The Knowledge Economy


In the late seventies, my mum worked as a wages supervisor for Tom Farmer, a local entrepreneur in Edinburgh who was setting up Kwik Fit.

If like me, you are Gen X or older, you might remember their first TV advert with dancing fitters singing ‘You can’t get better than a Kwik Fit Fitter’. This catchy, if not annoying, tune helped the business become a household name.

Like any good start-up, it needed a strong team of hard-working people, willing to muck-in and do their best. As the business grew and the number of men in the depots grew to many hundreds (there were only men in those days), my mum was able to memorise every fitters’ payroll number, their hourly rate, and wages. She could spot an error and correct it before it hit their pay packet – all this pre-computerisation.

The late Mrs Edmond is an early example of a knowledge worker.

In Britain alone, the knowledge economy is thriving and is said to be worth £95bn per year [1] and fuelled by intellectual capital, or as most of us know it, brainpower.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that organisations that improve working environments, cultures, and deliver opportunities for improvement are likely to see increased mental input from employees. After all, a happy employee feels cared for, has time to develop and is more likely to concentrate, be productive and advance themselves. Though it may not seem like it on the surface, measures such as encouraging wellbeing in the workplace could be crucial to boosting the knowledge economy.

The benefits of the knowledge economy extend beyond the individual and the wealth that individual generates by encouraging greater expression that challenges classic ideas. In their report, Imagination Unleashed: Democratising the Knowledge Economy [2], political philosopher and author Roberto Unger and Nesta explain how the democratisation of the economy – while a structural and societal challenge – has the potential to advance thinking further than would be possible if the knowledge economy plateaued. It is obvious from the report that alongside the wellbeing argument, they are clear in their view that it should be “radically more inclusive”.

Sadly, my mum had to drop out of the workplace in her early forties before Kwik Fit had made its name due to a chronic autoimmune disease. She wasn’t able to continue contributing as there were no opportunities to work flexibly or be a gig worker in those days. Before she reluctantly gave up a job she thrived in, her sense of purpose around using her brainpower to pay people accurately, may well have come from her working-class roots where money was tight. Knowing my mother and in keeping with the Nesta report, I have no doubt she and many other people in her position could also have had a societal impact had they been able to continue.

What her work ethic and experience instilled in me is to harness the determination of our founding team to create human-led work environments that celebrates the Gig, Purpose and Knowledge economy and all who work in them.