How to Develop the Next Billion Knowledge Workers

The quest for a "killer app" that can turn anybody into a knowledge worker has been going on for a while, without an obvious answer.

The accelerating proliferation of smartphones and internet connectivity is bringing unprecedented opportunities to bring technology and information to billions of people around the world. In his viral presentation "Mobile is eating the world", Benedict Evans, of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, claims that, by the year 2020, 80% of the world's adults will own a smartphone. This means that everybody will have a supercomputer in their pockets and that an additional 1 billion people will come online.

Even Y Combinator, "the Harvard of tech accelerators", has noted the opportunity. In their Request for Startups published on September 2014, they make a call for those who are working on a new solution aimed at this audience:

"Traditionally office-based knowledge workers have been the users of enterprise software. Mobile phones and tablets turn every type of employee – from the retail store associate to the field services team – into a knowledge worker"

If that wasn't enough to convince you of the buzz, even Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, has stated multiple times that he intends his professional-oriented social network to reach every single worker in the world. All 3 billion of them.

Why all the interest to reach every single worker in the world? First of all, I'm glad that the world is catching up with the concept that everybody is a knowledge worker. The artificial divide between "white collar" and "blue collar" workers, those who think vs. those who just do, has caused invaluable losses of opportunities for companies of all sizes. This wide-spread recognition that everybody has intellectual and creative capacity is a big step forward for humanity.

On top of that, it's hard to neglect the economic opportunity this represents. In a recent article in TechCrunch, Kevin Spain, General Partner at Emergence Capital, estimates that the 2.5 billion workers that don't have desk jobs represent an opportunity of $100+ billion in annual revenue.

The question remains: How can a smartphone benefit a worker in an assembly line, or in a construction site, or a bus driver, or a person working behind a counter?

It's not obvious yet how the vast majority of front-line workers would benefit of features like instant messaging, word-processing, spreadsheets, or photographing in their daily jobs. How can smartphones and tablets help non-office workers be more productive at work? 

The answer might be found in a company that has recognized their production workers as knowledge workers for more than 50 years: Toyota.

Despite economic downturns, natural disasters and some cases of bad press, Toyota has managed to remain in the number 1 spot in all dimensions of its business: sales, brand valuequality, profit, and market cap

Let that sink in... The leader. In. Every. Meaningful. Business. Aspect. Business-book dream material. How can they achieve that?

When I worked as an engineer in Toyota, I realized that their world-famous production system, known as Lean Manufacturing to the outside world, was not the result of genius experts in Industrial Engineering.

The true secret of the Toyota Production System is this: every single team member (the way the company calls their front-line employees) is constantly improving her own work, every day, non-stop. This a practice they call kaizen, which loosely translates to change for the betterEverybody in Toyota has the ability, the motivation and the recognition for implementing simple improvements to their daily work.

And when you have an army of hundreds of thousands of front-line employees who are behaving like scientists, learning through experimentation every day, the result is a world-class company at the top of its industry year after year.

Coming back to our question: what do construction workers, waiters, Uber drivers and retail associates have in common? They can all improve their own work. They are all inherently creative. They can all generate and execute ideas that improve their products and services and, most importantly, the customer experience.

Today, we have an opportunity to democratize this culture of non-stop innovation: by providing everybody the ability, the motivation and the recognition for implementing simple improvement ideas, through mobile technology.

This is the mission Rever has decided to pursue: to help every person to achieve their full creative potential, by delivering the "killer app" that will develop the next billion knowledge workers.

Interested? Join us in our quest by subscribing for updates here.

 

Errette Dunn is the Founder and CEO of Rever. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.