Goodbye, Knowledge Workers. Hello, Insight Workers!

Yes, we know our laptops know more than us. Now what will we do at work?

What's the Big Idea?


“In our pockets today sits more knowledge than any one individual could have ever hoped to have in their lifetimes 15 years ago,” says Rich Lesser, chairman of North and South America for Boston Consulting Group. “There is a knowledge revolution [going] on.”

Yes, we know our laptops know more than us -- the question is, now what will we do we do at work?


Peter Drucker (“the man who invented management") coined the phrase knowledge worker back in 1959 to describe the kind of work that would replace manual labor once machines made physical labor obsolete. That change is clearly still underway, but Lesser believes that we are on the precipice of a second, equally important, transformation.

As technology is increasingly able to not just compute data but synthesize and analyze it, automation will become all-encompassing. Knowledge workers, who manipulate information, will be replaced by "insight workers," who bring a new set of skills to the table: judgment, critical thinking, empathy.

Where the knowledge worker knows how to manage an office, an insight worker understands how and why the business works. While a knowledge worker networks, an insight worker builds authentic relationships with his or her coworkers and clients. 

What's the Significance?

Anyone can be a brain. What takes real talent is being able to create meaningful solutions and uplift people. It is grace under fire, not competitiveness, that will win every time in the chaotic workplaces of the future. Insight workers are "not just accountable for accumulating knowledge, but for real problem solving, for the ability to work laterally across boundaries, either alone or in collaboration with others.”

And the tide is already turning. This year, BCG has been ranked #2 on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For list, beating out Google, Zappos, and Dreamworks. How does a relatively buttoned-down consulting firm compete with life at the Googleplex - complete with ski gondolas, lava lamps, and free laundry?

By hiring aggressively during an abysmal recession (proving that where there's a will, there's a way) and by ensuring that every one of those employees is adequately mentored throughout the course of his or her career. As a society, "We need to provide apprenticeship models to the people that we [hire]," says Lesser. 

“We asked Fortune after the survey came out why we had done as well as we had done," he adds. It turned out that it was the company's focus on helping people achieve their own goals pushed them to the top of the list: “Our training programs and the communities that we build either for people that don’t have a business background or women or ethnic minorities or LGBT enable us to invest in the individual."

The training programs expose people to new things, broadening their perspective and makes them better at what they do -- perhaps more than anything, insight workers are people who have the opportunity to be lifelong learners, even at work.

  
 


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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.