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February 14, 2006


Moe Levine

Here is the definition of a knowledge worker, the ability to leave which creates sufficient economic power to compel the benefits described.

"Otherwise, if Pixar's creative talent leaves, "Disney just purchased the most expensive computers ever sold," according to Lawrence Haverty, a fund manager at Gabelli Asset Management."

One must have the power to extract the value from what one creates.

Law firms viz their clients have little or no economic power. It's why they bill in .6 ;that's the cheapest way to buy legal skills.

If you think not, try to buy a car based on GM's time sheets.


On reading Mr. Baker's post, I thought that Mr. Morris had some good points to make. On reading Mr. Morris's response, I refined my response. I think that he has a good point but overstates it. Young lawyers in law firms, like workers in factories, Wal-Mart employees, etc., may have limited options but they are by no means slaves. Every one of them has the right to decamp at any time.

Dan Morris

Mr. Levine -

Slaves can not, by any definition, be knowledge workers. The core component for any knowledge worker is to "own the means of production" - meaning that the person (knowledge worker) must be indepently in controll of creating and producing/directing the related knowledge work. Slaves - can certainly be smart, intelligent, loyal, and survivors - but never own the means of production as they are either physical or emotional property of others and therefore can not own the means of production.

Certainly, Stallin (and others) have forced indentured servents to reengineer something - yet reengingeering isn't knowledge work - as someone else created the original. That would be like comparing a student of Picasso - who duplicated the Master's original artwork with the Master himself - two distinct offerings and only one of which can ever quality as a knowledge worker (within that context).

I recall working in both the Big 8 in those days and a smaller firm before I received my license. Prior to receiving my license, in essence I (and my colleagues) were treated much like slaves as the overlord partners and slave driving managers forced us to endure months and years of abuse - precisely because they knew we had no choice and no ability to revolt until they (the power holders) signed off on our required experience forms. Then - they watched their human capital leap off their old firm's sinking ship to persue a better life. The leadership of these firms failed to recognize the value of their human capital and therefore limited the ability of their knowledge worker candidate to evolve into true knoweldge workers.

My conculsion that today's professionals are for the most part simply the 21 century version of Henery Ford's assemblyline factory worker still stands - today's human capital; employed by firms large and small may have the ability to rise above the tide of mediorcrity and service work and become knowledge workers; unfortunately, with the disaml ability of their company leadership - the probability is remote at best.

This is an unfortunate reality - and a severe waste of intellectual capital, curiosity, and committment.

Moe Levine

its not inputs its output

slaves can be knowledge workers

for example, at the end of WWII Soviet engineers reversed engineered the B-29 in less than 18 months. Stalin gave them a choice--do the work or be shot

David Maister

The point is entiel;y correct and very important. Being a knowledge worker (or a 'professional') has absolutely NOTHING to do with what you got your degree in, but how you work and (as is pointed out here) how you are allowed to work.

There's an old saying that you can manage the WHAT, the WHY and the HOW. With all people (not just so-called knowledge workers) the best way to manage is specify what needs to be done (outcomes)in incredible detail, help people understand why its important and then leave them alone to figure out how to do kit. This applies equally well to secretaries as well as lawyers. It's not JUST autonomy, it's a package that also includes accountability.

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