Peter Drucker is one of my favorite business heroes (second, of course, to my Dad, who oversees this entrepreneurial awesomeness). I wrote an article for OPEN Forum on 3 truths from Drucker about innovation… and in reviewing Drucker’s work, I ran across some of my favorite of his writing: all the stuff about the knowledge worker.
I feel like we should have some dramatic music there…. it is… the RISE OF THE KNOWLEDGE WORKER!
Truth 1: It is the age of the knowledge worker.
And that’s us: the knowledge worker is a freelancer, a creative professional, a small business owner, a consultant, a travel writer, a pro blogger, a manager, an innovator, a product developer, an artist, a writer, a graphic designer, a coder.
As Drucker puts it, “… the center of gravity has shifted to the knowledge worker, the man who puts to work what he has between his ears rather than the brawn of his muscles or the skill of his hands.”
My sales pitch is my knowledge. I can charge $100 to $150 an hour for my writing services because – and only because – of my knowledge in writing. Others in my field charge much more: they have greater experience, hence greater knowledge, hence a greater value.
In other words, what I know and have learned, my mental skills combined with my education, experience, and personality, lump together to form the end product: me.
I am the product I sell.
People as products isn’t that new; peasants were products but their value was based on their physical output, not their mental prowess. (Mostly.) If you’re working in any sort of knowledge-based field, then your knowledge is your value.
This changes a few things about work goals and career paths.
If you are a knowledge worker, then adding to your knowledge increases your value as a worker. In other words, the knowledge (experience, education, certification, completed projects) that you can gain relates directly to the hourly rate or salary you can command.
You shouldn’t wait for an employer to 1) add to your knowledge by funding your training and education or 2) acknowledge your enhanced value voluntarily. Some employers will provide training and other boons to additional knowledge; but if yours doesn’t, get out there on your own time.
At the least, read all the books you can find that relate to your field (if small business/entrepreneurship is your field, here’s a great list). If you’re able, do more: go to classes. Attend conferences. Get certifications. Take classes. Complete personal projects. Start a side business. Get a mentor. Add to your knowledge for the sake of your own future.
Truth 2: Knowledge workers are a strange breed.
“Knowledge workers cannot be supervised closely or in detail. They can only be helped. But they must direct themselves, and they must do so toward performance and contribution, that is, toward effectiveness. …The motivation of the knowledge worker depends on his being effective, on being able to achieve.”
In other words, having all this knowledge means nothing if we don’t know how to apply it.
But it’s up to us to learn how to apply it; the very nature of our work means that we are the only ones who can really decipher how best to tackle any set project or task. We’re valuable because of our knowledge; our knowledge is valuable when used on the right things; and we must use our knowledge to direct ourselves toward the right things.
“Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective,” says Drucker.
That’s a lot of responsibility, and it gets overwhelming at times. But somehow, knowing what’s set before you helps. It helps me to realize that I’m not the only one who gets totally unmotivated when I feel ineffective, or as if I can’t achieve anything close to my goals. This is, according to Drucker, a common plight of the knowledge worker.
What I’ve taken away from these tidbits is that having clear, understandable, simple goals is of utmost importance to the knowledge worker. And the goals should be limited.
I may have a global vision, but I need a goal that resides in the limited scope I possess now. I expand that scope, I can expand the next goal with it. We shoot ourselves down when we jump ahead too far. We start working on the wrong things, and we know that’s ineffective, and it causes our motivation to plummet.
Those goals might be the right things in the future, but if they’re not right in the present, they’re no good to us or anyone else.
Truth 3: Execution is the key to success.
“The greatest wisdom not applied to action and behavior is meaningless data,” says Drucker. “…insight becomes effectiveness only through hard systematic work.”
Turns out, being a knowledge worker doesn’t mean you don’t have to actually work.
My shortcoming isn’t in lack of ideas. I have ideas. Plenty of ideas. I bet you do too.
Notebooks full of idea after idea, outline after outline, strategies, plans, sales pitches, first drafts, beginnings.
For us knowledge workers, ideas exist in heaps, they emerge in piles. All we have to do is pick one – just a single one out of so many – and work on it till it’s done.
It’s so painful, isn’t it? To limit yourself to just one idea? I get little twitches just thinking about it; I have to remind myself that it’s only temporary. I focus on this one idea, and then I can go back to playing with all the others, too.
We have to make that happen, or all the ideas are pointless. I’ll leave you with one last quote from Drucker to confirm that statement:
“Knowledge work is not defined by quantity. Neither is knowledge work defined by its costs. Knowledge work is defined by its results.”
By the way, if you’ve not read any of Drucker’s work, this is a good one to start with.