Thinking of tools for knowledge workers

I’ve been thinking about Ted Leavitt recently.

Leavitt taught marketing at the Harvard Business School. His most famous aphorism is that “customers don’t but a quarter-inch drill bit, they buy a quarter-inch hole.” Clever, and possibly helpful, if you’re a marketer by trade. But what if you happen to be a knowledge worker? You don’t have the luxury of knowing that what you need is a quarter-inch hole.

While every technology marketer out there is trying to sell you quarter-inch holes, you actually need to be thinking in terms of what kind of general purpose knowledge work toolkit you need to assemble to address the changing and unpredictable demands you face. For knowledge work, solution selling gets in the way at best. A tool perspective will be more productive, even if it is working against the grain.

Here are some quick contrasts between a solutions perspective and a tools perspective:

Solutions Tools
Passive Active
Accept/Reject Co-create
Train Learn
Conformance Craft
Consumer Producer
CEO Hacker

One challenge to overcome is that we’ve been conditioned to think in terms of solutions. We wait for the early adopters to figure everything out so that we can buy the answer off the shelf. We are still too soon in the world of knowledge work. If you are a knowledge worker, then circumstances have forced you back to the level of creating your own toolset. And back to the level of digging underneath the hypothetical solutions to hypothetical problems that today’s marketing conventions will layer on top of the tools themselves that ought to be your target.