Entovation International

Creating a World Trade of Ideas:
A Global Knowledge Innovation Infrastructure

by Debra M. Amidon and David J. Skyrme

The prosperity of individuals, enterprises and nations relies upon knowledge as the resource and innovation as the process. If knowledge is the modern asset – the most precious resource - of the 21st Century, perhaps there is a need to create a knowledge innovation infrastructure for the World Trade of Ideas. This article outlines the opportunity to create such an infrastructure - the Global Knowledge Innovation Infrastructure (GKII).


Knowledge has emerged as the strategic focus for business and has been growing in importance over the last decade. Of course, Peter F. Drucker described the knowledge worker as long ago as 1963. A dozen years ago, there were at least three authors who wrote about the potential of managing knowledge capital: Sveiby (Sweden); Amidon (United States) and Itami (Japan). A few years later, Nonaka explained the role of tacit/explicit knowledge in the Harvard Business Review, Tom Stewart documented the importance of brainpower in Fortune and John Seely Brown, Xerox PARC, wrote about ‘communities of practice’. At about the same time, Ray Stata, CEO of Analog Devices, and Arie de Geus, chief planner at Shell, described the value of learning as the key competitive weapon from a practitioner perspective.

Since these early descriptions, interest in knowledge as a lever of strategy and the number of organizations with formal knowledge programmes has grown inexorably. Today, we now see scores of conferences annually, many books on the subject, web sites and several periodicals, including Knowledge Management, devoted specifically to the knowledge focus. The cases described show the real benefits that organizations are gaining through a systematic approaches to harnessing existing and new knowledge - better products and services, faster time-to-market, improved customer service and reduction of cost through avoiding reinventing the wheel.

From the specialist topic of a few aficionados, knowledge has become a focus of attention in almost every industry and function. Perhaps the most recent trend is the obvious global interest in the field, making knowledge a key agenda item far beyond the realms of the commonly cited examples in North America, Western Europe and Japan. For example, inputs from geographic liaison members of the ENTOVATION Network in a recent survey highlighted the way that the knowledge economy is perceived around the world, as the quotes on the previous page indicated.

Further evidence of the globalization of the knowledge agenda is its acceptance as a pivotal point of policy by both nation states and international agencies alike.

The UK’s latest policy paper from the Department of Industry on UK National Competitiveness is called ‘Creating the

Knowledge-based Economy’. Similar reports have been published in China, Canada and Korea. Denmark’s Ministry of Industry has a pilot project to develop intellectual capital reports for 20 companies. Singapore has a follow on to Singapore 2000 to make it a regional ‘knowledge hub’. The World Bank’s 1998 World Development Report is ‘Knowledge for Development’. All these developments point to a new blueprint for the future - a knowledge value proposition based upon a balance of economics, behaviour and technology, and where learning is shared across organizational boundaries (Figure 1).

The Generation Gap

As knowledge becomes the focal point of strategy for enterprises and nation states alike, it is clear that old management and policy practice no longer suffice. The rules of management have changed – and significantly so. We need new measures, new methods and new infrastructures to maximise prosperity through knowledge. And many of these will come from contrasting experiences at both enterprise and regional or national level.

For example, measurement studies for the economic well being of regions reveal approaches that are equally applicable for an enterprise. Thus the Massachusetts Innovation Index developed 33 measures in three groups - inputs (resources), transformation activities (recipe) and outputs (results). This notion is immediately transferable to IC systems in the business arena.

The reality is that we are living in 5th Generation change dynamics and operating significantly outdated management technology. Management methods in the knowledge area need to changes in several areas - from hierarchy to networks, from training to learning, from competitive to collaborative strategy (Figure 2).

  1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
as the Asset
as the Asset
as the Asset
as the Asset
as the Asset
Core Strategy R&D in Isolation Link to Business Technology/Business Integration Integration With Customer R&D Collaborative Innovation System
Change Factors Unpredictable Serendipity Inter-dependence Systematic R&D Management Accelerated Discontinuous Global Change Kaleidoscopic Dynamics
Performance R&D as Overhead Cost-Sharing Balancing Risk/Reward 'Productivity Paradox' Intellectual Capacity/Impact
Structure Hierarchical;
Functionally Driven
Matrix Distributed Coordination 'Multi Dimensional' Communities of Practice Symbiotic Networks
People We/They Competition Proactive Cooperation Structured Collaboration Focus on Values and Capacity Self Managing Knowledge Workers
Process Minimal Communication Project to Project Basis Purposeful R&D/Portfolio Feedback Loops and 'information persistence' Cross-Boundary Learning and Knowledge Flow
Technology Embryonic Data-Based Information-Based IT as a Competitive Weapon Intelligent Knowledge Processors

Many of the characteristics of 5th generation management are well recognized, and indeed practices in many parts of organizations or in intergovernmental agencies. For example, few major aerospace development projects can today take place without sustained global collaboration with erstwhile competitors. Similarly, research and policy networks like the OECD transcend national governments. However, in general, most organizations are still managing by 3rd and 4th generation management methods. Furthermore as knowledge becomes more established as a vital resource, there are likely to be new opportunities and new markets focused on tradable knowledge.

Even while most enterprises are grappling with the transition to 5th generation management, the leading enterprises and policy makers are starting to consider what might lie beyond (i.e. 6th generation management). We don’t yet have the answers, nor the label, but it may well include:

  • Futurizing - creating more sustainable futures through new knowledge created and applied in global knowledge networks
  • Knowledge communities - bringing together disparate knowledge and people in dispersed locations to advance knowledge and its exploitation in different spheres of interest
  • Intelligent agents - creating symbiotic relationships between human and artificial intelligence technology for the creation gathering of knowledge.
  • Knowledge trading - ways of valuing and trading different knowledge objects, perhaps through an IT infrastructure, whose value changes depending on time and context.

Wherever any organization is on the chart, everybody faces the challenge of understanding what is possible, sharing knowledge about best (knowledge) management practice and developing approaches for new kinds of knowledge environment, where innovation and collaboration are fundamental planks of prosperity. This is the thinking behind what has been christened the Global Knowledge Innovation Infrastructure (GKII).


The United Nations was created to maintain political stability around the world. The World Bank and the IMF were created after World War II to ensure the movement of financial capital. Today we need a similar infrastructure for knowledge and innovation. This is the premise behind the GKII (Global Knowledge Innovation Infrastructure), an idea first envisioned as part of ENTOVATION’s Foresight (below).

The GKII provides a vehicle to leverage the different competencies in ways that support local and global efforts simultaneously. In knowledge management work we have seen how good generic knowledge principles developed in one area, such as the US Army ‘After Action Review’ can be successfully transferred into other enterprises, such as British Petroleum and Amoco. Emerging economies like China, as indicated earlier, are thinking deeply about the knowledge economy, and have as much to offer the rest of the world as the rest of the world has to them. Economically, prosperous China may well be dependent upon a successful India, and vice versa. Each benefits from this sharing and development of knowledge about knowledge from the other.

The main focus of the GKII is therefore to provide forums for structured dialogue around the standards of knowledge innovation (the 5th and 6th management generation of Figure 1). It is being designed around five sets of activities:

  1. Knowledge Leadership Practicums - workshops exploring key trends and their implications for enterprise within a structured framework.
  2. A Roundtable for Innovators from around the World - an event that presents the research findings and provides a forum for dialogue between functions, geographies and industry sectors.
  3. An 18-month Research Agenda - teams and task forces that explore the implications in terms of new methods, structures and processes for knowledge development and exploitation.
  4. Knowledge Innovation Awards - awards that recognize contribution to the development of the knowledge agenda and its practices.
  5. A Worldwide Knowledge Innovation Congress - that focuses on the flow of knowledge for innovation. It will be a place to meet, to learn, to collaborate and to innovate.

Although many activities will be carried out around the world, and through the use of technology, virtually, the initiative has a physical locus - Banff in Alberta, Canada - the setting for the first GKII event in November 1998.


Banff was chosen for several reasons, not least for its excellence and leadership in three areas crucial to knowledge creation. Seated at the foot of the Canadian Rockies, its spectacular setting provides a great stimulus for creative thinking and inspiration (Figure 4). The not-for-profit Banff Centre provides a unique blend of three kinds of knowledge - the Centre for Management, the Centre for Cultural and Performing Arts and the Centre for the Environment. Geographically it is a bridge between East and West.

At the launch workshop in November, participants from organizations in different sectors and from different parts of the world explored the implications of knowledge for their business. Videoconferencing was used to bring in thought provoking presentations from Leif Edvinsson of Skandia and Stephen Denning of the World Bank. They highlighted the need to get above the minutiae of tools and methods and to focus on parallels (metaphors) and perspectives.

The first steps were taken to scope the research agenda. It was immediately clear that the type of research needed is not academic research but action-research. Globally dispersed participants will bring their knowledge to bear on key problems and issues in the form of a global learning collaboratory. Prototypes will be developed of new knowledge. Ideas will be converted into action, either new processes or perhaps collaboratively created new products and business opportunities. The agenda will stimulate collaboration across different boundaries.

Perhaps the most important insight to emerge from the initial Practicum was that indeed, no one organization or individual has a monopoly of knowledge. Whatever their industry, whether publishing, oil transportation or cellular communications, the participants gained relevant insights from others. In the words of participants:

  • "The most important part of the GKII are the multiple cultures."
  • "There lots of energy and a majestic future to build."
  • "In such a beautiful environment, your competencies and multiple talents are bound to emerge."
  • "In three short days, we have developed a community."
  • "There is real power in our conversations."
  • "We have new meaning for the notions of collaboration."
  • "The GKII is real and I will do what I can."

The host and sponsor of the meeting, Doug Macnamara, Vice President of the Banff Centre, summarised the occasion as follows:

"It takes a 6th sense to be able to intervene in situations which might happen versus reacting to situations. We are here to build the leadership competencies of those in whom we will vest our future."

Interestingly these sentiments are consistent with those on the plaque on the wall illustrating the intent of the founder:

"Make no small dreams; they lack imagination to stir men’s blood!"

Forty years later, this vision has turned into a Centre of excellence, renowned throughout the world. The dreams of those at the GKII’s launch at Banff are equal magnitude. Their vision is one of a new economic world order, based upon knowledge (not technology), innovation (not solutions), customer success (not satisfaction) and international collaboration (not competitive advantage). It will take an international holonomy (a nesting of networks) along the lines of that depicted in Figure 5 to bring it to fruition.
Holomony MultiLateral Agencies, International Societal Organizations United Nations, The World Bank, OECD, G7, Davos Foundation, World Wildlife Foundation, GATT
Countries, Consortia, Regional Entities US, EU, Russia, MCC, SEMATECH, Pacific Rim, National Research Council, Canarie, Mitsubishi, SEC, NAFTA
Companies, Universities, Government Agencies, Non Profit Sector IBM, 3M, BP, Merck, Siemens, Kyocera, Nortel, Samsung, MIT, ITESM, DoD, DTI, MITI, AARP, OXFAM, GreenPeace
Functions, Teams, Disciplines, SIGs, Community of Practice R&D, HR, IT, Marketing, Economics, Computer Science, Agility, Electronic Commerce, Distance Learning
Employees, Suppliers, Customers, Stakeholders, Alliance Partners CFO, CIO, CKO, Auditor, Line Manager, Contributor, Liaison, Point of Contact, Investor, Broker, Transfer Manager

All individuals and enterprises of all nations are welcome and encouraged to participate. It will take all of us – developing and industrialised nations alike - to create a sustainable future and an increased standard of living around the globe.



To Find Out More About the GKII

Visit the the Global Knowledge Leadership Map at www.entovation.com

or contact: Debra Amidon, ENTOVATION International – E-mail: debra@entovation.com, or, Doug Macnamara, The Banff Centre – E-mail: doug_Macnamara@banffcentre.ab.ca.

About the Contributors

Debra M. Amidon is founder and Chief Strategist of ENTOVATION International, an international research and consulting network specialising in knowledge innovation. David Skyrme is a knowledge management consultant, whose firm is a partner in the ENTOVATION Network. The contributors are co-authors of the highly regarded management report Creating the Knowledge-based Business, published by Business Intelligence (1997).


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