I can remember first coming across the term 'knowledge worker' about 10 years ago at a conference and assumed it was the latest management buzzphrase imported from a consultancy or Ivy League professor.

It turned out the term was coined by management guru Peter Drucker nearly 50 years ago and that he used it to describe "anyone who works for a living at the tasks of developing or using knowledge".

So what has this to do with networks?

Well, putting aside the rather jargony label, I think there is some real depth to the concept. If we think of knowledge workers as people who add value to an organisation primarily through the quality of their thinking and the quality of their decisions, then this term probably applies to most of the people reading this. But if most of our value to the organisation is the quality of our decision-making, then how do we know whether we are making high-quality decisions or poor decisions and how do we learn to make better decisions?

There are three components to a high-quality decision:

  • having real clarity on both the problem and desired outcome;
  • generating a wide variety of options;
  • choosing the option that is most likely to produce the desired outcome.

This seems obvious and simplistic and yet it is rarely practised in the NHS. In many of the NHS organisations I have worked with, managers tend to work with ill-defined problems, come up with one or two solutions (which have usually been tried before) and then quickly choose one.

In the high-pressure world of today's NHS, decisions are often made in minutes and solutions tend to be one of a handful that managers use over and over again. Even on development programmes and in workshops, people are uncomfortable spending more than 10 minutes on a decision or generating more than 10 options, even if they then spend weeks or months trying to implement a poor decision and dealing with the subsequent problems.

Try this

The next time you have a problem to solve, try setting an egg timer and allowing 20 minutes to generate as many potential options as you can. Do not stop until you have generated at least 30 different options. Typically, when I work with managers on this process, the best options tend to appear towards the end of the list when the brain starts thinking more laterally and starts connecting with other ideas and associated areas.

If you want to become a real expert at this, networks are an invaluable decision-making aid. Members of a network can help you bring clarity and focus to your problem simply by trying to understand exactly what you mean. You can find out a whole range of options simply by asking people how they have seen this problem solved elsewhere. The more diverse the background, role and organisational types of people in your network, the more numerous and diverse the options will be.

One of the most useful networks I have found is NHS Networks, which is a genuine network of networks and can help you solve clinical and organisational problems. If you want to take the first few steps to being an expert knowledge worker, set that egg timer, visit www.networks.nhs.uk and open your mind to a new world of possibilities.