The rise of the knowledge
worker had been theorized by Peter Drucker back in the 1950s. He described how
fewer workers would be doing physical labor, and more would be applying their
minds. In 1984, John Nesbitt coined a theory stating that the future would be
driven largely by information: companies that managed information well could
obtain an advantage, however he said that profitability of the information
float (information that the company had and others desired) would all but
disappear as inexpensive computers made information more accessible.
The sociological consequences
of information technology have been examined by Daniel Bell (1985), while
Gloria Schuck and Shoshana Zuboff looked at psychological factors. Zuboff, in
her five year study of eight pioneering corporations made the important
distinction between automating technologies and information technologies.
In 1990, Peter Senge,
collaborating with Arie de Geus at Dutch Shell, borrowed de Geus’ notion of the
learning organization, expanded it, and popularized it. The underlying theory
is that a company’s gathering, analyzing, and information using abilities are a
necessary requirement for business success in the information age. (See organizational
learning.) In order to do this, Senge claimed that an organization would need
to be structured such that:
People capacity to learn and
be productive can be continuously expand.
Nurturing New patterns of
Encouraging collective aspirations.
Encouraged people to see the
whole picture together.
Senge identified five
disciplines of a learning organization. They are:
Personal responsibility, self
reliance, and mastery We believe that we are the masters of our own destiny.
We make decisions carrying the responsibility of the consequences. We take the
initiative to learn the required skills to get it done when a problem needs to
be fixed, or an opportunity exploited.
Mental models Exploring our
personal mental models is required to understand the subtle effect they have on
Shared vision Discussing and
communicating the vision of where we want to be in the future to everybody. It
provides guidance and energy for the journey ahead.
Team learning Learning should
be collaborative. This involves a shift from a spirit of advocacy to a spirit
Systems thinking We have a
global look rather than the locals. This is what Senge calls the Fifth
discipline. It is the glue that integrates the other four into a coherent
strategy. For an alternative approach to the learning organization
Thomas A. Stewart, for
example described the investment an organization makes in knowledge using the
term intellectual capital. It is composed of human capital (the knowledge
inside the heads of employees), customer capital (the knowledge inside the
heads of customers that decide to buy from you), and structural capital (the
knowledge that resides in the company itself.