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STRONG SUIT: The knowledge worker phenomenon


Dennis Strong

STRONG SUIT: The knowledge worker phenomenon

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More people than ever before earn their living by thinking. It is generally considered an endorsement when a person is described as “knowledgeable”. It tends to mean that the person is well informed about a situation or subject and worthy of trust.
Is knowledge overrated? Research shows that knowledge involves complex cognitive (thinking) processes that include perception, reasoning and association of ideas and concepts. It also indicates that knowledge is acquired through education, communications, learning, perceiving; then discerning patterns and drawing conclusions. Plato describes knowledge as “justified true belief”.
It has often been said that “knowledge is power”. With the increasing availability of information and data, the path to being knowledgeable becomes more complicated. Knowledge certainly involves interacting with information. We have all experienced the challenge of separating “facts” from opinion. Does that mean that being “informed” equates with being knowledgeable?
Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Foreign Policy magazine cites him “as one of the one hundred most influential public intellectuals in the world”. In his book, 5 Minds For The Future, Gardner emphasises minds that are disciplined, synthesising, creating, respectful, and ethical, as essential to being a useful person. He gave this summary in his preface: “In the future, individuals who wish to thrive will need to be experts in at least one area – they will need a discipline.
“As synthesisers, they will need to be able to gather together information from disparate sources and put it together in ways that work for themselves and can be communicated to other persons.
Because almost anything that can be formulated as rules will be done well by computers, rewards will go to creators – those who have constructed a box but can think outside it.
“The world of today and tomorrow is becoming increasingly diverse, and there is no way to cordon oneself off from this diversity. Accordingly, we must respect those who differ from us as well as those with whom we share similarities.
“Finally, as workers and as citizens, we need to be able to act ethically – to think beyond our own self-interest and do what is right under the circumstances.”
Personally, I have added a spiritual dimension to each of Gardner’s five minds. It recognises that our spiritual disposition directly affects our emotional resilience, hence our capacity to pursue each these minds diligently.                      
Without this dimension, a person lacks humility and is unable to move from knowledgeable to wise.
Now we turn to our present our current quest for changing what we perceive as a crisis. I am struck by the absence of these principles in our public and private discourse. For example, when we talk about productivity, educational curricula, suitability for leadership, the credibility of proposed strategies/plans etcetera, how would our perceptions and actions be changed? How would we redesign the Social Partnership for the future? How would we now assess the level of stewardship provided by those who have been entrusted with matters great and small?
As we look around us, let us recognise that each of us is required to be a “knowledge worker” in every aspect of our lives. If we are dissatisfied with how we are being led, we must become a different follower. Those who are seeking change must themselves be changed. God bless.

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