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Knowledge Work is Broken, Only You can Fix It

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Knowledge Work is Broken, Only You can Fix It

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A heavy workload and the feeling of information overload make many people think no further than the number of unread items in their inboxes. For them, getting things done is about the number of emails they answer, the number of meetings they attend, and the number of documents they write or review. In such a work environment, a large number of unread emails in the inbox, a calendar filled with meetings, and a large collection of documents are symbols of hard-working people.

The reality isn’t necessarily that people are happy with how things are today, but rather that they find it too inconvenient to do something to improve their situations. They have automated their behaviors, meaning they do certain things without conscious thinking. They act in certain ways out of habit, and breaking such habits means spending time and energy on finding and automating new behaviors. It will disrupt their work and (temporarily) increase their workload. So most people rather prefer to carry on with inefficient practices than investing in smarter practices that can help them reduce stress and get more things done.

 In the long haul, this is of course a devastating strategy, both for individuals and for organizations.

The greatest enemy of change is convenience and our tendency as humans to choose the most convenient option when having to choose between different options. Avoiding to make a decision at all - preserving status quo - is even more convenient.

 When we have automated a certain behavior, such as using email for sharing documents, practically every effort of changing it becomes inconvenient. It often seems more convenient (e.g. takes less time and energy) to avoid change by coming up with more or less innovative excuses; “Is it secure?”, “Won’t this just add to information overload?”, “What if someone destroys the wiki?”, “The technology is so messy that it’s best to have a regular face-to-face meeting instead of a virtual one”...

Isn’t it strange that we haven’t become used to continuous improvement in information / knowledge work in the same way that we have when it comes to the production processes in factories? It’s almost as if we have reached knowledge worker nirvana with email and intranets; “If we just add commenting and likes to news articles on our intranet, then what is left to improve?” We have gotten used to get new tools and features every now and then, but not to analyze and improve our practices.

When it comes to social software, mobility and cloud computing - is it really so bold to take a step into the future when the future is in your hands already, as a consumer? What people seem to fear is not the technology itself, but the fact that introducing new technologies will – and should – change our behaviors and habits at work. Changing the communication culture will necessarily change how work and resources are being coordinated. Changing our practices is inconvenient and will in some way or another (temporarily) disrupt our work.

The problems and challenges with knowledge work today become so much easier to see when look at knowledge work in the light of new opportunities, emerging next practices:

We can see that people who work with tasks that are not tied to a physical location shouldn't have to go to a specific location to perform it, but they could do it from anywhere they see fit.
We can see that sending emails back and forth might not be the most efficient way to collaborate when we can manage the communication more efficiently using dedicated spaces for collaboration.
We can see that measuring work in hours might have been a good way to measure productivity at the assembly line, but that it is often a lousy measure for measuring the productivity of knowledge work.

If we all start thinking along thess lines, we will hopefully reach to the conclusion that we can actually weed out many of the inefficiencies of the large organization simply by finding and implementing new ways to communicate and collaborate.

 The bottom line is; why do we fear new opportunities when the room for improvement in knowledge work is so big? What we really should fear is that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. At some point in time we will just have made ourselves irrelevant.


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