Task-work in global networksMay 5th, 2010 by Esko Kilpi
Resource allocation has always been one of the main tasks of management: planning what is to be done by whom and when? In integrated factory-systems and with homogenous resources, allocation could easily be done top-down and in advance of doing anything. Planning could take place separated from the action.
When human intelligence is the decisive factor of production and when work takes place most economically in de-centralized environments, this top down process is increasingly inefficient. A manager simply cannot know who knows best, or where the best contributions could come from.
The solution has been so far to try to know what we know, and even more importantly to try to know who knows. Neither of these approaches has quite fulfilled expectations. Knowledge management databases have not met the situational needs of managers. Accordingly, knowledge workers have not been able to explain to others in a meaningful way what they know.
Because of the aforementioned needs in daily life a new, different approach has been adopted in leading global corporations. You could even claim that a new mode of knowledge production is emerging in digitally networked firms. This approach is called task-work. Task-work as a method refers to a new economic phenomenon: people from all over the network contribute small pieces of their time and expertise, voluntarily, to common projects modularized as tasks. Knowledge workers do this based on their availability, interest and experience. People choose themselves what they do, they choose the tasks they take up and the possible colleagues they temporarily want to work with.
Task-work has systemic advantages over traditional production hierarchies when the product under development is mainly immaterial in nature and the involved capital investment can be distributed in the network.
Collaboratively crafted content bases like the world’s largest encyclopedia, Wikipedia, were early examples of task-work.
We will see organizational applications emerge as technological innovations like the Microtask platform spread. For most kinds of information products, task-work is the most efficient method of creating value from a resource allocation point of view. The system of task-work develops as much bottom-up as top-down. In a top-down system the worker’s role is created and provided by the organization for the worker. The user has none or very little control over what tasks are available for him.
In the bottom-up system the user creates her role in an open-ended life stream based on her unique history and her unique intentions for the future. The knowledge worker selects the tasks best suited for her capabilities and best supporting her learning and long-term development.
Task work follows the vision of small pieces loosely joined. Task work is thus at the core of modern theory of the WEB and networked, interactive value creation. Work of the future is not role based but task-based.
Esko is on the advisory board of Microtask. He also writes his own blog about interactive value creation.