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The crisis of task-based and knowledge-based economies The crisis of task-based and knowledge-based economies
by Joseph Gatt
2021-03-22 10:02:34
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A lot of factors cause recessions and economic crises. The usual factors tend to be a mixture of natural disasters and human mismanagement.

As I discussed in the previous article, there are roughly two types of economies: knowledge-based economies, and task-based economies.

In knowledge-based economies, the focus is on knowledge. That is people do perform tasks in agriculture, industry or services, but knowledge and thinking and talking and debates also play an important role.

econ01_400In task-based economies, agriculture, industry, raw materials or services are produced as a series of tasks that involve little or no information, knowledge, consulting, debate or questioning.

Over the last decade or so, there has been a global crisis of sorts. You had task-based economies trying to transition to knowledge-based economies. And you had knowledge-based economies which started thinking that task-based economies had their advantages: they tend to produce faster, more efficiently, and without conflict or questioning authority.

But there are other problems knowledge-based economies faced. First off, we can inherit genes and money, but often times, human beings can't inherit knowledge. And that means knowledge should be passed on to the next generation.

In many knowledge-based economies, knowledge was not passed on to the next generation. The general assumption was that “you can look it up online” and the older generation did not lecture or teach the younger generation.

Technology changes played a vital role. The younger generation tends to learn with condensed learning sources, and the shorter the video, the better. The older generation was more accustomed to lengthy sources and narratives, and was more comfortable spending hours getting lectured. Spending hours getting lectured means you have a lot of information elements that can help you in your decision-making.

This generation tends to look for to factual knowledge or provocative knowledge, rather than the more “dull” (but useful) narrative knowledge that looks at every side of the coin objectively. So, for today's generation, it's more about unusual facts, conspiracy theories, the paranormal, or shocking information, either way, information that stimulates the brain, but is not useful for the professional world.

Furthermore, in the old days younger and older people used to get together and share information. The younger generation now tends to meet on social media. And social media is about “poking people” and “poking people's nerves” more than it is about sharing vital knowledge for the professional world. And “poking people's nerves” is addictive.

Another problem knowledge-based economies are facing is the “disappearance” of “common heritage” or “common knowledge.” That is individuals and identity-based groups want their group to be a part of the national heritage, so you can no longer discuss history or science without including every ethnic, racial, religious or identity-based group in the narrative. This tends to “blur out” the narrative a bit, because historical or scientific heritage is no longer based on objective facts, but on subjective symbols.

Other problem knowledge-based economies face: what I call the “look it up Online” syndrome. That is many people are no longer willing to share information because the assumption is you can find everything on the Internet. Problem is, the Internet may have Madonna's biography in it, but the Internet does not know who came for a visit to your office this morning.

Yet another problem knowledge-based economies face: the nature of selling knowledge. That is in the old days people met face-to-face to share knowledge and eventually start working and charging money for knowledge. Those meetings are now rare, and people tend to try to advertise their skills and expertise online, where few people are likely to look and call them up for consultations.

The job market in knowledge-based economies has also become somewhat rigid, very rigid, and paranoid. There is a crisis of “trust” of sorts and companies no longer trust their employees. So getting hired takes a lot of time, a lot of security checks and Non Disclosure Agreements to sign, and getting another “gig” later on proves just as complicated.

So if you can't hop around from job to job making quick bucks here and there, the economy overall tends to lose money.

Now to task-based economies. Task-based economies have tried to transition to knowledge-based economies, but the transition was far from smooth.

Professors and lecturers in task-based economies tend to treat lectures as a “task” meaning that they read notes and then go home, without checking whether the notes have been understood by students. And homework and tests are “task-based” and not “knowledge-based” meaning that the knowledge aspects are not valued, and the completion of the task, in correct form, is what earns you good grades.

Other problem task-based economies faced when transitioning to a knowledge-based economy: companies expect knowledge employees and knowledge consultants to know absolutely everything. Everything! From the date of birth of King David to how to operate background color changes on Adobe Illustrator to who won Thailand's soccer championship in 1993. If you can't answer those questions, they'll yell at you and question your future at their company.

So when information and knowledge should be going around in task-based economies, the understanding of what a knowledge-based economy is still sketchy. A knowledge-based economy is one where people share knowledge, knowledge goes both ways, and when you don't know something, you try to look it up. Task-based economies don't quite understand this.

Then you have technology evolution in both task-based and knowledge-based economies. A lot of economies don't quite master new technologies and can't find people who master the new technologies.

That is, learning is about evolution and not revolutions. So if you want skilled workers, be it in task-based fields or in knowledge-based fields, you want employees who gradually learned the trade and who are lifelong learners of the trade.

Problem is, this last decade, knowledge-based economies and task-based economies are that you have employers who expect employees or future employees to learn their skills from scratch, and very complex skills at that.

You have companies who demand employees who have never seen a Chinese person to learn Mandarin Chinese from scratch, and expect those guys to be fluent in six months. You have companies who want employees to master technology operation systems in three months, when the only previous knowledge of technology the employee had was Facebook and Instagram.

So knowledge is something that evolves. College should be the natural consequence and evolution of high school interests. And a job should be the natural consequence of the skills and knowledge amassed in college.

But if you treat learning as a task, or expect employees to know everything or to learn and master complex information in record-breaking time, you could get a recession.

So are there any solutions for this? I'd say the following:

-Encourage people to discuss information and knowledge in groups.

-Encourage people to consult lengthy narrative information sources, not 5 minute YouTube videos containing provocative knowledge.

-Encourage people to explore knowledge and observe and learn from their observations.

-Value knowledge and pay knowledge workers decent wages.

-Apply the “evolution rule” rather than the “revolution rule.” This means if you want your employee to learn perfect Mandarin Chinese, you want to hire someone who already has some kind of grasp of the Chinese language, not someone who will learn the language from scratch.

-Keep in mind that in task-based economies older people tend to view knowledge with suspicion. Focus on the younger generation.

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