The Ballad of the Knowledge Worker

Once upon a time, there was a simple minded soul who never dreamt that his routinely complex life followed in the grand narrative tradition of The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Of course, now that our protagonist has been exposed to the world of work/place consulting, the sleeper has awoken.

Since the dawn of our species, we have turned to stories and mythology to make sense of the world around us. In extremis this has resulted in the creation of higher powers or mystical energy fields that control our destiny.

Well, I’ve travelled from one side of the galaxy of work to the other and I’m starting to think it’s nothing more than a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

When prehistoric man set off on his first mammoth hunt he was most likely concerned first and foremost with the continuation of his genetic line. As time marches on, we clearly see the emergence of the first knowledge workers. Cave painters and shamans, afforded comfort by the abundance of resource provided by the other members of the group, begin to have time to wonder at the complexities of the world around them. The earliest of stories and myths take hold.

As the aeons unfold, countless tales also unfold. Their grandiosity only matched by the riches of the societies that spawn them. Whole city states are sustained to keep the narrative alive.

In the meantime, whole populations are subjugated and held in thrall.

Now, we all have a story to tell. Some are simple and have a tidy arc: from modest upringing, to equally modest qualifications and a sub-stellar jobs with some sense of security, children, mortgage and so on. Some have a darker arc that takes in poverty, illness, dependency on benefits (or worse) or that have no spark of hope to spur them on. Some of our most compelling collective narratives have come about when diamonds have formed in the crushing slough of despond. There are all shades in between.

I’ve been around knowledge workers all my life. I’ve also had the privilege of working alongside people who make the world work. Who don’t have time to stop and think. Who have made up a high percentage of some foreign field. Who silently pay their taxes so another can sit in a hushed and twilight ward, holding the hand of someone reaching the end of their final chapter.

I think I might prefer it if the latest brand of sport shoe didn’t have a “narrative” to “connect” or “engage” with consumers. Maybe we could make sure the girl who makes the damn thing doesn’t just end up as a footnote.

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