Many of Us Are Knowledge Workers

Are you one of those who elaborate information to provide services and products?

Luca Vettor
4 min readAug 17, 2022
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

You will read here something that you might find either obvious or surprising. Whatever your perception, in the end, you will know who the knowledge workers are and whether you are one of them.

It often happens that we, as humans, live something without giving it the proper name, even though that name exists; this article is about the awareness that the label “knowledge worker” brings to the table.

Ready? Let’s start!

What is “knowledge”?

First of all, we need to agree on the definition of the word “knowledge”; following the Cambridge Dictionary:

Knowledge: Understanding of or information about a subject that you get by experience or study, either known by one person or by people generally.

This is about humans elaborating on their experiences; in the broadest sense of intellectual and practical experiences.

Having agreed on that, we can proceed.

Who did invent the label “knowledge worker”?

Humans have elaborated on their experiences since we can call them humans. Nevertheless, the label “knowledge workers” was invented in a very recent past; namely in 1959, by Peter Drucker in “The Landmarks of Tomorrow”:

High-level workers who apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, acquired through formal training, to develop products and services.

You see: when elaboration on experiences meets business (products and services), then the “knowledge work” enters the scene.

Yet, there is something weird to notice: despite this definition being 63 years old, it is rarely used.

It is rare to read and hear “knowledge worker”; why?

In the 1930s, Upton Sinclair introduced the label “white collar” to refer to the same workers that the label “knowledge workers” would denote a few decades later.

Following Books Ngram Viewer, the adoption of the two labels had a similar trend, crossing in 2000 and stabilizing in the later years.

From Google Books Ngram Viewer

Now, let’s compare those two labels to “manager”, which is probably one of the most representative roles of what “knowledge workers” and “white-collar workers” are.

From Google Books Ngram Viewer

Look: the word “managers” has a frequency that is about a thousand times bigger than “knowledge workers” and “white-collar workers”. It is something that we can all experience when describing our job to a new friend. Think of saying:

I’m a manager!

Now, rephrase it as:

I’m a knowledge worker!

Which one is the most comprehensible for a broader audience? No doubt, the first sentence.


Because it is hard to visualize what “knowledge” is in action. You can easily imagine a manager who, as a manager, makes decisions and tells other people what to do.

Instead, it is much more blurred what is the set of practices and skills that the same manager uses, as a knowledge worker, to build decisions and deliver the proper communication to tell people what to do.


One could argue that the use of either label is a minor problem as long as the right idea reaches the listener or reader. Right but partly because there is a pitfall, that is the lack of awareness of the essence being talked about.

Back to the example of “manager” versus “knowledge worker”, the essence of the manager's job is elaborating on the information.

Photo by Giulia May on Unsplash

This means that the manager’s work is an intellectual box, that receives some pieces of information, processes them, and provides other pieces of information, the latter being eligible to become actions.

The same applies to software engineers, technical writers, lawyers, financial operators, and so on.

That being said, are you a knowledge worker?

This article is about the awareness that the label “knowledge worker” brings to the table.


Knowledge workers elaborate on pieces of information to produce other refined and actionable pieces of information. This is a quite abstract way to describe a job, so the label “knowledge workers” is not frequently used.

Nevertheless, in that abstraction lies the profound nature of the work that many of us face daily. Being aware of this truth casts a new light on many contemporary jobs; that is the light of deeper comprehension.

And the hallmark of the “knowledge workers” is precisely the deep insightful understanding of their matter.

Amazingly, Drucker understood and described it all that 63 years ago!



Luca Vettor

My 24 years in the IT industry and physics degree flow into my mission: simplify what appears complex.