Shawn Callahan of Anecdote argues that the need for the term knowledge worker is redundant now that technology is ubiquitous in the developed world and that almost every worker trades in knowledge of some sort. He sees its use as a way to discriminate between identified knowledge workers and those whose roles are not traditionally viewed this way:

It’s an dark undercurrent and tacitly becomes a basis for discrimination. “Our salespeople are knowledge workers but our gas fitters are not.” I suspect this feeling of superiority comes from the erroneous data-information-knowledge model where knowledge (and even more ridiculously, wisdom) sits at the pinnacle of the pyramid.

I see where Shawn is going with his argument, particularly in developed nations. But I agree with Matthew Hodgson, who puts forth an alternative position that Shawn’s views are misplaced. Matthew argues that Shawn misses an opportunity to communicate an understanding of knowledge work outward from the insider community to the larger workforce and organisational management who don’t necessarily label themselves as knowledge workers – “Oh, no! I work in marketing/HR/finance/logistics/whatever.”

I have massive respect for both Shawn and Matthew. They are both thought leaders in the KM community and I think it’s good for us as a group to have robust differences of opinion as we try to take the knowledge management community into the 21st Century and out of traditional KM spaces such as records management.

There’s still a massive disconnect between what people who work in knowledge management and other knowledge-centric roles, and identify as such, and those who don’t.

Matthew, you’ve hit the nail on the head.