At some point this year, someone, somewhere in the world started work for the first day of a new job without realizing he was the one billionth knowledge worker currently employed. It is the first time there have been that many knowledge workers in history.
I am assuming this worker was a male, since slightly more males are born than females. And they are more likely to work in the formal economy . I am also assuming this worker is an an emerging country since both population growth and growth in knowledge work is faster there. The one billion figure (out of about 7.75 billion humans total) comes from some rough modeling work I’ve done combining Gartner estimates of the number of workers in each country with external research on the percentage of knowledge workers they have. They were then divided into developed and developing categories and projected out using UN growth estimates.
I am also assuming there was no cake or bundle of balloons for the occasion. Although there should have been. Because hitting one billion knowledge workers is a momentous occasion in human development, not just information technology or digital workplaces. It is a milestone in the movement from working the land to work creating and manipulating information.
Sure, the world isn’t much different from when there were 999.999 million or 1.001 billion. But humans tend to like big, round numbers for their milestones. And that’s a good thing. Because without milestones we might never stop for a minute to consider where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
Where we’ve come from is a history of undervaluing the use and creation of knowledge as a significant part of occupations. This leads to a lack of recognition of the extent of knowledge work in the economy, and, accordingly, too little attention paid to inculcating and valuing the skills required to use and create knowledge.
Where we’re going is a future of work with knowledge (information with meaning) being created at the pace only possible with one billion workers. And with that comes the need to recognize its value, as Doug Laney has been doing with Infonomics. This under-valued resource has been arbitraged by the early few that recognized the cost-to-value gap (particularly personal information peddlers), but this future of work is one where the value of knowledge is impossible to ignore.
In 2020 we have to ensure that the skills supporting knowledge work are being taught in schools and to existing workers. We have to ensure that laws encouraging and protecting knowledge work are as strong as those that have developed for other skilled industries. And we have to ensure that knowledge is recognized and put to good use.
In the future – in our lifetimes – we will find the answer to the question: What can one billion knowledge workers accomplish?
I hope the answer is a good one.