Academic journal article Accounting Horizons

The Evolution of the Knowledge Professional. (Commentary)

Academic journal article Accounting Horizons

The Evolution of the Knowledge Professional. (Commentary)

Article excerpt


Wealth creation depends on knowledge work as never before, a change full of implications for those who provide information services. We argue that a new economic model has created a need for a new type of information professional.

Types of information professionals wax and wane with the information needs of the prevailing economic paradigm. This is another way of saying that market demand influences the supply of information services. Moreover, it suggests that OPAs can learn about their present situation by considering it in light of prior relationships between economic paradigms and types of information professionals. We identify four economic paradigms of the past and present, the characteristic information professionals in each paradigm, and how the academic branch of the profession can help practitioners adapt to the current paradigm as it matures.


Mankind's evolution is a tiny proportion of the earth's past, which is measured in the billions of years. Before humanity appeared, the earth's geology had a long history. Biological evolution began with geological evolution underway, and the process led to our forbears. They were both poorly and well equipped-poorly in muscle mass and defensive equipment, remarkably well in brain power. Over time brain power enabled our species to turn nature to its advantage.

That story is called cultural evolution. It starts in prehistoric times, and continues to today. Economic development is central to cultural evolution. Looking back at the ways in which wealth was created, we can identify four economic paradigms. Each is an overarching, pervasively influential economic form, within which there can be great variety. As we shall see, each economic paradigm had a characteristic information professional to meet its needs, and therein lies our argument.

Hunting and Gathering

The first economic paradigm was the hunting and gathering way of life. There was technical knowledge. Hunter-gatherers knew how to make tools (axes, spears, bows, fishnets), which roots and berries to gather, how to hunt, and how to control fire. But their lives depended on the abundance of game and vegetable sustenance. When local supplies declined, they wandered in search of more bounteous landscapes. The hunter-gatherers lived at survival levels, much at the mercy of the environment, without the surpluses in food that permit increasing differentiation of labor and cultural development.


The agricultural economic paradigm, beginning with the Neolithic (New Stone Age) revolution, enormously reduced dependency on the whims of nature. Farming probably first began in hill country where wild-growing grain was harvested. When farming arrived in the lower Tigris-Euphrates valley, flood-watered crops and technological advances led to early civilization. Knowledge of the seasons, based on the movements of the sun, the moon, and the stars, reduced the risk of sowing seed at the wrong time. Canals and dikes extended the reach of flood waters. Urban centers concentrated different forms of labor and experience. Writing enabled "prehistory" to come to an end, at least in places like Sumer. Forms of artisanry multiplied. Social organization became more complex and more ordered by governing institutions. Other riverine civilizations, such as along the Nile and the Indus, showed many striking similarities. Again agriculture, by generating a surplus of food, enabled crafts, governance, and commerce to advance.


The agricultural paradigm dominated from ancient through medieval times, the Renaissance, and Reformation, and until the industrial revolution (the source of the third paradigm) made manufacturing the key enabler of economic progress. Machines increased output, and the division of labor added efficiencies. Steam drove machines with power and endurance beyond the capabilities of unaided humans or harnessed animals. …

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