It is much the same with paramedics. When a paramedic arrives at work in the morning, they have no idea how their day will turn out. Of course, they are highly trained, and they know all the kinds of things they might do, but the precise decision on what to do when has to depend upon many specifics at the time. Even though you might expect medicine to be fairly well defined, the amount of approaches, and the subtlety of the evidence, makes it nearly impossible to express what the paramedic does in terms of a specific rule set.
These are stock traders. They need to be able to gather information from an open ended set of sources. There is no simple formula, like “read the NT Times and determine a purchasing plan for the day” Stock traders are constantly looking for new clues from new sources that are always chaning.
Another classic knowledge worker is the detective. Every case is different, and requires expert judgment to lead the investigation to a successful conclusion. It is the unpredictability of a course of events that make detective novels and movie so interesting.
These are legislators who are making up the rules, so clearly there are no predefined courses of action. They have to think outside of the box, because they are defining the box.
Judges and lawyers also must think on their feet and respond in creative ways to new and unexpected events.This is all just to give a feeling that knowledge workers are not stuck in the ivory tower, but are an increasing part of business today. Estimates are that the knowledge workers comprise 40% of the workforce today, but this percentage is growing, as automation efforts continue to eliminate the routine work. The good news is that knowledge work jobs are more satisfying jobs. However, to accomplish these jobs, the workers need a much higher level of autonomy than workers have needed in the past. It is not possible to predict exactly what a knowledge workers needs to do at a given time.
Reliable outcomes do not come from predictabilityPeople are amazingly good at handling ambiguous situations, and managing the process through to a successful conclusionThe idea that a reliable outcome requires a predictable path comes from Enlightenment age philosophy, reinforced by FW Taylor and Scientific Management.However, Lean and TPS is showing that adaptive systems can be more reliable and more stable in the long run.
Henry Ford’s assembly line was the same thing: predictability through breaking the job into a series of simple tasks.
How should we respond. John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison have written this excellent book comparing push systems to pull systems. Push systems are the centralized command and control forms of organizations of the past. Pull organization are more flexible. They can be more efficient, but the most important aspect of a pull organization is that it allows for a degree of autonomy for knowledge workers, and therefore is able to deal with uncertainty in a better way.
I also wanted to highlight this excellent source of ideas on the ways that organizations can change to be hyper-social by Francois Gosseaux and Ed Moran. The way Gosseaux puts it, hundreds and thousands of years ago, people interacted using natural social patterns. Such social behavior was natural for us, and he calls this Human 1.0.Then Newtonian thinking forced us to make organizations that required workers to work in a very unnatural way. Human 2.0 was more analytic, more predefined, and much less satisfying.He sees the advent of social business software as bringing us back to Human 1.0, back to a more natural state of social behavior.
IN the book, they make four important suggestions.Forget market segments, because these are classifications of people defined by a centralized control point, and as such are usually not very accurate. Market segments are a model of the world, but only that. Instead we should engage tribes which are groups of people that have themselves selected to relate to each other. Tribes are real, and they will give you information on how to make products if you have the adaptibility to engage and respond to them.Forget company centricity, but instead engage and respond directly to individual people.Forget information channels (like various media, publicity channels, etc) and instead tap into knowledge networks.Finally, and this is the one that is most controversial: forget processes and hierarchies. He says that the real potential to leverage social business will be a bit messy. Newtonian thinkers want everything tidy and organized (i.e. centrally controlled) but delegating to knowledge workers will appear messy to a centralized manager.
Margaret Wheatly wrote a wonderful book called “Leadership and the New Science” which reflects upon how the change of paradigm from Newtonian mindset parallels the change in paradigm that is needed in management of organizations. The book is full of quotes, but I picked this one because it is one aspect of Netwonian simplification that people often fall into: We assume that a role can be defined independently of everything else in the organization. But that is not actually the case. The actual role that a person plays depends very much on all the other people around them, and to design a system that ignores this will be a limitation.The reason I picked this photo is not just that the web symbolizes the relationships, but also to remind us that in an ecosystem, everything is dependent upon other. One might define the activities of spider, but clearly a spider is dependent upon flying insects, and on tree and such for structure. They in turn are dependent on other parts of the ecosystem. So it is with the roles that people play in organizations.
Dan Pink wrote a wonderful book called “A Whole New Mind” where he proposes that for the past century organizations have needed (and therefore valued) left-brined workers with strong analytical skills and procedural thinking. He sees the world shifting today in a new direction, where right brained thinkers will have an edge. I think this is very much like Gosseaux saying we are returning to Human 1.0.Dan Pink went on to say that in the future, there will be greater demand for workers with two types of skills: High concept - the capacity to detect patterns & opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new.High touch - the ability to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian, in pursuit of purpose and meaning.