Entovation International
Germany: Blossoming with the Knowledge Agenda

Debra M. Amidon

They came from all over the world to Cologne, Germany - as they do every two years to participate in the World Business Dialogue - 1200 participants, 130 speakers, 70 countries. This year the congress - the world's largest student-run convention, featured the theme "Know: Rethinking Knowledge." Opening with an exhibit - "The Art of Knowledge," they were able to convene an insightful cast of presenters ranging from students to the Chief Economist of the World Bank with numerous acclaimed authors, publishers, CEO's, academic, government officials and yes - even the trade unions - in between. Discussants talked about the new economic system with new rules:

"Being conscious of the birth of this new system, one has to be aware of the fact that the process and the development, speed and direction are not determined forces but are dependent on people who actively have to shape this change."

With welcoming words of Wolfgang Clement, President of North Rhine - Westphalia, conferees learned:

"Globalisation makes knowledge the most important economic factor of all, and today, more than ever before, it is the question of economic power or powerlessness which decides a society's destiny. The arc extends from the new understanding of the generation of knowledge - under the catchword of lifelong learning. It passes through the imparting of knowledge in the era of new media, all the way to the delicate questions of the ethical boundaries of the uses of knowledge or even the consequences which the knowledge society has in store for the future of employment."

The presidium of Organisations-forum Wirtschaftskongress (OFW) is ably advised by a board of trustees whose 71 renowned members are drawn from the worlds of European business and academia. Three congress advisors included the Chairmen of the boards of HOCHTIEF AG, Gerling-Konzern and Deutsche Poste AG. Their presence was anything but symbolic. They were active participants in the dialogue - sharing their insights, hosting presenters and inspiring the student initiative. Do not miss their Web site http://www.ofw.de. You will not be disappointed.

The Millenium Generation:

Our future is in good hands. I find this in every corner of the world; but here, the Cologne students have accomplished something extraordinary. Originating in 1984, the (OFW) - now a 34 (all honorary) student team - works to gain practical experience in addition to the theory the university provides. These bi-annual conventions bridge the gap between generations and nations and provide a common prospect of the opportunities and risks of the future.

The organization structure is impressive with three Chairmen - Daniel Wolf, Andreas Langner and Stefan Menden). It includes 8 departments (e.g., Finance, HR, PR, Marketing, Corporate Relations, et al) and a Convention Team (including Press, Car Pool, Speaker Support Team, Security, Technics et al). There is a symposium in the year between conventions, a roundtable on privatization, EuroTour, and a subsidiary called OSCAR, a management consulting firm run by the students delivering services - 150 projects - to clients such as Lufthansa, Siemens and BMW. And there is more...

In addition to the content and format innovation, OFW reaches all over the world for student essays on the topic of the convention. In an intensive competition complete with review committee, 1,111 papers from students in 83 countries - from Albania to Zimbabwe - were received. 400 of the best were selected and those individuals came from over 70 countries to participate in the Dialogue. There were three topic areas for the essays and the finalist in each:

  • Janusz Brzeszczynski (University of Lodz) - "The Impact of Knowledge on the Development of Contemporary Society"
  • Atul Singh (Indian Institute of Management - Bangalore) - "Integration of Knowledge Management into Organizations."
  • Neeraj Kumar (Indian Institute of Management) - "New Definition of Work Facing the Next Millennium."

Thanks to a grant from Joachim Doering, Vice President, Information and Communications Networks (ICM), Siemens AG, the original papers submitted will be analyzed by Jan Wyllie, TrendMonitor International and distributed by ENTOVATION International as a foundation document for the next congress in 2001. It should be ready for release mid-May. Stay tuned!

Also, Stefan Fazekas s.fazekas@magnet.at and Manfred Bornemann bornem@kfunigraz.ac.at have completed the German translation of Innovation Strategy and the Knowledge Economy: the Ken Awakening, including the Study Guide that is available electronically upon request.

Dialogue Across Ideology and Generations:

The challenge began with the opening address by Kenneth Courtis, 1st VP Deutsche Bank Asia Pacific, defining "The change will not be academic; it will depend upon you!" It continued through the closing address by Joseph Stigiltz, Senior VP and Chief Economist of The World Bank who provided insight into the Bank's mandate "to become a knowledge bank, not a bank of finance and we are putting the framework in place."

Keynotes, panels and workshop executive sessions were organized according to the following topical areas:

Day 1
Knowledge as the Basis for Economic Growth
The Structure of a Knowledge-Based Society
Concepts of Education for the Era of Continuous Change
Global Infrastructures for Knowledge Transfer
The Knowledge Society - Challenges for Social Norms and Structures
Create the World for 2050
The Future of Work - Challenges for Government, Industry and the Individual
Day 2
Dealing with Knowledge in the Company
Components of a Knowledge Organization
The Knowledge Worker - Concepts for Future Human Resource Policies
Organizing Knowledge - Challenges to Modern IT Systems
Creating Holistic Knowledge Management
Knowledge in Innovation Processes
Aspects of Implementation of Modern Knowledge-Management
Knowledge is Power - The Source of Long-lasting Competitiveness

Now, these topical areas are not necessarily new - at least on the knowledge conference circuit. What was astounding about this event was that the people doing the speaking on the topics were not necessarily the familiar names. Some were; but for the most part, they represented the thought leaders and decision-makers in the sectors across many nations of the world.

Of course, there were the lead academics (e.g., Ikujiro Nonaka, Peter Senge and others from Boston University, INSEAD, University of Geneve, and more). There were CEO's (Chris Cramer from CNN, Dr. Meinhard Miegel from IWG Bonn, Dennis Tsichritzis from GMD, Vilim Vasat from BBDO, Tom Middelhoff from Bertelsmann, Ron Sommer from Deutsche Telecom, etc.); Boards Members (e.g., Rudolph H.P. Markum from Unilever), several authors (e.g., John Naisbitt, Tom Stewart, Jim Botkin, Debra M. Amidon). They were architects of new organizational structures (e.g., George Por). They were practitioners with tried and true knowledge practices (e.g., Christian Kurtzke and Joachim Doering from Siemens). They included many of the Presidents and CEOs (or senior partners) of major consulting forms (e.g., Arthur D. Little, Arthur Andersen, EDS, Diebold, IBM, BCG, KPMG, McKinsey & Company) There were Ministers of Education, heads of labor unions, ambassadors as well as scientific and cultural attaches. The represented far corners of the world (e.g., South Africa, India, Peru, Malaysia, Japan and more, many more).

In short it was an exceptional pooling of expertise and as closest I have seen to the harnessing of our worldwide collective intelligence. The substance of the dialogue was so robust, I cannot do it justice here.

There were some themes that emerge from many of the speakers:

  1. It's not the technology, it's the social implications thereof - the human dimension.
  2. We can create and incentivize the environment to produce more knowledge and sharing.
  3. The focus on knowledge goes well beyond the enterprise in terms of economic policies and practices; it is a matter of establishing modern managerial standards.
  4. It is a function of balance and harmony; not either-or, win-lose scenarios.
  5. There may be some answers in collaboration.
  6. Developing nations are using the knowledge economy as one way to level the playing field.
  7. This is only the beginning of a major societal transformation, the implications of which we are just beginning to comprehend.

There were the normal discoveries usually articulated in forums, but I have tried to select a few unusual pearls of wisdom. We urge both conference participants and others to purchase from the students the CD-ROM they are preparing. It promises to be a compilation of insight we have not yet witnessed in the evolution of the movement.

  • "Greater cooperation among competition authorities might be desirable, especially if this led to more effective enforcement of competition standards and a leveling up of those standards - to the highest rather than the lowest common denominator." (Kenneth S. Courtis - Japan)
  • "Asia cannot be left behind, Asia has a lot to learn. The Asian Crisis will ultimately lead to increased economic wealth, not unbridled capitalism." (Dato Sri Mohd Najib Tun Razak - Malaysia)
  • "Tell me where knowledge has not been the factor in development, how to write, how to communicate. What has changed is what we value in knowledge. Knowledge is central to our place in the cosmos." (Maria Livanos Cattaui - France)
  • "Knowledge management and telecommunications are closely linked. On the one hand, telecommunications is characterized by leaps of innovation. On the other hand, in the increasing competition, retaining of the customer requires consistent processing." (Ron Sommer - Germany)
  • "Western countries and international institutions have not been good transmitters of social know-how, because of the lack of will, inadequate knowledge of Ukraine's and other East European countries particularities and because of their conviction that their ways are the right ways." (Bohdan Hawrylyshyn - Canada)
  • "The Millennium Generation will have far more opportunities to create a world we can hardly imagine today. A large portion of the jobs which will exist tomorrow haven't been created today!" (Robert D. Hormats - USA)
  • "Governments wishing to develop knowledge-based economies must recognize, protect and reward the generation and exploitation of knowledge." (Rudolph H.P. Markum - Unilever)
  • "We live in a society where information is cheap. Knowledge is expensive and wisdom is rare." (Dennis Tsichritzis - GMD)
  • For the organization of a virtual campus, a more student-oriented structure is required rather than the conventional university structure we know today. Traditional universities will become closer to the virtual distance teaching universities than moving in the other direction." (Helmut Hoyer - University of Hagen - Germany)
  • "The African Renaissance provides hope for Africa. The new democracies in more than two-thirds of Africa are an indication of a discourse for a renewed Africa, a watershed moment in the historical trajectory, shaping the future of the continent." (Teboho Moja - South Africa)
  • "The key problem is to foster an open-minded, liberal and creative educational system without being overwhelmed by cultural values and attitudes that may be alien to our traditional values. There is a tension between the need for openness and the desire to preserve the cultural and moral traditions of our societies." (Walter Woon, Ambassador, Republic of Singapore)
  • "The faster the world hurries into the future and changes, the more we need to be assured by history and the fixed symbols in it. The more cultures we meet, the more we have to be aware of our own culture." (Hartmut von Hentig - Germany)
  • "At the verge of the 21st century, the picture of an internationally linked world of societies as a decisive power is sharpening. A highly dramatic economic development requires social changes and political innovations." (Jurgen Turek - University of Munich)
  • "Why now? You think about something when it becomes important. Competition demands a better use of knowledge." (Gilbert J.B. Probst - University of Geneve)
  • "The accelerating pace of technological change is tipping the scale and we need to return to the human scale which was abandoned in the industrial era. There is a need to form a new understanding of technology, an understanding that takes into account art, philosophy, religion and ethics." (John Naisbitt - Author)
  • "Knowledge-based products and smart services are those that embed knowledge and learning in them. Every company will become a knowledge business as we evolve in 20 years into the bio-economy." (Jim Botkin - InterClass)
  • "Knowledge is fundamentally different from Information. Information is indifferent to knowledge values. Knowledge is grounded in context, experience and purposeful action. 'Ba' is a shared space for emerging relationships. It can be physical, virtual or mental." (Ikujiro Nonaka)
  • "In knowledge -intensive companies, employees are, often, investors - true capitalists in their own right, who take risks and invest their time and intelligence in the expectation of return." (Thomas Stewart - Fortune)
  • "Could the competence economy comprise everybody? Who will take care of the social challenges of the knowledge society? Will it be the market, a new generation of business leaders or governments? Or, will it be the so-called 'third sector' or consumers, users, traditional or new interest groups, organizations and associations?" (Lennard Forseback - Sweden)

You must be getting the picture, the dialogue in this conference raised the stakes of the implications of the knowledge economy to the level of societal transformation in all its dimensions. No longer can the knowledge agenda be perceived as one of company productivity or even merely productive growth. No longer can the agenda be seen as US or European-centric. No longer can the knowledge agenda be perceived as a consulting fad soon to give way to the next flavor of the month. There is something far more substantial - not that it is crystal clear at this point in time; but the right questions are being raised in the right forums with the right people who have access to the resources and decision-making processes which can make a difference.


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Reprinted from I3 Update - 27.