Retaining Knowledge workers 4.) Building and propagating knowledge skills 5.) Creating a knowledge friendly culture 6.) Fending off bureaucracy 7.) Sourcing of knowledge work At the conclusion of the chapter, the author mentions few key hygiene factors related to knowledge age – Some of the prominent ones are Putting the organization in context, Brokering and learning from dissent, Orchestrating group decisions, Enabling boundary-spanning and Facilitating social networksPersonal CritiqueI found this last chapter to be quite perspective as the author looks to serve some lazy readers who wouldwant to get all the key points from the whole book in a single chapter. But the finishing punch was missingand ending was quite bland.Final VerdictA book which would have been heralded by KM purists in 2005 but not so much in 2012 as the scenariohas changed rapidly. American writers like Daniel Pink have already made a point that developingcountries are in the conceptual age now which is the next age after knowledge or information age.Therefore, this book which centers itself on the information age needs to be relooked by the author butnever the less; it is great read for a managerial aspirant. Page 9 of 9