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In his blog post The Stark Difference between Skills-based and Knowledge Workers Michael Hanley at the E-learning curve suggest this table from John Doerr at Kleiner Perkins, Caufield & Byers should be kept by every learning professional’s desk as a reminder of the value of their work.

The table is just as valuable for knowledge workers seeking to navigate the economic landscape they inhabit, mind you, some of the elements in the table now look a little out of date (Hanley admits he dug this table out the attic so it wasn’t created yesterday.) For example, haven’t public/private partnerships fallen out of fashion? Hasn’t the term Win-Win become yet another meaningless management cliche? You don’t hear too much talk of options these days. And, given the financial turmoil of recent weeks, I suspect many readers would choose security over risk-taking at the moment.

Nevertheless, this is worth book-marking or clipping for future reference.

Table 1. The Emergence of a New Economy

Old Economy

New Economy

A Skill

Lifelong Learning

Labour vs. Management


Business vs. Environment

Encourage Growth


Risk Taking



Job Preservation

Job Creation


Ownership, Options

Plant, Equipment

Intellectual Property



Status Quo

Speed, Change


Custom, Choice






Public/Private Partnerships

Zero Sum




Standing Still

Moving Ahead

Source: John Doerr, Kleiner Perkins, Caufield & Byers

2 thoughts on “The stark difference between skills-based and knowledge workers

  1. Bill,

    Thanks for reading my blog, and taking the time to consider some of the nuances implied by the “Emergence of a New Economy” table.

    It’s interesting how quickly we move forward; you’re certainly right to assert that some of the terms used in the table are almost quaint (PPPs in particular) at this juncture, and we can say that a phrase like “Win-Win” probably became a cliché because of what it represented in contrast to the old politics of employee/management wages and conditions negotiations, for example. Similarly, I would suggest that the Sues/Invests pair is probably more relevant in a litigious society like the US than in NZ or Ireland (where I live).

    However, what struck me about the chart what how well it illustrated the contrast between the “old” way of doing business, and the economic reality of the early 21st century, superannuated terms notwithstanding, and how much circumstances have changed even since John Doerr created this table in the late ’90s.

    In the context of knowledge worker development, I think that the table highlights for learning professionals that to effectively engage their market of life-long learners, they must understand that the traditional “chalk and talk”/”send them on a course” approach to employee development is not an appropriate or even especially effective way enable employees to acquire new skills and knowledge.

    From this perspective, I would interpret phrases like “risk-taking” to include an employee’s ability to innovate a new production process, or an organisation’s motivation to create a new product range or break into a new market, rather than the more high-profile examples of entrepreneurial and fiscal recklessness that we currently associate with the term “risk.”
    Best regards,
    Michael Hanley

  2. Yes. I completely agree with you, the contrast between old and new is far more important than the details.

    As you say, my point about risk, is that it is a word that is out of favour right now because of it’s financial implications, but that’s not how I read its context in the table.

    I’d say a risk-free life isn’t really a life at all. Which is actually so profound I suspect someone famous must have already said those words. And, as you make clear, knowledge workers need to embrace risk in order to make progress.

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