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New ways to think about work.

TITLE: Thinking For a Living: The Coming Age of Knowledge Work

AUTHOR: Kenneth A. Megill

ISBN: 3-598-11638-1



LENGTH: 193 pages

PRICE: 78 [pounds sterling] about $148 U.S.


Thinking for a Living: The Coming Age of Knowledge Work is the latest in Ken Megill's growing number of books on records, document, and information management written over the last decade. Megill describes himself as both a "published professional philosopher" and a "transformer of organizations and people." Much of the inspiration for this book comes from Megill's work with the U.S. Air Force and, in particular, Col. Terry Balven, USAF Ret. The Air Force project that brought Megill and Balven together was directed to "align process change, investments in information technology, and change how people think about work in order to deliver transformational improvement in how the Air Force and the Department of Defense (DoD) acquire weapons systems."

Thinking for a Living is rationally organized and logically structured from the sectional and chapter perspective. It makes a contribution to the literature by producing working definitions for "knowledge management," "communities of practice," and "knowledge work."

The author is a tireless definer and theorist of the relationships between labor, work, and thinking. His attempts to show how work is changing and how organization of work must change from an industrial mode to a modern technological environment are largely successful. However, this contribution could have been made in a much shorter monograph or perhaps in a long journal article.

Megill's writing style and textual organization are serious problems for the practitioner or want-to-be practitioner of knowledge and information management. It is better suited to either a consultant providing advice or to an applied philosopher than for a practitioner of knowledge management.

Much of Megill's language and structure come from his academic training in philosophy, and while abstract reasoning is a satisfactory means of setting a background or tone for the real work at hand, the book never quite gets to the practical application of knowledge management.

The text is at times pedantic and academic, a deadly combination when the topic is as dry and abstract as organizational structure and dynamics. Some of the presentation more closely resembles a PowerPoint presentation than a linear and compelling argument. The reader who expects a fresh and energizing style for something that is to be used as a manual for organizational and human transformations will frequently find that vitality missing.

Megill spends pages and pages defining and redefining terms and placing the terms and methods in their historical and philosophical contexts. These side ventures are at times interesting, but most are lengthy and make returning to the point difficult. Megill's tendency toward a choppy, repetitive writing style does not make his treatment of hermeneutics and the theory of truth and knowledge any less obtuse prose, this section from the first paragraph in Chapter 4, Knowledge Work:

"So what is knowledge work? It is a kind of work. Like all work we do for a living, knowledge work is of value to someone else--so we are paid for our work. We exchange our valuable work for money."

The text of Thinking for a Living has an abundance of spelling, syntactical, and grammatical errors. Page 72 reads, "think for a living ... It is what a properly motivated Wal-Mart employees do." Similarly on page 96 the statement: "The web came possible when people adopted ..." causes even the most attentive reader some confusion. These rudimentary mistakes undermine the credibility of the author's message and conclusions.

In addition to the stated and restated and defined and redefined terms, Megill uses an abundance of buzzwords from current and past business management literature. Sometimes the white noise created by the flow of buzzwords deafens the reader to important points and observations.

Despite its shortcomings, Thinking for a Living is not without value. There are helpful and elucidating insights in the book that give new vitality to the ebbing life-force of knowledge management. The book unites a set of definitions and a structural context for knowledge, wisdom, information, data, labor, and work that have long been missing from the literature of knowledge management. However, these insights could have been communicated with many, many fewer pages. If the monographic form of Thinking for a Living was essential, then careful editing and streamlining would have made an immense difference to the reader.

Thinking for a Living--main contents

Section I: Work Transforming

1. Workers Become Professionals

2. Professionals Become Workers

3. From Cooperation to Collaboration

Section II: New Ways to Think about Work

1. Knowledge Work

2. Integrated Digital Environment

3. Communities of Practice

Section III: The Work of Changing

1. Work Becomes Play

2. The Nature of Knowledge Work

3. The Practice of Transformation

4. One Person at a Time

Michael E. Holland, CA, is the Director of University Archives and Interim Head of Special Collections at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He may be contacted at
COPYRIGHT 2005 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Holland, Michael E.
Publication:Information Management Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
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