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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh Perspectives on Productivity, 4 Jan 2006
Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
In a sense, everyone must "think for a living" in response to questions, problems, opportunities, etc. Davenport focuses his attention on "how to get better performance and results from knowledge workers" and I presume to suggest that everyone involved in an organization's operations should be or helped to become productive "knowledge workers," whatever their specific duties and responsibilities may be. Those who have read any of Davenport's previous books -- notably Working Knowledge and Information Ecology co-authored with Laurence Prusak, The Attention Economy co-authored with John Beck, What's the Big Idea?, Mission Critical -- already know that Davenport is among the most perceptive and eloquent business thinkers on the subject of knowledge management. In my opinion, Thinking for a Living is his most valuable contribution to that subject thus far.
He carefully organizes his material within nine chapters. Throughout his lively and informative narrative, he responds to questions such as these:
• "What's a knowledge worker, anyway?"
• How do knowledge workers differ from others?
•  So what?
•  Which interventions, measures, and experiments in "knowledge work" are most effective?
• Which are the most important knowledge work processes?
• Which organizational technology is most appropriate to knowledge workers?
• How to develop their individual capabilities?
• What must be invested in knowledge workers' networks and learning?
• Which physical work environment will help to maximize knowledge worker performance?
• How best to manage knowledge workers?
Of special interest to me is the matrix of four knowledge work types (illustrated in figure 2-1 on page 27) which Davenport identified during a research project on knowledge management in which he was involved with Jeanne Harris and Leigh Donaghue. He offers a classification structure for knowledge-intensive processes which range from individual actors to collaborative groups: Integration Model (e.g. systematic, repeatable work), Collaboration Model (e.g. improvisational work), Expert Model (e.g. Judgment-oriented work), and Transaction Model (e.g. routine work). Of course, different kinds of knowledge work require different kinds of knowledge workers. Effective managers are those who get the most appropriate worker in alignment with each task.
As Davenport explains, "A job in which knowledge is created should be treated very differently from one in which it is applied." For example, "Those who find existing knowledge need to understand knowledge requirements, search for it among multiple sources, and pass it along to the requester or user." Other workers create new knowledge. Still others ("packagers") put together knowledge created by others. Knowledge workers can also be distinguished by the types of ideas with which they deal. "My view, however, is that the organizations that will be most successful in the future will be those in which it's everyone's job to be creating and using both big and small ideas."
With regard to high-performance knowledge workers, they tend to be more effective and efficient experiential learners, seeming "to get more learning out of a single experience and continually updated their skills, expertise, and social awareness as a natural part of their work." Also, many high-performers attributed problem-solving abilities to the acquisition of a broad base of knowledge. Moreover, the high-performers Davenport and his associates studied "often had unusual, and often somewhat illogical, career paths. However, they repeatedly told us in various ways that these different jobs provided them with unique perspectives and expertise in solving problems." They characterized themselves as "calculated" risk takers but "when they do make a decision to pursue a given area of expertise, the high performers invest heavily, and seem to have a `compass' for personal learning. They often described themselves as highly focused on the domains they decided to pursue." High performers retain knowledge in domains already mastered while "screening out" irrelevant information.
Obviously, high performers are the most valuable of all knowledge workers. Therefore, the highest priorities for knowledge managers is to hire and then develop those who are either high performers or seem most likely to become one. How? Recognize and accommodate their needs for (a) important personal relationships, (b) accomplishing worthwhile tasks in a timely manner, and (c) proactive reciprocity re information and opportunities. According to Davenport, "perhaps the most important point to consider is the interrelated nature of these practices of high performers." Davenport agrees with Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Warren Bennis that the most desirable, knowledge-oriented culture is characterized by "the Five Fs": fast, flexible, focused, friendly, and fun. To establish and then sustain what Davenport describes as "Good Managerial Hygiene in the Knowledge Age,"offers a list of eight traits that apply to all kinds of workers and organizations. (These are discussed on pages 204-206.) It is imperative that managers understand these and other performance-related factors and how they interact with each other in the real world.
This review is somewhat longer than others I have composed recently because I have found so much of great value in Davenport's book. Also, because I agree with him and Peter Drucker (among others) that the fate of advanced economies depends on making knowledge workers more productive. Davenport concludes, "There is no business or economic issue that is more important to our long-term competitiveness and standard of living."
Decades ago, Drucker said something to the effect "If you don't have customers, you don't have a business." I presume to paraphrase that, suggesting that "If you don't have productive knowledge workers, you don't have a chance."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights on knowing your knowledge workers, 25 July 2006
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
This is a fine, occasionally frustrating book. It is frustrating for the same reason that it is so badly needed: business is just starting to figure out what it means to compete in a knowledge-based economy. Knowledge work is tremendously important, but only partially understood. This volume, which mixes practical advice with worksite studies, is a good stepping stone toward comprehending knowledge work and the people who accomplish it. Author Thomas H. Davenport is honest enough to admit what isn't known, however he delivers what is known clearly. He explains various organizational schema that are applicable, but not rigid. He provides examples, sharing personal and organizational stories that illustrate both success and failure in knowledge work. We warmly recommend this book to knowledge workers, those who manage knowledge workers and business leaders who are planning for the future.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 10 July 2014
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5.0 out of 5 stars a welcome update on how to manage staff, 9 May 2014
tallmanbaby (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Thinking for a Living - how to get better performance and results from knowledge workers - Thomas H Davenport

This is a review of the Kindle version, which seems to have vanished from the Amazon store. This is a welcome update on how best to manage staff, staff who know more about their job than you do, staff who are highly skilled and highly mobile. Actually staff like the majority of workers nowadays. The book is written with authority and insight, not heavily research and statistic based, nor just a set of empty exhortations. The author clearly knows what he is talking about. Having worked in organisations most of my life, this was packed with welcome insights and thoughts.

The book is tightly organised in chapters, so the best way to read it is a chapter at a time, if you are struggling with one particular chapter, press on, the next chapter is likely easier going. Each chapter comes with a summary and bullet points. My Kindle version is well produced, no obvious typos or other glitches.

The one downside of this book is that you come away from it realising just how poorly managed most organisations are, still tied to a top down approach, and if they thrive it is in spite of higher management and because of expert staff on the ground who really know what they are doing.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Book That is Long Coming, 13 Mar 2006
Arthur G. Tisi "" ( - See all my reviews
Knowledge workers are the fundamental building block to any company focused on Business Intelligence. Yet, these folk are very limited in their scalability or exposure. In fact most companies simply do a poor job of leveraging same. Thomas H. Davenport does a huge service to all by taking on the vitality of this core group. He takes it head on and adds deepe perspective. An important read for those engaged in understanding the keys to business information (and that should be anyone and everyone in the company.!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 5 Dec 2014
robbie irvine (Rugby, Warwickshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Interesting book that makes discussions with my boss interesting
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