knowledge workers: turning hedgehogs into foxes

The future of work is that knowledge workers will be driving productivity. The connections they make and can see are important. However, the issue for all management is that hiring practice often solving on the immediate problem and not the wider issue of knowledge management or knowledge productivity.

By that I mean, the future will be to hire more foxes or make more of the hedgehogs into foxes. Foxes know many things, while hedgehogs know one thing. Firms, perhaps local government more than most, may often hire a hedgehog, to deal with the problems of the moment, when the future of work requires hiring foxes. The need will be to find ways of increasing productivity of these workers by helping them to learn something new. However, this is not simply retraining or continuous development. Instead, it is the need to be able to unlearn to learn.

Therein lies a difficulty because the culture of firms, and local government, may be that such learning is not the norm. This is not to say they oppose it, but rather to say that the past determines their future. They face the cost of path dependency in which their past decisions brought them to the moment they face now. The question is whether the leadership and the staff themselves can see the need for this development. See the book by Cathy N. Davidson

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The key challenge, though is to unlearn to learn. Can an organisation that has succeeded or delivered in the past, with relative success, unlearn what made it successful and learn what to do differently? In a sense this is simply competitive adaptiveness, but in another sense it is something more. The reason it is different is that the future of work is the knowledge worker and he or she is focused on individual tasks within a network. In that network, the focus has to be on what the individual can bring to the network. By contrast, in the current understanding of the firm, except for small areas, the firm is bigger than the individual worker. The balance, though, is shifting because of knowledge work.

Where the future success lies is for organisations to seize that initiative and find ways to get individuals more productive and efficient. However, some business, for example government, are inefficient by design. (This is not swipe at government, but a comment on its role and function because it has to cover areas that business or voluntary sectors cannot cover.) In those areas, they will have to adapt to increase their ability to educate and retrain the hedgehogs into foxes because their services are being changed in ways that require more foxes than hedgehogs.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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