It was a weekday morning in the early 1990s. I stepped out of my office at FIND/SVP onto what the floor of what at that time was arguably the largest independent business information center in the world (and probably still is, though now it’s called Guideline). It covered the better part of a large city block. Shelves filled with books and magazines rose partway to the very high “downtown New York” ceilings. People scurried here and there, making copies, tapping on computers, speaking on phones to some of our 2,000-plus clients. Bees would have been envious of this intense buzz of activity!
Then, it dawned on me. This place was a factory—a knowledge factory! We started with some kind of raw data—numbers, words, databases, ideas—and passed it along to our clients. They in turn used the information to create value—competitive advantage, profits, revenues, opportunities, solutions, etc.
This insight was exciting to me, because it gave me a new way to understand what I and my 300 or so colleagues did every day for a living. In business school, I had been fascinated by production problems—how to get manufactured goods out the door with consistently high quality. I liked these courses, and took several of them.
But I never came anywhere near working in a factory or production shop. My career to that point had been spent in advising firms on how to improve their businesses using information—nowhere near the grease of machinery or the noise of the production floor.
I realized that what I and my “knowledge professional” colleagues around the globe did was basically work in a production environment very much like a factory. At that moment, all of the concepts I learned in business school began to take on new meaning. Inventories, scheduling, resource planning—suddenly all seemed relevant in a new way. And they all could be applied to the kind of “knowledge work” that I did—and which I felt would be a highly sought-after work skill in the upcoming new century.
Excerpt from the Introduction to The Knowledge Value Chain® Workbook by T.W. Powell.