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November 2002    Main Feature
a free monthly briefing on the knowledge agenda
No. 67

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Managing editor:
David J. Skyrme


Smart Knowledge:
Are You Exploiting Your Knowledge Anchor?

David J. Skyrme

This article was prompted by a thought from Jerry Ash (founder of the Association of Knowledge Work) during a telephone conversation we had earlier this week. He is studying knowledge assets from a personal, rather than corporate, perspective. This personal focus on KM is a topic I revisit occasionally (see Have You Done Your Annual IC Review in I3 UPDATE/ENTOVATION International News No. 57, January 2002). But what makes it more relevant now is the growing number of highly knowledgeable people, often with significant KM experience, seeking jobs. If we are in a knowledge economy, and the source of most knowledge is people, what can individuals, many of them "let go" by their former employers, do to improve their chances of getting a knowledge job that suits them. I'm not going to repeat all the usual advice given in career and job seeking manuals etc. (except perhaps to reiterate that I see far too many generic CVs sent out in a scattershot manner), but suggest a new angle from a knowledge perspective.

What is a Knowledge Job?

Most of us these days do work that is knowledge-intensive. The nature of this work varies greatly, depending on the domain of knowledge, the tasks involved, the organizational context etc. Much of it is relatively unstructured, not easily lending itself to automation. Sure, we use computers as information retrieval and processing tools, but it us as humans who normally decide how to go about a task and which knowledge we shall and shall not use. However, because we are in a 'job', our employer and boss 'pigeon holes' us into a role, and quite often determines what we should do.

A 'job' is a set of work tasks associated with a role. Because the nature and volume of work tasks is increasingly dynamic, and the skills needed for successful execution vary task by task, the chances of having the right person in the right role for the right task at the right time is quite low; it requires expertise in work scheduling and pattern matching to mesh available human resources to required tasks. As consulting and other project-based organizations know, matching tasks with people and human resource scheduling is a core competency that allows them to put together temporary teams selected for the tasks in hand. Unfortunately too many organizations still think in terms of jobs within business functions, since that's the way their organization is designed. This means that too often, individuals are stuck doing tasks they don't enjoy and organizations are not carrying out their portfolio of work in the optimum way.

A large number of individuals are indeed moving away from the job scenario as are organizations moving towards more flexible work arrangements. These individuals do temporary work assignments that fit in with their lifestyle interests and patterns. They are 'free agents' who decide which work packages interest them. Of course, many people stick to 'jobs', even when unhappy, because of stability, financial security and pension rights, but even these certainties are getting flimsier daily.

So the first point to consider when you are considering your next career move, is do you want a job, or do you really want a certain type and mix of work assignments? Do you want to fit into an existing job or create your own job? What I am suggesting is that for many people seeking a knowledge 'job' could be a constraint on your career, compared to exploiting your knowledge anchors (see below).

Knowledge Anchors

People perform better at those tasks that interest and stimulate them and for which they are competent. Obvious really, but it often takes people many years to fully understand their inner drives and core capabilities. Indeed, in terms of careers, Edgar Schein suggested that it was often mid-life (late 30s and 40s) before an individual's career anchor becomes clear. Our anchor is the "dominant motivator" that guides us into the type of work we want to do. Schein in his book 'Career Anchors: Discovering Your Real Value (1990)' identified 8 main anchors that are found in different people. These are technical/functional, general management, autonomy/independence, security/stability, entrepreneurial/creativity, service/dedication (to a cause), challenge and lifestyle. Most people find that one anchor is dominant. By analogy, I suggest each of us has just a few types of knowledge anchor, which determine the type of knowledge work that motivates us. I propose the following:

  • The expert - you have expertise in a domain of knowledge or a particular skill. You enjoy honing your knowledge and exercising your core skills. You are the recognized "expert" and stay with your choosen knowledge domain over many years.
  • Knowledge analyst - you love assimilating knowledge from many sources. You have many of the attributes of the expert (but are perhaps not as self-opinionated or self-promotionalist) and also of the packager. Others respect your views and like your 'rational' knowledge to support their arguments.
  • Knowledge leader - you have a broad area of knowledge and build bridges between knowledge (and people) in different domains. You are a generalist, not a specialist. You see the big picture and how knowledge supports organizational objective. You're the future CKO or CEO.
  • Knowledge networker - you are a knowledge broker and connector. You connect people to people and people to knowledge. A hybrid of expertise and leadership - you're scope is not too broad and you have a large address book. You don't know all the answers yourself, but you know a person who does.
  • Knowledge custodian - you like everything to be in its proper place. You love classifying knowledge and organizing content into taxonomies. You get upset if knowledge renegades upset the system. You're probably the knowledge centre manager.
  • Knowledge creator - you're an ideas person. Always thinking of new things to do, you never seem to have time to see them through to implementation. Your thinking goes off in several directions but you do come up with breakthrough ideas and innovative approaches.

  • Knowledge entrepreneur - you may not have the best ideas yourself, but you do recognize those that have potential. You are the bridge between the creator and the packager. You have a good story to tell and are committed to making a difference.
  • Knowledge packager - if you didn't do knowledge work you would probably be an engineer or mechanic. You assemble all the knowledge components to make something worthwhile. You help knowledge creators realize their dreams.
  • Knowledge visualizer - you like pictures, so you get away from those boring bulleted Powerpoint slide shows. You make your points in images, diagrams and perhaps even cartoons and music.
  • Knowledge activist - you are committed to a cause and will marshal the knowledge you need to support your case. You can also be a knowledge maverick, questioning the status quo and raising doubts in others about the efficacy of their hard-won knowledge. Although an irritant to the powers that be, it is often you who initiates change.
  • Knowledge seeker - ever curious, you are always asking "why" and seeking new knowledge. Even after you retire, you will go on knowledge delivery cruises to new exotic locations. The pursuit of knowledge for your personal fulfilment is your key driver. You couldn't care less if it's useful to others or not, but are always willing to share it enthusiastically.
  • Storyteller - you cut into the bullshit and encapsulate knowledge into highly memorable stories. You have a strong imagination and look for analogies and metaphors. The fact that storytelling is now a tool for corporate knowledge management means that you should have a bright career ahead - even if you did get turned down for the Edinburgh Festival fringe!

Anchors Away

You probably recognize some of your traits in the above anchors. Once you've clarified which two or three are your primary anchors - the kinds of knowledge role in which you excel and are motivated - you have the knowledge to frame or hone your knowledge proposition. You don't have to be seeking a job or work to do this. Just as its wise to keep your CV up to date for any eventuality, its a good discipline to have your knowledge proposition components ready for whatever situation might arise, with clients, business partners or peers.

The problem with many knowledgeable people, whether knowledge workers or knowledge job seekers is the tendency to adopt a 'knowledge push' strategy: here are my credentials, my CV etc. CVs and capability profiles these days are almost too predictable. Even though many are factual and good, few inspire the recipient. The ones that stand out are those that exhibit some degree of creativity and offer something of interest to potential clients. This calls for researching your targets (potential buyers, employers) and finding a proposition that is attractive to them. Don't wait for jobs to be advertised or vacancies to come available. A good proposition that demonstrates value to the recipient will create job openings or work opportunities that were not there before (80 per cent of the roles I filled in my corporate career were jobs designed by myself).

Your approach should mirror your anchor. That way you are portraying your capabilities in a way that you do well. For example, if you are a knowledge packager, why not send your proposition on a CD as a short HTML file with links to more in depth knowledge resources? If you are a visualiser, why not send a pictorial brochure or a video? And if you are a storyteller, don't even bother to write anything down. Grab your target, take them into a pub and spin a convincing story - isn't that how many companies got their seed funding?!

But there again, by suggesting you sell yourself in ways that may be unconventional, perhaps I am revealing one of my own anchors as a knowledge maverick.

Thanks for the stimulus, Jerry, and we look forward to publishing some of your thoughts on personal KM in the near future.

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