New paper published in the Journal of Knowledge Management

Colin Milligan, Allison Littlejohn and I had a paper published in the Journal of Knowledge Management. The paper reports the findings from this and this work I blogged about in 2009.

Full reference:  Margaryan, A., Milligan, C., & Littlejohn, A. (2011). Validation of Davenport’s Classification Structure of Knowledge-intensive Processes. Journal of Knowledge Management, 15(4), 568-581.

The rise of the creative class

In The Rise of Creative ClassRichard Florida points out that little analytical value remains in traditional Marxian class distinctions of proletariat, bourgeoisie, capitalist and worker but also argues that the more recent concepts of knowledge worker, professional-managerial  and symbolic-analytical worker are also not sufficiently nuanced to describe the  contemporary forms of work.  He puts forward a four-category typology, “the new class structure” (Florida, 2002, pp. 68-72): creative class (comprised of two sub-groups – the super creative core and creative professionals); service class; working class; and agricultural workers.

1) Creative Class: within this group, the differentiation between the two sub-categories (the super creative core and creative professionals) is primarily based upon the extent to which these sub-groups produce transferable, widely usable forms (products, knowledge, methods, etc) as their primary function.

Super creative workers include eg scientists, engineers, writers, artists, architects, editors, designers, analysts, programmers.   The key characteristics of this sub-group are that they:

  • fully engage in creative process
  • produce new forms (designs, products, theories) that are readily transferable and widely useful
  • engage in creative work regularly – it’s their core task, it’s what they are paid to do
  • not just solve problems but find and define problems

Creative professionals includes health-care professionals, lawyers, managers, finance, office managers, some technicians in knowledge-intensive domains.  The key characteristics that distinguish this group are that they:

  • engage in creative problem-solving (but largely don’t define the problems)
  • draw upon existing knowledge to solve specific problems (but largely don’t create new knowledge)
  • sometimes may come up with a method or product that may become transferable and widely useful, but this is largely not part of their job description
  • apply or combine standard approaches in unique ways to fit the situation
  • exercise a great deal of judgement
  • sometimes may participate in testing and refinement of new techniques, product or method

2) Services class: low-end, typically low wage, and low-autonomy occupations, for example food-services workers, cleaners, personal care attendants, secretaries and clerical workers, security guards, some types of computer support specialists, etc. Florida argues that services class has emerged out of economic necessity because of the way the creative economy operates (it carries out largely a support function for the creative class).

3) Working class: including occupations such as roduction operations, transportation and material moving, repair and maintenance, construction work.

4) Agricultural workers: self-explanatory.

He also argues that the rise of creative class is reflected in shifts in values, norms and attitudes, in particular individuality, meritocracy, diversity and openness which always existed among certain types of professions but are now becoming increasingly much more pervasive and mainstream (ibid, pp. 77-80):

  • Individuality: creative workers have strong preference for individuality, self-statement; don’t want to conform to organisational directives; resist traditional group-oriented norms; endeavour to create individualistic identities (which can entail a mixing of multiple identities)
  • Meritocracy: merit, hard work, challenge and stimulation in work are strongly valued; propensity for goal-setting and achievement;  no longer define themselves mainly by financial status symbols – instead want to move up on the basis of their abilities and effort; are motivated by respect of peers; have faith that virtue will be rewarded; value self-determination; mistrust rigid caste systems.
  • Diversity and openness: diversity in all its manifestations is valued – seeking environment open to differences (from ethnic diversity to sexual orientation to acceptance of odd personal habits and styles of dress); value (geographic) mobility.


Classification of knowledge-intensive processes: What does Davenport’s matrix tell us?

I have written earlier about a research study in which we are looking at developing interventions (approaches, tools) for supporting knowledge work and learning in the workplace.

As part of the study we  conducted a survey (n=462) and semi-structured interviews (n=29) exploring current learning and knowledge sharing practices utilised by workers in a major multinational company.  The survey aims to elucidate, among other questions, the types of knowledge work that individuals carry out. To this end, we are using Davenport’s classification structure for knowledge-intensive processes.

For the survey, we translated each of the four subcategories of Davenport’s typology into a set of options. Respondents were asked to choose as many options as applied in describing their current job.

The initial analysis of the survey results shows that only a very small proportion of individuals characterised their job as neatly fitting into one specific model. Instead, the majority of knowledge worker jobs fit two or more categories spanning across the four models.

These findings suggest not only that, as Davenport himself admits, knowledge work is too complex to be reduced to two dimensions, but also may point to the possibility that the categories in these typology are not quite correct.  Many knowledge-intensive jobs, even if they are primarily routine, may require some degree of collaboration and personal interpretation or judgement.

Of course one has to take into consideration that our data is based on respondents’ self-reports, and we do not verify through parallel measures the extent to which these individuals’ categorisations of their work tasks are objective. Also, we cannot determine the extent to which the meaning of the options was interpreted uniformly across the sample (a common problem for surveys).

***** UPDATE on Oct 2, 2011: This study has now been published in the Journal of Knowledge Management. The full reference is:

Margaryan, A., Milligan, C., & Littlejohn, A. (2011). Validation of Davenport’s Classification Structure of Knowledge-intensive Processes. Journal of Knowledge Management, 15(4), 568-581.

Types of knowledge work: Differences between experts and novices?

Thomas Davenport in his “Thinking for a Living” (Chapter 2) offers a set of classifications of the types of knowledge work.

The first one is a martix structured around complexity (C) of knoweldge work (ranging from routine to interpretation/judgement-based) and level of interdependence (I) requried (from individual cator-based to reliant on collaborative groups). It includes transaction model (low C, low I); integration model (low C, high I); collaboration model (high C, high I), and expert model (high C, low I).

I am wondering if within each of these general types of knowledge work, there are differences in the nature of tasks that novices and experts carry out. Take for example the collaboration model. Davenport claims that knowledge work of this type is characterised by being improvisational, highly reliant on deep expertise across functions, and dependent on fluid deployment in flexible teams. He uses investment banking as a typical example of this type of knowledge work.  But how likley is a novice investment banker to have such deep cross-functional expertise?  Novices will probably start off by doing more routine and process-reliant tasks (the key characteristics of transaction and integration model), which will increase in complexity and level of interaction as their skills and expertise develops. Davenport’s classification model doesn’t seem to reflect a developmental trajectory that exists within each type of work.

We are currently using this classification within a research study in a global multinational company. It would be interesting to see if the upcoming surveys in each of the specialist testbeds within this company will show any differences between novices and experts in relation to the nature and the types of the knowledge work.

***** UPDATE on Oct 2, 2011: This study has now been published in the Journal of Knowledge Management. The full reference is:

Margaryan, A., Milligan, C., & Littlejohn, A. (2011). Validation of Davenport’s Classification Structure of Knowledge-intensive Processes. Journal of Knowledge Management, 15(4), 568-581.