By Thomas H. Davenport
Harvard Business School Press, 2005, $27.50
In the preface to his latest book, knowledge management (KM) guru Thomas Davenport admits that he’s not breaking new ground. His thesis—that organizations can and should improve the performance of knowledge workers—is an idea that Davenport (who holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College) has been pondering for nearly a decade. He decided to write the book now in part because of the pressure that globalization is exerting on the American workforce.
Much of the content will ring familiar to anyone who follows KM. Knowledge workers—those who earn their keep primarily by applying, creating and distributing knowledge—resist meddling by management in how they do their jobs. Many don’t like sharing their knowledge, especially when outsourcing looms on the horizon.
But the real quandary whenit comes to improving performance is: Many of the outputs of knowledge workers can’t be quantified or easily measured. Organizations are often at a loss trying to improve something that defies measurement.
Davenport does a good job establishing the challenges of improving knowledge work in today’s business environment. He delves into how different kinds of knowledge work require different strategies. For example, people who work collaboratively tend to improvise, seeking expertise for their teams as their situation warrants. Hence any attempt to improve their work by establishingformal processes will fail.
Davenport admits thatmaking meaningful strides to improve knowledge work is difficult. The most practical advice he imparts has to do with how individuals can become better personal information managers. Among the tips in a list of best practices: Limit the number of information devices, and don’t entirely abandon paper.
If nothing else, reading this book may help a knowledge worker improve her personal performance. And as Davenport points out, making improvements on an individual basis is typically overlooked by organizations, yet is nevertheless valuable.