The term was first coined by Peter Drucker ca. 1959, as one who works primarily with information or one who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace.
“Knowledge networks” are collections of individuals and teams who come together across organizational, spatial and disciplinary boundaries to invent and share a body of knowledge. The focus of such networks is usually on developing, distributing and applying knowledge.
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Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. Typical examples may include software engineers, doctors, architects, engineers, scientists, public accountants, lawyers, and teachers, because they "think for a living".
What differentiates knowledge work from other forms of work is its primary task of "non-routine" problem solving that requires a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking. Also, despite the amount of research and literature on knowledge work there is yet to be a succinct definition of the term.
The issue of who knowledge workers are, and what knowledge work entails, however, is still debated. Mosco and McKercher (2007) outline various viewpoints on the matter. They first point to the most narrow and defined definition of knowledge work, such as Florida’s view of it as specifically, "the direct manipulation of symbols to create an original knowledge product, or to add obvious value to an existing one", which limits the definition of knowledge work to mainly creative work. They then contrast this view of knowledge work with the notably broader view which includes the handling and distribution of information, arguing that workers who play a role in the handling and distribution of information add real value to the field, despite not necessarily contributing a creative element. Thirdly, one might consider a definition of knowledge work which includes, "all workers involved in the chain of producing and distributing knowledge products", which allows for an incredibly broad and inclusive categorization of knowledge workers. It should thus be acknowledged that the term "knowledge worker" can be quite broad in its meaning, and is not always definitive in who it refers to.
Knowledge workers spend 38% of their time searching for information. They are also often displaced from their bosses, working in various departments and time zones or from remote sites such as home offices and airport lounges.
Knowledge workers are employees who have a deep background in education and experience and are considered people who "think for a living." They include software developers, doctors, lawyers, inventors, teachers, nurses, financial analysts and architects. As businesses increase their dependence on information technology, the number of fields in which knowledge workers must operate has expanded dramatically.
Even though they sometimes are called "gold collars", because of their high salaries, as well as because of their relative independence in controlling the process of their own work, current research shows that they are also more prone to burnout, and very close normative control from organizations they work for, unlike regular workers.
Managing knowledge workers can be a difficult task. Most knowledge workers prefer some level of autonomy, and do not like being overseen or managed. Those who manage knowledge workers are often knowledge workers themselves, or have been in the past. Projects must be carefully considered before assigning to a knowledge worker, as their interest and goals will affect the quality of the completed project. Knowledge workers must be treated as individuals. "Managing Knowledge Workers: Getting the Most From Them". MindTools.com. Retrieved 2014-06-27.
Weiss (1960)[full citation needed] said that knowledge grows like organisms, with data serving as food to be assimilated rather than merely stored. Popper (1963)[full citation needed] stated there is always an increasing need for knowledge to grow and progress continually, whether tacit (Polanyi, 1976)[full citation needed] or explicit.
Toffler (1990)[full citation needed] observed that typical knowledge workers (especially R&D scientists and engineers) in the age of knowledge economy must have some system at their disposal to create, process and enhance their own knowledge. In some cases they would also need to manage the knowledge of their co-workers.
Nonaka (1991)[full citation needed] described knowledge as the fuel for innovation, but was concerned that many managers failed to understand how knowledge could be leveraged. Companies are more like living organisms than machines, he argued, and most viewed knowledge as a static input to the corporate machine. Nonaka advocated a view of knowledge as renewable and changing, and that knowledge workers were the agents for that change. Knowledge-creating companies, he believed, should be focused primarily on the task of innovation.
This laid the foundation for the new practice of knowledge management, or "KM", which evolved in the 1990s to support knowledge workers with standard tools and processes.
Savage (1995) describes a knowledge-focus as the third wave of human socio-economic development. The first wave was the Agricultural Age with wealth defined as ownership of land. In the second wave, the Industrial Age, wealth was based on ownership of Capital, i.e. factories. In the Knowledge Age, wealth is based upon the ownership of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge to create or improve goods and services. Product improvements include cost, durability, suitability, timeliness of delivery, and security. Using data, in the Knowledge Age, 2% of the working population will work on the land, 10% will work in Industry and the rest will be knowledge workers.[