Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

13 August 2010

What is the Important Work?

Clark @ 6:18 AM

When you look at the changes going on in society, and the implications for business, you realize that there are some significant changes going on.  This isn’t news: things are moving faster, we’re having less resources available, our competition is more agile, the amount of relevant information is increasing, customers are more aware, the list goes on.  Does this mean something fundamental, however?

I want to argue that it does. Not surprisingly for regular readers, I think that the nature of work is changing.  The success factor for businesses will be, increasingly, the ability to:

  • continually innovate
  • conduct useful research
  • experiment
  • learn from mistakes
  • create new processes
  • solve problems
  • create new products/services/offerings/markets/businesses

In essence, to do the important work faster.  Call it knowledge work, call it concept work, the point is that execution will only  be the cost of entry, innovation will be the necessary differentiator.  The fact is, our brains are really good at pattern matching, and bad at rote work. Training people to do rote work is a dying enterprise. We should be reserving our brains for making decisions, dealing with ambiguity, and working together to create new understandings. That, increasingly, is the important work. And facilitating that work is job number one.

Now, I recognize that there’s a lot of work and businesses out there that are doing just fine as they are.  But that’s not the way to bet.  That’s likely to change in a relatively small window.  Some have postulated it on the order of 5 years.  No matter how cool your innovation is (c.f. the iPad), look how fast competitors come out (within months). That’s not a sufficient barrier to entry. And the work that’s not the important work?  Well, that could and should be outsourced or automated. Rote work isn’t how you add value, and create margins.

So, the important question becomes, how do we get the ability to do the important work?  And that, my friends, is why the ITA is on a crusade about wirearchy, personal knowledge management, social media, informal learning, and new L&D skillsBecause the only way to do the important work is to enable the power of your people. You need to get out of the old hierarchical ‘one thinks for many’ world, and start recognizing the importance of organization culture, of facilitating communication and collaboration, of enabling the necessary elements.

We believe that recognizing the inherent value of individual and collective capability, and honoring it with meaningful work and the best support, makes for more enjoyable and successful organizations.  We’re seeing the possibilities, tracking and developing the methods and tools, and helping organizations make the transition.  Are you ready to do the important work?


  1. […] Quinn confirms in What is the Important Work: Training people to do rote work is a dying […]

    Pingback by I don’t think, therefore I am not… « Explain Technology — 20 September 2010 @ 6:07 AM

  2. This is spot on. I have already watched employees struggle with adapting to this change, and I do think it is essentially concept work we’re talking about. While many around me seem to sense things must get done faster to stay competitive, very few seem to understand that this can’t be solved by asking people to work through existing processes faster, commit more to memory, and “cross-train” more frequently. I humbly suggest they’re unaware of the root issue that should be addressed — that the approach on HOW to work (and what training is provided as a result) very much affects the quality of
    what is produced and how fast it is brought to market.

    Where I’m currently working, those who approach problems with an innovator’s attitude rather than assembly line thinking are appreciated because they repeatedly analyze and solve the most complex problems. They’re the ones who constantly strive to understand the core concepts and see the connections. But there are also plentiful step-by-step process followers, and in the past few years they have grown increasingly nervous about their job security. Most of them still don’t understand what has fundamentally changed.

    Thanks for speaking out on this. It’s good to know someone else sees it.

    Comment by Ben K — 20 September 2010 @ 6:10 AM

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