Born out of Practice
by Debra M. Amidon
As I watched the CNN broadcast the dawn of the Millennium ripple across the word, I could not help but be encouraged. Whether you believe the year began on January 1 or is yet to come; there is one thing upon we might agree. People underestimate the power of the positive flow of energy we all experience. Y2K aside, people individuals and organizations alike appear to have renewed commitment to change, or as we prefer to call it innovation (i.e., the capacity to preserve the best of the old and realign the rest to take advantage of future opportunity).
Reflect for a moment on insights provided by the Special Millennium Edition of The Economist (December 1999): Reporting on a Thousand Years. The discussion on wealth was a comment on the last years of innovation. "Mathematics and mechanics had come together. By the end of the 17th century, understanding and application had converged. Knowledge had expanded, you might say, up to and beyond the point of critical mass. The intellectual foundations for the technological revolution were in place."
I wonder now, in the next thousand years, how the evolution of a knowledge economy will be written. The focus is no longer the technology, nor is it information. In fact, as they write, "Technology is driven by knowledge, and especially scientific knowledge. Knowledge is cumulative; once it exists, it does not cease to exist." Is this not the Multiplier effect of which Charles Savage, author of 5th Generation Management, speaks? He suggests, and I agree, we are only at the beginning of a fifty-year perhaps more transition.
The Economist suggests that "when a critical mass of knowledge exists, the pace of future accumulation can increase sharply, as previously unsuspected connections between branches of knowledge are exploited, each breakthrough creating new opportunities." This is similar to the Kaleidoscopic Dynamic referenced in Innovation Strategy for the Knowledge Economy: The Ken Awakening. It is not the speed of change of a variable. Nor is it the speed of change of multiple variables. It is the compounding effect of the speed of change of multiple variable that creates a management environment with which we are totally unfamiliar. And, there is no going back.
In 1987, few understood the value of a focus on intellectual capital. Similarly so goes the article, " few of the inventors responsible for the astonishing wave of innovation between 1750 and 1860 were scientists; most were artisans or engineers with little or no scientific training. They were men of common sense, curiosity, energy and a vast ingenuity, standing on the shoulders not of scholars but of similar practical types."
If we were to look at the real leadership of the knowledge economy (e.g., Edvinsson, Saint-Onge, Greenes, Petrash, and Sveiby), they are practitioners. The roots of the movement are based in my own technology transfer function at Digital Equipment Corporation then a managerial enigma in the technology field. According to our research - the leaders are visionary, holistic, systematic, and encourage an environment of teamwork, learning and innovation. Truth be known, many of these practitioners sound more like theorists in their presentations than do the faculty researchers.
"More was achieved in technological innovation during the five or six dark centuries after the collapse of the Roman Empire than in its heyday. Yet the fact remains that the decisive break between the economic stagnation which kept mankind in poverty for thousands of years and the modern era of rapid growth occurred fully a century before science was harnessed to technology," reports The Economist. What that may bode for our future is an unprecedented explosion of economic rewards of innovation based upon the flow of knowledge, not the flow of technology (i.e., materials into products and services). We have yet to witness the benefits of such a self-sustaining naturally accelerating circle of innovation based upon collaborative advantage not competition any more.
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