Monday, March 30, 2015

Pico-productivity: What do Knowledge Workers actually do?

So what do knowledge workers do? A lot. But it seems that we have knowable unknowns and unknowable unknowns. There are, for example, a whole lot of things that all knowledge workers should be good at because it's a background for what they have to accomplish yet isn't a specific part of any task. For example, knowledge workers should have tactics and strategies for things like time management, email management, etc. but these things aren't likely made explicit in a process model. Typing skills, for example, are probably crucial.

In the world of physical culture we have the idea of GPP or General Physical Preparedness -- those skills that aren't specific to a particular sport or undertaking. What is the equivalent in business, particularly as it pertains to knowledge workers? We could call it pico-productivity.



Dehurst, Hancock, Ellsworth (2013). Redesigning knowledge work. HBR.

So we have to be precise and accurate in our skills assessments. Hmmm... that seems a bit weak. The process info is okay but we don't get much real info. Hopefully we get something out of the references.

We've got a McKinsey Global Insitute report with the cool title of _The world at work : jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people_. Lots of cool graphs but the unit of analysis is off. I'm looking for real skills, not educational programs.

And then we have a citation from 2000 by a UK-based consultancy called TFPL. Here's the taxonomy:


  • Strategic & Business Skills: Includes business planning, industry knowledge, strategic thinking, leadership, and organizational skills.
  • Management Skills: Includes business processes, people management, process mapping, team building, and measurement.
  • Intellectual & Learning Skills: Includes problem solving, mentoring, conceptual thinking, being analytical, and the ability to deal with ambiguity.
  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills: Includes listening, negotiation, marketing, team working, and consulting.
  • Information Management Skills: Includes codification, content management, information processes, taxonomies, and IT applications.
  • IT skills: Includes database management, information architecture, programming, software applications, and workflow.


There's also this 2001 report apparently from the OECD: Competencies for the knowledge economy. But... it's disappointing. Again, the unit of analysis is off.

And this one:

Knowledge workers and knowledge work.



This report gives a pretty good overview of the challenges and opportunities in the knowledge economy and provides lots of great definitions. It's got statistics and numbers and tells us the most common sort of activities for knowledge work:

  1. People management
  2. Data processing and analysis
  3. Admin tasks 

ICT professionals typically fall into the category of "Experts and analysts" where the focus is on data and analysis, people management, admin tasks, leadership and development, and collaboration.

We also get a pretty fancy breakdown of "methods used for sharing and capturing knowledge":




Unfortunately, it seems that "publish written material" is really a minor thing. Perhaps this item was interpreted as "publish written material [specifically for the purpose of knowledge transfer]".

Here it is in Appendix A! Work-related tasks and activities by factor:

Data and analysis

  • compile data
  • analyse information to address work-related problems
  • write reports
  • translate/interpret the meaning of written material
  • statistically analyse data
  • identify patterns in data/information
  • interpret charts or graphs
  • enter data
  • use a technical package on the computer [DETAILS?]

Leadership and development

  • build the external profile of the organization
  • debate topical economic, political, social, business issues
  • evaluate ideas
  • serve on expert committees
  • asses the quality of work of people outside your organisation
  • implement new programmes, systems, or products
  • manage projects
  • predict/forecast future trends
  • use logic to identify strengths/weaknesses of alternation solutions, conclusions or approaches
  • review management procedures
  • present new business ideas/opportunities
  • create new processes or procedures
  • manage financial risks
  • coordinate personnel and financial resources for new projects
  • develop proposals/grants
  • approve invoices
  • formulate policies
  • make strategic decisions
  • develop organisational vision
  • appraise the value of property or objects
  • contribute to the organisation's strategic plan
  • initiate large-scale organisational change
  • identify issues that will affect the long-term future of the organisation
  • make decisions on the basis of environment conditions
  • plan for the fiscal year
  • foresee future business/financial opportunities
  • manage strategy relationships
  • research new business opportunities

Administrative tasks

  • sell products
  • file (physically or electronically)
  • sort post
  • organise travel
  • manage diaries/calendars
  • inventory stock
  • order merchandise
  • organise/send out mass mailings
  • make and confirm reservations
  • collect payment

Perceptual and precision tasks

  • * judge speed of moving objects
  • visually identify objects
  • use depth perception
  • organise/arrange objects according to a pattern, colour or other detail
  • judge which of severl objects is closer or farther away
  • estimate the size of objects
  • judge distances
  • know your location in relation to the environment or know where objects are in relation to you 
  • detect differences among colours
  • notice different sound patterns
  • use navigation skills

People management

  • handle complaints, settle disputes or resolve grievances
  • assign people to tasks
  • resolve personal conflicts
  • collaborate with people inside of your organisation on a project/programme
  • counsel others
  • manage people
  • interview people
  • recruit personnel
  • give formal briefings to others
  • teach others
  • coach or develop others
  • provide consultation/advice to others
  • conduct classes, workshops or demonstrations
  • motivate others
  • mentor people in your organisation
  • assess the quality of work of people in your organisation

Creative tasks

  • create artistic objects/works
  • take ideas and turn them into new products
  • take photographs
  • create technical plans or blueprints
  • engage in graphic design
  • perform artistically
  • use devices that you draw with
  • develop new technology
  • film people and events
  • write chapters, articles, books, etc. for publication

Caring for others

  • provide care for others (e.g., children)
  • dispense medication
  • diagnose and treat diseases, illnesses, injuries or mental dysfunctions
  • expose self to disease and infections
  • administer first aid

Maintenance, moving and repairing

  • lift heavy objects
  • climb ladders, scaffolds or poles
  • load/unload equipment, materials, luggage
  • move equipment/supplies
  • use heavy machinery
  • use tools that perofrm precise operations
  • use hand-powered saws and drills
  • use scientific/laboratory equipment
  • test, monitor or calibrate equipment
  • take equipment apart or assemble it
  • manoeuvre, navigate or drive vehicles or mechanised equipment
  • install, maintain or repair electrical wiring
  • repair or maintain equipment/vehicles
  • control machines
  • install objects/equipment
  • generate/adapt equipment to serve user needs
  • expose self to hazardous conditions
  • expose self to extremely loud noises

Personal, animal and home maintenance

  • excavate
  • weld
  • dig
  • decorate
  • sew, knit or weave
  • manage building/site
  • issue licenses/permits
  • tattoo, brand, tag people/animals
  • help customers try on or fit merchandise
  • plant or maintain trees, shrubs, flowers, etc.
  • feed, water, groom, bathe, exercise animals
  • apply beauty treatments and therapies
  • collect fares/tickets
  • set type

Survey items that were cut

  • communicate to people outside your organisation
  • circulate information to others
  • daraw up personal contacts/network
  • speak a language other than English
  • talk to media
  • liaise with suppliers
  • interact directly with customers/clients
  • greet clients/customers
  • answer telephones for others
  • collaborate with people outside your organisation
  • mentor people outside your organisation
  • compile/admin/grade tests
  • generate/develop new ideas for the organisation
  • follow blueprints or designs to specifications
  • engage in taxonomic classification
  • present research findings
  • enforce directives/rules/policies
  • inspect the condition/quality of objects
  • proofread
  • resolve conflicting findings
  • mix ingredient
  • market products/ideas
  • monitor investments/markets/etc.
  • plan/coordinate events
  • control finances/budgets
  • fundraise

I suppose we could call all of these things pico-productivity.

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