The mysteries of knowledge work: guild practice and asset management in the firm

Marc Demarest

The racit knowledge held in the heads and the unconscious or silent aspects of knowledge worker practice belong to the knowledge worker, to the guild of knowledge workers and to the firm. The firm has a legitimate interest in rendering the tacit explicit, in externalising guild knowledge, in breaking open the mysteries. The knowledge worker’s response depends on the firm’s transactional style — the quid pro quo — on its market position, and on the historical labour-management relationship within the firm.

It is clear that existing legal infrastucture, encapsulated in the employment agreements white collar workers sign on employment by information-intensive firms, are unequal to:

  • the task of protecting the knowledge worker from unethical, invasive attempts to protect what the firm sees as its intellectual property, and
  • the task of protecting the firm from the unwitting of deliberate hemorrhaging of proprietary itellectual property.

Aside from pronouncements that “information wants to be free,” we javen’t done a very good job to date of specifying what kinds of policies and procedures firms need to adopt to both perform theirfudiciary and legal duties in managing their itellectual assets, and nurture, rather than routinize, their knowledge worker communities.

This paper sets out to do that, with a view to balancing the legitimate claims of the human subject with the real legal and financial responsibilities of the commercial firm.

Biographical Information

Marc Demarest is the chief knowledge officer (CKO) at Sequent Computer Systems, Inc. in Beaverton, Oregon. He prepared a paper on knowledge worker guild practice and firm strategy for ETHICOMP95. This paper represents a continuation of the line of argumentation developed in that paper