Attributes of effective knowledge workers

This has been lurking in my RSS aggregator for the last couple of months, patiently waiting for me to get around to reading it (one of the core benefits of using RSS feeds).  David Gurteen provides a nice starting point for discussion around attributes of effective knowledge workers.

While I would certainly want people with these attributes working for me and around me, I am less certain that these are uniquely related to knowledge work. Nor, for that matter, am I certain that that matters. Your thoughts?

What makes an effective knowledge worker?

By David Gurteen

At the Osney Media European Knowledge Management Thought Leaders Forum last week In London we broke into several “discussion pods” to discuss topics of interest. Earlier, I had proposed a theme of “What are the habits of effective knowledge workers?” and was pleased that this was one of the topics selected.

There were about five of us at our table and we started by getting into a discussion about what were we talking about: habits; skills; attitudes; behaviors; values; mindsets or what? We decided quite quickly that we would run out of time if we focused on these differences and decided just to brainstorm everything without attempting to categorize them. This is the list we came up with. As the others carried on a conversation – I just scribbled down the key attributes – here they are – pretty much in the order they arose and unedited.

  • connect people with people
  • connect people with ideas
  • are good networkers
  • do not follow the rules
  • have strong communication skills
  • like people
  • feel good about themselves
  • motivate others
  • are catalysts
  • ask for help
  • demonstrate integrity
  • are self reliant
  • open to share
  • are not afraid
  • are goal oriented
  • are able to identify critical knowledge
  • add value to the organization
  • have strong subject expertise in a specific area
  • network for results
  • trustworthy – can be trusted and trusts others
  • make decisions
  • are not insular
  • do not conform
  • push the boundaries
  • assume authority – ask for forgiveness, not permission
  • strong belief in the value of knowledge sharing
  • are informal active leaders
  • take a holistic view
  • are catalysts, facilitators and triggers
  • good listeners – they listen first
  • do not need praise
  • see the wider picture
  • work well with others
  • do not have a ‘knowledge is power’ attitude
  • walk the talk
  • prepared to experiment with technology
  • playful
  • take calculated risks

An interesting set of attributes but by no means exhaustive. Will be interesting now to analyze them and pull them into some sort of structure and order. Seems to me though that many of these attributes are ‘soft’ in nature and difficult to teach or learn. How does someone learn ‘not to need praise’ for example and just how important an attribute is it?

FASTforward conference and conference blog

Got an email from Hylton Joliffe at Corante last week about the FASTforward conference and the opportunity to contribute to the FASTforward blog in advance of the conference. The topics are squarely within my interests and I’ve had some good experiences with FAST through my ongoing interactions with the folks at Traction Software, so it didn’t take too much arm-twisting from Hylton. I expect I will cross-post between here and there, but I would recommend checking out the FASTforward blog to see what the other contributors have to say.

We’re live!

As a handful of you know, this blog has been gearing up over the past week or two as we prep for its launch. Well, as of yesterday we’re live and looking forward to what should be a compelling and wide-ranging discussion of Enterprise 2.0 applications and issues over the next eight weeks.

(A little context: this blog, which is sponsored by FAST Search & Transfer, was conceived and developed as a companion blog to FASTforward 07, which will take place in San Diego from February 7-9. The conference, like this blog, aims to explore how a new generation of enterprise applications and capabilities are enabling companies to better capture, harness, analyze, and search data, foster communication and collaboration, and connect individuals and ideas within companies. More info on the event, at which Ray Lane, John Battelle, Tim O’Reilly and others will be speaking, can be found here.)

An Enterprise 2.0 case study from 1998

Case examples of organizations employing information technology in strategic ways that are relevant to Enterprise 2.0 can be difficult to find. I know of an example from the late 1990s that nonetheless offers relevant lessons for today.

Black and Veatch is an engineering management and design firm that builds large-scale projects such as power plants. I first learned of them as the reviewer who vetted their ultimately successful application for an Enterprise Value Award from CIO Magazine.

What makes the lessons from Black and Veatch so relevant are the careful effort to marry technology to the core knowledge work process and the investment in organizational learning over time. Instead of simply deploying off-the-shelf CAD software, Black & Veatch developed software that supported a design process that was redesigned to leverage detailed data about past projects and the current project. Further, over time, Black & Veatch’s design engineers learned to make more effective and productive use of the software, and the software itself was updated to exploit that learning. Take some time to read about their effort to “reengineer the engineering process.”

Implementing social technologies inside organizations

If the set of technologies loosely identified at Enterprise 2.0 are to have any hope of real success, we need to take a closer look at how they are introduced into organizations. I see two basic patterns for technology introduction in general use and neither holds much promise.

The first pattern is embodied in the massive ERP rollout. Here, a highly structured set of technologies and corresponding processes are imposed on the organization. People in these systems have equally structured roles that are imposed on them in order for the overall system (organizational and technological) to perform as a designed mechanism.

In the second pattern, some fundamentally individual technology sneaks into the organization at the hands of discrete individuals. Spreadsheets, word processors, web browsers all infiltrated the organization. Even email and networking followed a fundamentally organic diffusion process.

Enterprise 2.0 technologies, of course, are social tools. Their promise and their challenge is that they exist at the boundary between organic and mechanical. Real success depends on blending aspects of both deftly.

Organizations deploying technology tend to view process too mechanically. They can put technologies in place, but aren’t adept at helping individuals and work groups learn how to put the technology to use effectively.

Innovative individuals can experiment with new tools and techniques and can encourage their peers to take up some technologies simply by example. But they generally lack experience and authority to craft the small group learning and experimentation to discover the joint ways of using technology to support more productive and effective processes that exploit the full potential of the technology.

The challenge is to find a third way. My own prediction is that the best path for introducing Enterprise 2.0 technologies is from well-positioned individuals up to selected work groups rather than down from the technology organization. By well-positioned, I mean individuals who have enough power and influence to persuade a work group to “run the experiment,” and whose work group is responsible for a consequential enough deliverable that the results of the experiment can carry some weight in the organizational hierarchy.

Successful experiments will have little or nothing to do with technology specifics. Instead, they will be characterized by how effectively they mesh with and advance specific processes within the organization. Or, by how they transform a loose set of existing practices into a process that can be managed and improved.

New business models on Amazon’s infrastructure

I’d have to agree with Virginia Postrel here. The article is a very succinct and thought-provoking summary of Amazon’s plans to make elements of its technology and distribution infrastructure more generally available. Amazon’s plans strike me very much as an example of the real time lags we need to account for when trying to understand technology as a strategic, and frequently disruptive, force.

Fixed Costs “By the Drink”

One of the most interesting business articles I’ve read in a long time. And it’s short….

Here are the core summary grafs from the article.

The repercussions if that happens? Well, look at what’s going on in the media. The Internet created a platform for user-generated content. Now, blogs, videos, music, animation and websites from individuals and small companies constantly challenge traditional media companies. YouTube got bought by Google for $1.7 billion. TV networks are rushing to put content on the Web. Newspapers have lost readers to blogs.

Media are only a fragment of global industry. Imagine that same scenario plowing though one consumer sector after another: food, clothing, cosmetics, sporting goods, musical instruments and so on. It could be a wonderful, vibrant, scary chaos. [Amazon’s new direction: Point, click, make a product to sell to the world]

Science and democracy

I came across the following quote courtesy of my friend Morry Fiddler at DePaul’s School for New Learning. I wanted to make sure I captured it for future contemplation:

Science is a kind of open laboratory for democracy. It’s a way to experiment with the ideals of our democratic societies. For example, in science you must accept the fact that you live in a community that makes the ultimate judgment as to the worth of your work. But at the same time. everybody’s judgment is his or her own. The ethics of the community require that you argue for what you believe and that you try as hard as you can to get results to test your hunches, but you have to be honest in reporting your results, whatever they are. You have the freedom and independence to do whatever you want, as long as in the end you accept the judgment of the community. Good science comes from the collision of contradictory ideas, from conflict, from people trying to do better than their teachers did, and I think here we have a model for what a democratic society is about. There’s a great strength in our democratic way of life, and science is at the root of it.

Lee Smolin, “Loop Quantum Gravity,” The New Humanists, John Brockman, editor, 2003

Blog Tag Game – 5 things people may not know about me

Just got tagged by Dina in this latest blog game. Seems only just, as we met courtesy of blogging even though we live half a world away from one another. We did manage to have dinner in Cambridge two years ago when our travel schedules meshed.

5 things most people may not know about me? Here goes:

  1. I am in the Guinness Book of World Records as part of the world’s longest kickline. On November 16, 1991, in celebration of the Princeton Triangle Club’s 100th anniversary, 535 Triangle alumni formed the world’s longest kickline. The kickline beat the previous record of 516, which had been set to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Minnesota Vikings. The record kickline, which included alumni (the oldest being Whitney Landon ’17) and undergraduate members of the club, took place before the Princeton-Yale football game. Triangulites kicked for nearly a minute to “You May Be In the Hasty Pudding” (from Triangle’s 1934 show, Stags at Bay), played by the Princeton University Band, which was incidentally founded by Triangle members Joseph Hewitt ’07 and Arthur Osborn ’07. I was one of the 535 alumni kicking away.
  2. One of the first things I did during my MBA career was to write a version of Turkey Bingo for my section. The program was a simple BASIC program written on the school’s DEC-10 machine to generate a Bingo card with names of members of the section distributed randomly on each Bingo card. You filled in a cell if that particular person made a comment during class. If you got a Bingo, you had to get yourself called on and use the “phrase of the day” in your comment in order to win. Not all of the faculty considered this a good use of my time 🙂
  3. I started snowboarding at age 45, although I am on hiatus this season at the orders of my orthopedic surgeon.
  4. I was held up at gunpoint in my New York apartment the day before my 30th birthday in 1983
  5. I’m a huge fan of the theater and have been involved in amateur and community theater productions for nearly 40 years. I have been an usher, stage carpenter, stage electrician, pin rail grip, follow spot operator, stage hand, props manager, production stage manager, set designer, lighting designer, tour manager, director, and producer. But, most importantly, I met my wife, Charlotte, doing community theater in New York City as part of the Blue Hill Troupe.

I think I will tag:

Some new data to support the value of full text blog feeds

I have long been an advocate of full text feeds for blogs. Here’s some data to support the contention from Amit Agarwal.

Full text feeds pay off for this blogger

I love Amit Agarwal s analysis on the full-text vs. partial text debate. I HATE partial text feeds. I am subscribing to a few now (Dan Farber, for instance) but I find I link to them far less often than people who give me full text feeds. What does that do? Well, read Amit s analysis. And, yes, I did steal Amit s content and put it on my link blog.

Measuring the speed of a meme

I found this little experiment while tracking down a new blog reference out of a magazine column that I was reading while waiting for my laptop to boot. Serendipitous enough? Not entirely clear whether I will ever visit either place again, but in the interests of research (however loosely defined) here goes.

Measuring the speed of a meme

This post is attempting to measure the speed with which a blog post can propagate across the blogosphere. Feel free to link to it.


MIT’s John Maeda on design and simplicity

The Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)

Rating: 4 out of 5

Author: John Maeda

Year: 2006

Publisher: The MIT Press

ISBN: 0262134721

Here is an example of a short, little, book that benefits from the author’s decision to keep it focused. Maeda is a designer/computer scientist at MIT’s Media Lab and he consciously limits this book to just 100 pages of reflection on why and how you might seek simplicity in a technology-centric world.

While I easily read this book in an evening (while waiting for my 13-year old to finish hockey practice), it is a book and set of ideas I can expect to revisit multiple times. Although Maeda’s own background is primarily in product design, his insights are equally applicable to other design realms.

For a long time, I’ve maintained that if you are serious about improving knowledge work for yourself or others, then design has to become one of your core skills. This book should be on your shelf. Maeda also provides a website specifically for the book, laws of simplicity, and has a blog, Simplicity, he has been writing for the past two years. Both look to be excellent resources that I’ve added to my reading lists.