Over the past 150 years, we have progressed from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age. The Information Age has made many things possible, including this website and blog. It created a new workforce: “knowledge workers.” Knowledge workers focus largely on manipulating information and deploying expertise. A number of fields fall into the category of knowledge worker . . . computer programmers, web developers, lawyers who draft contracts, MBAs and number crunchers. These fields share similar characteristics in that they are analytical, sequential, and logical.
Those of us who are knowledge workers have seen the employment landscape change drastically over the past few decades. The heyday of the 90’s was replaced by the dot-com bust as we entered the 21st century. And just when we thought we’d turned the corner on that, we were faced with the biggest recession most of us have ever experienced.
In these troubled times, companies are looking for lifelines they can grasp to save their sagging bottom lines. Many times the solution is to replace knowledge workers with off-shore workers willing to do the same work for pennies on the dollar. Automation is also replacing many knowledge workers. Free or cheap electronic databases are replacing the knowledge previously provided only by lawyers and doctors. Accounting that used to require much thought and analysis by a skilled CPA is now accomplished in seconds using QuickBooks or TurboTax. And on and on it goes.
So how do we knowledge workers stay relevant and necessary in our current troubled times? According to Danial Pink in his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, “Mere survival today depends on being able to do something that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that powerful computers can’t do faster.” Pink makes a good case that we are entering a new age called the Conceptual Age, where knowledge workers will need to “supplement our well-developed high-tech abilities with abilities that are high concept and high touch.”
What exactly does this mean? Pink has devoted A Whole New Mind to explaining this. It’s a good, easy read and I highly recommend it. To tempt you a little, I’ll let you know that it means transitioning from sequential, logical, and analytical left-brain thinking to non-linear, intuitive, and holistic right-brain thinking. The left-brain capabilities are still necessary, but are no longer sufficient. According to Pink, “the capabilities we once disdained or thought frivolous–the right-brain qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning–increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders.”
Will you make the leap? Or will you be left competing with cheaper off-shore workers and automation?