|Global Momentum of Knowledge Strategy
by Debra M. Amidon
There are now hundreds of conferences featuring aspects of the knowledge economy in every corner of the globe. What began in 1987 as an initiative to harness the intellectual capital of a nation has been embraced as a global agenda of international collaboration. The management technology is universal and can be applied to small, medium and large-scale enterprises. The focus on knowledge applies to both profit and non-profit organizations. It provides a shared purpose among all levels of the economy, from the individual to the societal. In five short years, the ENTOVATION® Network has grown to include professionals linking across functions, industries and regions of the world. And the benefits are just beginning.
Recently, we took a survey of a diagonal cut of this network to create a Global Knowledge Leadership Map. Results were premiered at the 20th Annual McMaster Business Conference (20th January 1999) in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in a presentation - "Tour de Knowledge Monde". Representatives from over 30 countries responded with their reflections and aspirations. Their messages document the multiple facets of expertise of knowledge professionals as well as their broad geographic reach in both industrialized and developing nations alike. Readers will begin to see the emergence of a common language and shared vision.
Global Responses: Similar Yet Varied
Professionals from a variety of countries offered their comments: Argentina, Austria, Australia, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela.
By design, those selected to participate included some of the well-known leaders in the field as well as those who have just graduated from doctoral programs. We heard from CEOs and entrepreneurs. There are theorists or academics as well as practitioners from a variety of functions. Many considered their role as integrating the two "the ultimate form of real-time innovation".
There are some startling similarities in the way that problems, issues and solutions are characterized. On the other hand, there were also several counterpoint positions on the topics which leads us to believe that the knowledge field is beginning to mature in ways that concepts and practices can be debated - quite a stretch from only a few years ago when they could hardly be discussed.
For instance, some believe that the knowledge economy is a matter of philosophy and have been influenced by historic and modern philosophers. Others believe that the field of knowledge management attracts philosophers and beware! One respondent believed that there was a need to influence middle managers, while others thought it was essential to be a top management agenda. Still others believed that this is a revolution, a grass-roots movement causing fundamental transformations. Many described how extremely complex is the subject - all encompassing, global, multidisciplinary and multi-dimensional; while others felt it was not rocket science - more a matter of good common sense.
Some felt that they were wrestling with new concepts and language; others say that the focus is as old as the beginning of time when humans began to communicate. Several had come from the fields of quality or re-engineering; but they all considered that this new direction would provide far more sustainable results. The leadership required was described as "courageous", "inspiring" and "visual/visible".). Some described it as the shift from the micro-to the macro-perspective of the world. Others felt that it was a matter of making the macro- more operational. The most compelling observation is that one cannot tell who is a theorist and who is a practitioner. There were many surprises!
Three things were very clear. First, the transformation is more a function of behavior and culture change than technology. Second, these changes are difficult, but well worth the effort. Third, all seem to feel that we are on the right path toward a more prosperous future.
Responses by Question
a. What are the roots of your interest in the knowledge field?
Knowledge professionals come from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds: physics, chemistry, medicine, S&T policy, technology development, business administration, psychology, manufacturing, accounting, telecommunications, software development, information systems, economics and more.
Their professional responsibilities included: technology transfer, licensing, HR management, business process re-engineering, strategic alliances, quality, communications, knowledge processing, stress management, systems dynamics, knowledge elicitation, mapping and modeling and more.
The scope of current work varied: bridge between technology strategy and planning, organizational transformation, scientific method development for knowledge leadership, government intervention, and creating a general understanding of the future.
b. Who has influenced you and why?
Managers, parents, family, friends, peers, clients and spiritual leaders have influenced many respondents in personal ways. They learned from those who were competent and those who were not. Many professors were named that represent a cross-section from the hard and soft sciences.
Several authors had provided direction, either through books and/or research reports (e.g., Nonaka, Amidon, Sveiby, Skyrme, Senge, Stewart, Edvinsson, Savage, Davenport, Peters, Kogut, and Ackoff); but none provided as much impact as Peter F. Drucker. Of course, there were numerous others who were referenced, such as Argyris, Effendi, Marcic, Davis, Bacon, Hume, Shein, Kantor, Kofman, Dodgson, Zohar, Lev, Hall, Husserl, Hegel, the young Marx, Masuda, McLuhan, Polyani, Wittgentein, Shannon, Simon and March and others. Some are well known in the knowledge field while others represent the influence of other communities.
Interestingly enough, there were some former CEOs referenced such as George Kozmetsky (also featured on the Map), Regis McKenna, and Arie de Gues who are also well-known authors. There were other management practitioners, such as Andy Law (Fast Company), Keith Davies (Institute for Life Long Learning) and Norman Strauss (Ethos Metasystems). Still others references "clusters of people and networks" more on the idea of "communities of practice" - both human and technical.
c. What are the greatest challenges you have faced?
Everyone seems to be gaining knowledge of the concepts. Of course, such understanding leads only to the need for further understanding! Others have clearly been putting the concepts into practice and are much more concerned with implementation strategy, communicating the mission, creating the value proposition, and maintaining the momentum.
First, there is a need for understanding the real value of knowledge. We cannot get lost in the buzzwords. There are new definitions of terms that are oftentimes confusing. There are disparate perspectives in the field, which need to be rationalized. This applies to philosophy as well as practice. There is a need to connect the notions of human potential to economic results.
The value proposition has shifted from one of cost quality and time to one of economics, behavior and technology. In short, people are searching for ways to go beyond the deep emotional commitment to the mission toward more rational thinking on the relevant tools and techniques. It was characterized as being on the 'leading' vs the 'bleeding edge.' How might we articulate the knowledge agenda in pragmatic management terms rather than academic philosophy?
Second, there is a need for change within enterprises, in national policy and society-at-large. The old rules just do not apply to the new economic realities. In some respects, we are living in 5th generation change dynamics and operating with 2nd and 3rd generation management technology. Several described new organization forms: self-directed, networked and purposeful. We may even be innovating the whole art of leadership more suitable for 21st century management. It requires those comfortable with adapting to new mechanisms (e.g., the balanced scorecard, visualization of Intellectual Capital). How might we shift from classical/traditional thinking to more flexible mode-operandi to be able to take full advantage of this emerging field? How can we prepare people and organizations to act more intelligently? How can we "make knowledge just as important and measurable as cycle time, process yield, cost reduction and productivity."
Third, there is a need for supporting mechanisms for practitioners to put the concepts into practice. It seems that the technical support is more widely available than we would have thought, although admittedly the technology is often misused. The potential has yet to be realized. Although intranets have been effective in promoting internal conferencing and the Internet has enabled global networking, it is clear that we need a new class of tools to effectively create, codify, exchange and apply new knowledge effectively and efficiently. Much of the visualization and modeling research is moving swiftly to that end.
We need to challenge traditional thinking. To create entirely new management philosophy, standards and practice, we also need new models of success, complete with case study examples. Experts from multiple countries need powerful messages to convince their business communities and government officials to take action. Many have accepted the rationale, have even articulated their intent to become a knowledge-based enterprise or a knowledge-based nation - and are now seeking options for implementation. There is probably some mapping "of an international order" to be done so that we can learn from the learnings of one another.
d. What have you been able to accomplish?
Responses varied from those who felt they had accomplished "little" to having made "significant progress".
There were, of course, many that had research results to report. The research was not always done in the academic laboratories, though. In many instances, results were from action research and collaborative learning where people were able to explore the connections between the disciplines and across functional and even industry boundaries. Most responses, however, were quite nationalistic in spirit, with the exception of the activity in Europe now promoting a more regional geographic approach for economic wealth.
Some had made the connection between mission and performance. Others had influenced language and cross-boundary processes. Several were practicing what the preach by initiating and participating in a variety of teams, networks and special interest groups dedicated to the focus of knowledge and/or innovation. Some had even bridged the two!
For some, they progress was due to their own initiative, crystallizing the agenda in terms that they could formalize in a research institute, a futures center, a survey, a degree program, a start-up firm, a specific product or service. Many have authored their own books and articles and are active in the "community of knowledge practice". All considered themselves more as learners than leaders per se; but each is making a significant contribution to the field.
Many commented that this was a never-ending work, a "work-in-progress" so to speak. They'd been able to accomplish bits and pieces, but not been able to realize the potential of the broad overarching goals and potential this economy brings. One thing most respondents shared, they did understand the total picture and the value of viewing the opportunity in holistic terms.
e. What still needs to be done?
Simply stated, there is agreement that there is a lot to be accomplished, almost everything. Most realize that we are only at the beginning of a major transformation that will take decades. We have only scratched the surface of the real impact of this new economy. It will take several years for the common language to emerge. We need to reconnect the roots of heritage with the vision of what we might become (i.e., recover from the downside effects of downsizing and re-engineering).
First, we need new concepts and articulated in words which are easy to understand and even easier to implement. They must be easy for managers to consider without being simplistic. Knowledge must be seen as a resource, in some instances even the raw material from which products and services are developed. We need to document the importance of this "knowledge capital" as a precious asset to be managed for the benefit of an organization as well as the sustainability of mankind. We need an economic theory of knowledge!
Second, we must create an awareness - focus attention and make the opportunity more public. The vision must be visible. We must overcome the traditional paradigm of "knowledge hoarding" and create new methods and incentives for knowledge sharing. We must capture the attention of top management, middle management and newcomers to the field. Move the debate "from technology to content" says one respondent. Another says move the debate "from content to process, the innovation process".
Third, we must create the environment to manage collective intelligence and an innovation culture which values new ideas and responsible risk-taking. Academics, industry leaders and government officials all have something to contribute, and even more to learn. Focus must be on interaction, interdependence and collaboration, not competition. We need to bring together the East and West in ways which support and leverage the creativity of one another.
Fourth, we need practical and acceptable methods for the measurement of intellectual capital as well as the effective deployment of knowledge management technology. The supply-chain needs to be re-designed as an innovation value-system. We need more systematic methods of evaluation and institutional frameworks conducive to these modern methods. We need more effective training methods for both business and technology managers. We need more stories of successes and failures, story telling, becoming an art of the knowledge economy. We need more intelligent ways to dialogue, both electronic and face-to-face. We need to make the virtual community manageable through such structures as "knowledge cells". We need a new value-system based upon collaborative work.
f. What is the vision that you hold for a knowledge economy?
There is no way to do justice to the power of the multiple visions shared. Clearly, knowledge is seen as the engine for value-creation. What lies in the future is/must be grounded in values, competencies and the quality of relationships. It is an economy of open access rather than knowledge being perceived and managed as a "private good". The reasons are because of the bountiful nature of the resource and its quality to multiply as it is shared with others.
This new economy we are innovating works for the people creating a world free of poverty, disease and violence. It is an economy directed toward sustainable development placing knowledge at the point of need or opportunity. It is an economy that is transnational in scope, balancing the local/national needs with a global scope. The driving mandate is one of creating a Society with a better quality of life and increased standard of living worldwide. And the initiative begins with the individual, where knowledge resides!
What They Said
What follows are sample comments provided by individuals who are featured on the Map:
We are analysing all the responses to provide a detailed synthesis of what the insightful comments made by the Global Knowledge Leaders. This will shortly be available for a price of $49.00 plus shipping and handling. Volume discounts are available for 6 copies or more. To reserve your advance copy, please send a message to Kathaleen Rooney - email: firstname.lastname@example.org . Members who participated will be entering into an on-line dialogue to further explore their values, competencies and vision. Stay tuned for continued analysis.
This project would not have happened without:
We will keep you informed of further developments, but in the meantime visit the Knowledge Leadership Map and discover more perspectives on the knowledge economy from around the world.
This article was first published in I3 UPDATE Special Edition, February 1999, which also had an events calendar and other snippets.
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