Knowledge Artisan

In a discussion with Marshall Kirkpatrick about his climate change custom search engine, he suggested I take Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery Online Workshop.  After looking at Harold’s blog, highlighting and tagging paragraphs from several posts, and exchanging emails with Harold I signed on.  Little did I know I was engaging with a master of mastery.

Harold’s posts on “the knowledge artisan” captured my attention.  Knowledge worker seems like a poor term to describe the work that consultants, product managers, customer success professionals, researchers, and marketers perform.  Harold’s definition of knowledge artisan captures the essence of skill and craft that goes into any form of knowledge work:

“An artisan is skilled in a craft and uses specialized tools or machinery.  Artisans were the dominant producers of goods before the Industrial Revolution. Knowledge artisans are similar to their pre-industrial counterparts, especially when it comes to tools. Knowledge artisans not only design the work, but they can do the work. It is not passed down an assembly line.”

As we reviewed our qualitative research that led to digital working styles, we realized the term “knowledge artisan” fit what we were hearing from product managers, UX strategy consultants, management consultants, startup CEOs, and customer success professionals.

We expanded the definition:

A knowledge artisan takes on important yet ill defined projects that require the selection of digital tools to research the needs, designs the unique work process and outcome, engages colleagues for collaboration, performs the work, and shares the work with their internal or external colleagues.

Due to the many unique projects that a knowledge artisan takes on during their professional career, it is difficult to keep track of the digital artifacts that they might need for future projects.  Clients are unwilling to fund the curation of these artifacts and there is never enough extra time.  Knowledge artisans need a “second brain.”

Tiago Forte brands his life’s work as Building a Second Brain.  Forte asserts that taking notes and processing of notes is the building block of a second brain:

“More than half the workforce today can be considered “knowledge workers”—professionals for whom knowledge is their most valuable asset, and who spend a majority of their time managing large amounts of information. In addition, no matter what our formal role is, all of us have to come up with new ideas, solve novel problems, and communicate with others effectively. We have to do these things regularly, reliably, not just once in a while.”  (pp. 22-23).

The knowledge artisan wants to be efficient and reuse as much relevant previous work as possible.  Yet, she wants to be efficient and meet the unique needs of each client and project. 

The TAI Group in their executive coaching training starts with their “Who’s There?” Platform.   Based on their extensive work in professional theater, the TAI Group starts with helping knowledge artisans understand who is there – their audience.  At the end of a training or a client engagement, they ask “Who’s there now?”

Product Managers are examples of knowledge artisans whether creating new products or generating road maps for existing products.  Each release is about creating something that hasn’t existed before  for an  ill defined audience (there is never enough time to exhaustively research the audience to know who’s there) that has yet to be defined goals.  

KnowNow is designed for the knowledge artisan.  KnowNow flexibly supports finding previous work artifacts and processes to serve as the starting point for defining the work on a new project.  Building on common cloud content platforms (Microsoft, Google, Slack, Dropbox) for enterprise and personal content and web search tools (Google, Bing), KnowNow brings previous and current content into shareable spaces for co-creation of new content.  KnowNow then serves as a common repository to share the knowledge artisan’s work product with the client so that the client can keep found things found.

Harold Jarche places the knowledge artisan in the locus between work teams, communities of practice and social networks.

As CEO and co-founder, Skip Walter is the visionary and driving force behind KnowNow and Factor10x.

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