Knowledge cannot be inherited or bequeathed

Upward Mobility in a Career

The knowledge society is  the first human society where upward  mobility  is  potentially unlimited.  Knowledge differs from all other means of  production  in  that it cannot  be inherited  or  bequeathed.  It  has  to  be acquired anew  by  every  individual, and everyone starts out with the same total ignorance. 

Knowledge has to  be put in  a form in  which it can be taught, which means it has to become public. It is always universally accessible, or quickly becomes so. All this makes the knowledge society a highly  mobile  one.  Anyone can acquire any knowledge at  a school, through a codified learning  process, rather  than by serving as an apprentice to a master. 

Until 1850 or perhaps even 1900, there was little mobility in any society. The Indian caste system, in which birth determines not only an individual’s status in society  but his occupation as  well, was only  an extreme case. In most other societies too, if the father was a peasant, the son was a peasant, and the daughters married peasants. By and large, the only mobility was downward, caused by war or disease, personal misfortune or bad habits such as drinking or gambling. 

Even in America, the land of unlimited opportunities, there was far less upward mobility than is commonly believed. The great majority of professionals and managers in America in the first half of the twentieth century were still the children of professionals  and managers  rather  than  the  children  of farmers, small  shopkeepers, or factory workers. What distinguished America was not the amount of upward mobility  but,  in  sharp  contrast  to most  European  countries,  the  way  it  was welcomed,  encouraged,  and  cherished. 

The knowledge society takes this approval of upward mobility much further: it considers every impediment to such mobility a form of discrimination. This implies that everybody is now expected to be a “success”—an idea that would have seemed ludicrous to  earlier generations.  Naturally,  only  a tiny  number  of people can be outstanding successes; but a very large number are expected to be adequately successful. 

In 1958, John Kenneth Galbraith first wrote about “The Affluent  Society.” This was not a society with many rich people, or in which the rich were richer, but one knowledge is greatly superior to that of the surgeon. This is why knowledge workers of all kinds see themselves not as subordinates but as professionals, and expect to be treated as such. 

Money is  as  important to  knowledge workers as  to  anybody else, but they  do not accept it as the ultimate yardstick, nor do they consider money as a substitute for professional performance and achievement.  In sharp contrast  to  yesterday’s workers, to whom a job was first of all a living, most knowledge workers see their job as a life. 

                                                            –Peter F. Drucker

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