Recognizing the two types of knowledge workers on your team

Interesting discussion over at Future of Work that provides some insight for teams. In an effort to better define and understand “knowledge workers,” authors Jim Ware and Charlie Grantham explore two types:

Knowledge Executors and Knowledge Generators

Knowledge Executors are those workers who apply existing knowledge by manipulating information through processes created or invented by others. Knowledge Generators, on the other hand, create new knowledge by manipulating information to develop new solutions to a given problem, or to create new concepts or products.

Following these definitions, my take is that Knowledge Generators produce new knowledge by manipulating or combining existing knowledge, whereas Knowledge Executors put knowledge to use for tangible applications.

I suspect that most knowledge workers engage both as Executors and as Generators in their daily activities. However, each team member will likely lean toward one or the other end of the spectrum based on their job description and individual propensities.

Knowledge Generators cultivate networks

A key difference regarding the two types of knowledge workers was added by a commenter, Larry West, and reprinted here.

Successful Knowledge Generators on the other hand, seem to naturally be excellent networkers. As Daniel Goleman points out in his book, Emotional Intelligence, star performers are often people who cultivate a network of fellow Knowledge Generators who they can tap into for quick solutions or ideas. As active contributors to such networks, they tend to quickly respond to those in their inner circle and earn the privilege of quick response in return. Knowledge Generators also have networks of trusted colleagues that they can use to test new products, services or concepts before disseminating them. The key for me is membership in multiple groups or networks is very typical of Knowledge Generators whereas Knowledge Executors are less likely to be members of diverse groups.

The notion that Knowledge Generators build and rely on networks seems accurate. In order to create new knowledge, we typically need input from multiple sources. New and diverse knowledge serves as a sort of incubator for nurturing new thoughts, ideas and perspectives.

That’s why it is often true that the team members who come up with the creative solutions to tough problems are those who also read constantly, blog, talk to others across the organization, and have many outside contacts.

These same team members may not be the best at implementing their ideas. Thus teams also need Knowledge Executors to dig in and make sure that the creative solutions get applied properly and achieve their purpose.

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