Information Work Versus Knowledge Work

How can we reduce our workloads, and do the more interesting knowledge work? In his April 15th presentation “The Nature of Knowledge Work” Keith D. Swenson, VP of R & D for Fujistu America defined knowledge work as:

  • Non-repeated
  • Unpredictable
  • Emergent
  • Robust in the face of variable conditions

Presumably, then, all other work done by knowledge workers is information work. It is work that is repeated, predictable, routine or otherwise fairly straight-forward.

This is not a new consideration. We have been good at ensuring the repetitive or predictable work is given to people at more junior levels so that we are not paying high-priced staff such as lawyers and managers to do the repetitive tasks. But with the current economy we have seen decreases in staff at many levels so that delegation is not as easy.

Fortunately with newer technologies we have seen more possibilities for either having the information work automated or spreading the work collaboratively across a number of people, either within in a team or by “crowdsourcing” across a wider group.

At the Legal IT conference in April in Montreal I quoted Richard Susskind from his 2008 book The End of Lawyers:

The market is increasingly unlikely to tolerate expensive lawyers for tasks…that can equally or better be discharged by less expert people, supported by sophisticated systems and processes.

Some portions of what we currently consider legal work can be accomplished with the use of Internet-based tools. For example, Dynamic Lawyers‘ simplified legal forms and video guides developed by Ontario lawyers, and Fired Without Cause‘s severance calculator are early examples. Some lawyers may wish to participate in developing these new “sophisticated systems and processes”.

But regardless of whether they decide to participate in developing web-based services, lawyers should be distinguishing the information work from the knowledge work where they truly can be doing valued (and interesting) work. I heard a similar message from Jordan Furlong at the Law Society of Upper Canada’s recent Solo and Small Firm Conference. My full set of slides are here:

I brought the same idea to the CALL conference two weeks ago in Windsor during the panel talk “Media Monitoring and Current Awareness: Tools in the Information Explosion”. Take the library’s routine current awareness work and automate it as much as possible so that well-educated and skilled library staff can focus their attention on the more difficult current-awareness type tasks such as competitive intelligence analysis and in-depth research projects. Most libraries already do this, so the talk focused on new technologies that can be used for even more. The presentation slides are here:

Looking at this message to both lawyers and librarians, is there work that is being done by lawyers in the law firms that library can help to automate or otherwise achieve? Are there services for clients that lawyers are providing, such as updating email messages, that libraries can facilitate?

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