Thinking like a Knowledge Worker

Returning again to a topic I looked at recently, here’s some insights to thinking like a knowledge worker I discovered while undertaking my research on the subject.

Dr McCoy - knowledge worker

“I’m a Doctor, not a blog…”

The concepts explored here are investigated in much more depth in a paper called How to Think like a  Knowledge Worker by William P. Sheridan. I’d love to go into the level of detail that the author does, but to invoke the spirit of Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy “Dammit Jim, – I’m a blog, not a research paper.”

Moving on…

In his paper, Sheridan asserts that

Knowledge consists of concepts available to process information and guide action. Knowledge Management refers to “smart use of know-how.” In a knowledge economy more and more tasks involved “think work.”Thinking involves the separation of relevant information from irrelevant information. Therefore, “think work” is a component of “knowledge work,” specifically the information processing part – the other part is just the “informed action” part.

(2008 p.5)

The author asserts that by assembling a “Human Knowledge Mindmap” (see Figure 1) we can develop a method to ensure the quality of knowledge worker outputs. He cites the example of W. Edwards Deming’s methodology for quality control in industrial economies being “shunned” in the US, but being a key component in the growth of the Japanese automobile industry in the middle- to late 20th century as an example of how ignoring such approaches is done at organization’s peril.

The central ideas of Sheridan’s approach are Conceptual Pragmatism and Cognitive Economy.

If your question is “How do I know?” then [your answer] will involve some combination of empiricism, rationalism and constructivism. Such cognitive amalgamations …make “knowing” possible.


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

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

We can say that there are three factors that characterize knowledge:

  1. Empiricism (observable facts)
  2. Rationalism (thinking things through)
  3. Constructivism (formulating new ideas)

While we all undertake all three of these approaches, most people emphasize one of the trio; these “habits of emphasis” lead to partial, or at best inadequate, learning and knowing.




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]