Goodbye, Knowledge Workers. Welcome, Creative Workers!

Twenty years ago, I taught people how to develop their own templates, macros, and solutions in Microsoft Office programs. It was good business, for a few years. But rapid innovation in desktop software quickly eroded my business model. Deep knowledge of Office products became useless and I had to move on to other ideas.

We can see the same happening across many industries and business models nowadays.

I don’t need highly-paid photographers anymore because it’s easier than ever to take great photos with my smartphone. I hardly need my accountant because better software takes care of all the simple bookkeeping rules and answers to complicated questions can easily be found online. And I don’t need to understand how to design my blog because talented, affordable designers can be found all over the world through online marketplaces.

In this century, there is less need to know things and more need to make things.

The half-time of knowledge has been shrinking steadily over a decade or two. Has anyone recently read a manual for a tool or application? For me, the last time was five years ago, when I bought a digital camera. The only thing I remember from the manual was how to set picture quality to automatic. This turned out to be a fine setting for 99% of the photos I took with it, for two years, until smartphones stole its job.

In the 21st century, there is little value in knowing how to use a tool because tools emerge and disappear faster than piercings in a teenager’s body. The value now is in making great-looking photos with any tool you happen to have in your hands. Likewise, there is little value in knowing which tax rules to apply to which invoices. The value is in making the software that does this automatically for its users. And maybe there is some value in knowing HTML for ordinary writers and publishers. But the real value is in making blog posts and articles that are so inspiring or remarkable that they get many views.

All of this means that Peter Drucker’s knowledge workers are on their way out. Investing in knowledge and then trying to charge a good price putting this knowledge to good use is a dead business model. Knowledge can be found everywhere, at almost no cost. This century is for creative workers, who invest their time in experimentation and practice while continuously updating and replacing their knowledge.

Thanks to ubiquitous information, the knowledge economy has turned into the creative economy.

photo: (c) 2016 Jurgen Appelo

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