The Invisibility of Knowledge Work

Jim McGee writes at Enterprise Systems about The Invisibility of Knowledge Work:

For all the productivity gains that accrue to the digitization of knowledge work, one unintended consequence has been to make the execution of knowledge work essentially invisible, making it harder to manage and improve such work. Attacking that invisibility opens an important path to making knowledge work manageable and improvable.

Knowledge work is better understood as craft work; its products are valuable because they are creative and original. Delivering identical consulting reports to different clients is grounds for a lawsuit, not an example of good knowledge management practice.

In moving to e-mail, word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation tools, maintaining (preserving?) visibility of your knowledge work (at both the individual and workgroup level) requires conscious effort. An office full of papers and books provided clues about the knowledge work process; a laptop offers few such clues. A directory listing is pretty thin in terms of useful knowledge sharing content. In an analog process, it’s easy to discern the history and flow of work. When an executive takes a set of paper slides and rearranges them on a conference room floor, a hidden and compelling story line may be revealed. You can see, and learn from, this fresh point of experience. That’s lost when the same process occurs at a laptop keyboard at 35,000 feet. The gain in personal productivity occurs at the expense of organizational learning.

There are some lessons here for the way we work as academics. So little of what we do is visible that we can sometimes find it difficult to follow our own trails let alone those of others.

(Via elearnspace.)