Knowledge work as art

Jim McGee writes:

The ideal knowledge work product is exactly what your client asked for and could only have been created by you ... The primary challenge [is] "how do we ... create this?" instead of "how do we produce the same thing ... again?"

[But] creating good knowledge work has a challenge beyond simple uniqueness. It is the same challenge faced by artists who once worked at the pleasure of their patrons. You want to create your art, but ultimately, you have to please your patron as well.

I think it's important to accept that knowledge work is a creative act very similar to the creation of art. What I find interesting is to compare attributes of the artist's work that we don't typically associate with knowledge workers:

  • All artists develop a natural style
  • Art styles can be uniquely identified
  • It is possible to teach a disciple to imitate an art master's style
  • The execution of a particular style can be done well or poorly
  • When styles become popular, their use and popularity are self-reinforcing
  • Changes in style popularity are often driven by renegades who react against prominent characteristics of the dominant style

Approaches to knowledge work similarly goes through fads and phases -- brainstorming, systems engineering, extreme programming, six sigma ... the list goes on and on.

Possibly this is pushing the comparison too far. But I find it an interesting thought experiment!

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Jim McGee (not verified) — Sat, 26/06/2010 - 02:47

I like the analogy and the notion of style as applied to knowledge work. A presentation from McKinsey or Accenture on the same topic would look and feel quite different.

Stephen Bounds — Sat, 26/06/2010 - 22:51

Thanks Jim, and I agree.

I don't want people to think that someone's style is just a observable quirk though. In any creative endeavour work, whether art or knowledge work, your style is also your brand.

Much like a Monet painting promises insights into perception captured in paint, the work of Patrick Lambe and his crew at Straits Knowledge has a distinct style (open, engaging, honest) which gives people confidence in what they can deliver.

In knowledge work, people hire you because of what they can observe of your thought processes and how you communicate the results of that thinking.

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