I asked two weeks ago in “Are You Building An Expertise Based Startup?” about a model for an expertise driven company that I have been working on for more than year. Have come across two other references that I think bear the concept.
Walter Wriston pointed out that “A person with the skills to write a complex software program that can produce a billion dollars of revenue can walk past any customs officer in the world with nothing of ‘value’ to declare.” And this is true. But the ability for a person to carry knowledge of huge economic value in his head is by no means new. An interesting example is provide by the U.S. textile industry, which basically began in 1789 when Samuel Slater left England for America with his vast knowledge of how textile machinery operated. (In order to protect what we would now call intellectual property, emigration of textile workers was actually prohibited by British law)
In 1959 Peter Drucker wrote “Landmarks of Tomorrow” where he first talked about knowledge workers. He wrote “Management Challenges for the 21st Century” in 1999, on page 142 he defines six factors for knowledge worker productivity (emphasis in original):
- Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?“
- It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.
- Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
- Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
- Productivity of the knowledge worker is not — at least not primarily — a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
- Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.
Each of these requirements–except perhaps for the last one–is almost the exact opposite of what is needed to increase the productivity of the manual worker.
What are you doing to develop and codify the knowledge in your business?
- What opportunities do you give everyone to teach others about their tasks and what they have learned?
- How do you measure the quality of each person’s work?
- One test I would suggest you consider is that any information that can be discovered in a Google query will not give you competitive advantage even for a shot period of time, much less on a sustainable basis, because if Google can find it or correlate it then it’s been commoditized.