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Overload!: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization by Jonathan B. Spira

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CHAPTER 12

MANAGING WORK AND WORKERS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Being busy does not always mean real work.

—Thomas A. Edison

To put the challenges of the knowledge economy in perspective, consider this: At the turn of the twentieth century, approximately 90 percent of the workforce in the United States was comprised of unskilled labor. Even as recently as 25 years ago, the majority of the workforce was made up of industrial workers. In today’s workforce, knowledge workers form a plurality.

Indeed, today there are 78.6 million knowledge workers in the United States alone. These knowledge workers are found in all economic stations. An accounting clerk is a good example of an entry-level or rudimentary knowledge worker. An architect or engineer is an excellent example of a skilled knowledge worker, as is an airline pilot or physician. And a rocket scientist or Nobel Prize winner represents the highly skilled knowledge worker.

The Industrial Revolution changed the rules of commerce by making it practical for a merchant to travel relatively quickly to a distant town or city. However, few workers besides itinerant salespeople regularly worked far from home. Until recently, most workers performed their jobs in a building owned by their employer, and that workplace was typically no more than a 30-minute commute away. Today, distance has become irrelevant in commerce and increasingly in labor; where one lives with respect to one’s workplace may be irrelevant as long as key utilities (power ...

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