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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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We're living in very interesting times. I think we're seeing a fundamental change in organizations as they move more and more towards knowledge work. Nothing matters more than value production—without it you will not have a revenue-generating business.

In the past when knowledge work was more rare, companies produced a physical good for sale or use as an input to other products. There was a tangible object that had some sort of utility to someone. The problem of a manufacturing company is distribution: how can I get this product into the hands of paying customers that want it. When organizing the employees of such a company, a rigid hierarchy works well because it generates efficiency. That leads to cost reductions, which translate into profits.

But in a knowledge organization, the fundamental problem is producing something of value. Since the product is intangible, anyone could generate it and you're fighting a human tendency to undervalue non-physical goods and services. There's a constant struggle to get customers to actually pay for your product; distribution has become trivial due to the Internet. Everyone in a knowledge-based company must be tied to value production as there's not much opportunity for cost savings since the inputs are typically mental. Efficiency comes from shedding non-producers.

This has implications for career development that are just starting to come to light. For example, your career needs to be horizontal. No longer must one climb the ladder to build a career. Sidesteps and expansion of responsibility without title changes are just as viable in a modern organization, if value production is the key. This makes you more valuable to the company.

And that's the path to a long, fruitful career.