Wisdom Workers of the World, Unite!

February 20, 2021

Wisdom Workers of the World, Unite!

May 29, 2023

Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” urged workers of the world to unite: “You have nothing to lose but your chains!” Today’s rally cry is a shout out to older workers, and it’s loud and clear: “We have everything to gain from your brains!”

Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge workers” sixty-two years ago to describe the coming wave of tech-savvy white-collar workers who rely upon information and data to make decisions. In 1959, no one knew what Peter meant as few people had ever seen a computer in person. Yet, these knowledge workers of the world did unite. They became such a powerful force that seven of the ten most valuable companies in the world today are tech companies.

But, today, knowledge is a commodity. All of the world’s information can now rest in the palm of our hands. Of course, while we’re awash in knowledge, we could use a little more wisdom. Whereas a knowledge worker tends to use an analytical mind, a wisdom worker likely thinks holistically and systemically, utilizing more creativity and emotional intelligence. Wisdom workers are more likely to be guided by their intuitive pattern recognition, something that artificial intelligence has yet to replicate. The ironic truth is: knowledge workers’ jobs are more at risk due to the on-going march of technology in the workplace. The fact is, it’s hard to replace the nuanced insight of a wisdom worker.

In 1999, Peter Drucker suggested that "the most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.” That was certainly true for the past twenty years, but I believe the rule of the knowledge workers is coming toward its end as an organization’s ability to cultivate and harvest wisdom will be the key differentiator of the future.

If I’m correct, new kinds of educational institutions will need to sprout just like computer trade schools flourished over the past forty years. The future of midlife wisdom schools like MEA is bright as they create the crucible for wisdom workers to unite and share best practices. Wisdom is not taught, it’s shared. And, if we can harness that wisdom in new, intergenerational ways, we might be able to solve some of the world’s most vexing problems that have, to date, stymied knowledge workers.

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