In theory: The knowledge worker

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

To anyone under the age of 30, the 60s was a decade of freedom, festivals and sexual revolution. London was filled with people who dressed like fictional sleuth Austin Powers and grooved around Carnaby Street in Mini Coopers.

But few people will be aware that another revolution, a far less glamorous one, took place at the same time in the world of business.

Peter Drucker, the management guru to blow all other management gurus out of the water, published The Age of Discontinuity in 1969. Why a revolution?

In the book, Drucker first used the term "knowledge worker" to describe a manager who is a thoughtful and brainy person, not a pen-pushing, paper-shifting supervisor. A knowledge worker is prized for what they know and the contacts they have cultivated. They are paid to use their grey matter to solve problems and to manage their resources intelligently, not simply to execute diktats from on high. The professional manager had come of age.

What does that mean for you? Drucker's thoughts are as pertinent to you as a professional manager at a charity as they are to the chief executive of an investment bank. Without Drucker and the birth of the knowledge worker, we would still be in a world filled with grey-suited, corporate drones - though if you look carefully, there are still a few knocking about the place.

Drucker recognised that, with time, knowledge would become power and that organisations would want to hire managers for their knowledge and their contacts, not just their ability to crack the whip or dangle a carrot.

Apart from managers, many others can thank Drucker for his management revolution - not least business schools, which have capitalised on the elevation of the manager from lowly supervisor to so-called professional. They charge tens of thousands of pounds to educate you in the ways of the professional manager. It's not just about knowing which tie to team with which suit. You also have to think about your socks.

- Emma De Vita is a senior section editor on Management Today.

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