Knowledge Worker Problem-Solving Approach

The goal of this series of posts about knowledge working and knowledge workers is to communicate an understanding of the demographic that most organizational learning and development efforts target: the knowledge workers (KWs) themselves. Last time, I explored “think work” as a component of “knowledge work,” and how “habits of emphasis” can lower the efficacy of KW problem-solving. Today, I’ll  conclude my analysis of William P. Sheridan’s How to Think like a Knowledge Worker (2008), by focussing on his proposed KW problem-solving approach.

I would assert that knowledge working is intimately bound within the organizational context: knowledge workers use their skills and experience to innovate solutions to real-world problems. One of the primary conditions of knowledge working is the social aspect. Knowledge workers typically collaborate with their peers, whether they are:

  • individuals with similar skill assets, such as application development teams working in an agile software development environment


  • in project teams which require knowledge workers from different disciplines (technical architects, business analysts, and product consultants, for example) to cooperate in the implementation of the solutions on a customer site.
Human Knowledge Mindmap (after Sheridan). Click to enlarge.

Figure 1. Human Knowledge Mindmap (after Sheridan). Click to enlarge.

In this context, Sheridan uses the Human Knowledge MindMap (see Figure 1) to converge the skills and knowledge of domain experts to look at the internal processes a knowledge worker uses to codify and utilize information in a fashion close to what Chris Argyris and Donald Schön call reflection-in-action.

Problem-Solving by Thinking Effectively

We can say that the purpose of the mindmap is to enable KWs to “think effectively” (p.13). Most peoples’ thinking is not clear, focused, or systematic enough to perform knowledge work competently. The purpose of the Human Knowledge MindMap is one approach that  enables users to do this. Whether during learning, or on a job, effective thinking consists of a set of components as characterized in the mindmap.

Table 1 Knowledge worker thought processes for problem-solving

Table 1 Knowledge worker thought processes

Sheridan suggests that to carry out this problem-solving activity, the worker should do the following:

  • Pick a situation, problem, challenge, decision or choice of interest or concern (on whatever basis you regard as appropriate).

Then proceed with the following steps:

  1. First, identify which aspects are of most interest or concern to you.
  2. Prioritize (rank) your interests or concerns.
  3. Using the Human Knowledge MindMap as a visual guide, apply the relevant concepts to the most important (prioritized) aspects of your interest or concern. Limit it to the top three aspects on your list to begin with.
  4. If you don’t recall whether or nor a particular concept is relevant, refresh your memory by re-reading the one-page outline in the map
  5. Finally, apply the ‘Reverse S’ methodology as outlined above in Table 1. This may, in addition to other things, require reading more materials to acquire the necessary depth of understanding in the issues you are trying to deal with.

Next time: Digital work, digital employees, and 21st Century workplace skills.



Sheridan, W.P. How to Think like a Knowledge Worker:A guide to the mindset needed to perform competent knowledge work. United Nations Public Administration Network, New York. [Internet] Available from: [Accessed 24 August 2017]