The Innovation Superhighway: Harnessing Intellectual Capital for Collaborative Advantage

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The Innovation SuperHighway:
Harnessing Intellectual Capital for Collaborative Advantage
By Debra M. Amidon
Release date: November 2002
ISBN: 0750675926 - Butterworth-Heinemann 2002
Puchase the book at amazon.com

"Debra M. Amidon may be the next Peter Drucker with her own
strategic blueprint for the knowledge tomorrow with global
visibility, sustainability and collaborative advantage.”
-Xenia Stanford


Collaborative Foreword by Leif Edvinsson (Sweden),
Hubert Saint-Onge (Canada) and Joachim Doering (Germany)

- D R A F T   T E X T -
S A M P L E   C H A P T E R

Chapter 1: A Global Imperative for Sustainability

The Knowledge Why

“I saw the earth without any borders
Without any fighting, without any fear;
So, captain, give the order,
We’re going to the next frontier.”
-  Recollections of Apollo commander Eugene Cernan
as written in a song by Paul and Ralph Colwell

The world is experiencing unprecedented change in applications of knowledge in every dimension of development, growth, revitalization and organization. The demands and opportunities of an interdependent global economy have implications for private and public decision making by enterprises and communities, whether local, national, regional or global. Most nations have launched major initiatives to harness their inherent capability within a transnational context. All has been done in the name of international competitiveness. Economies have been transformed, communities revitalized, emerging territories supported and industrialized nations repositioned. We have much to learn from one another. 

The foundation for a new economic world order has been laid – one based upon knowledge, innovation and international collaboration. This is a new landscape where managerial rules have significantly changed – but how, when and to what end?

Austin roots

In 1982, I had been working on the team to bring the Microelectronics Computer and Technology Corporation (MCC) to Boston. After all, we had the most successful Route 128 High Technology Belt and highest concentration of academic institutions than anywhere else in the world. We were ‘The Massachusetts Miracle’ (Lampe, 1988). We expected that the San Francisco Bay area was our only formidable competitor with the then rapidly emerging Silicon Valley. 

The principals of Control Data Corporation and Digital Equipment Corporation had been actively involved in charting a new course for US R&D – establishing a collaborative foundation for pre-competitive research. They had studied the principles of the then highly successful Japanese ‘Keiretsu’ – horizontally and vertically integrated groupings of firms. They studied the plans for Tsukuba City – the first large-scale planned science city – that was designed to be a ‘knowledge-generation’ site (Gibson & Rogers, 1994). And they studied the plans for the Technopolis strategy to link the castle towns of the nation with superhighway infrastructures (Tatsuno, 1986).

The decision stunned the economic development community when the announcement was made that this national treasure would be based in Austin, Texas. This was a pivotal decision orchestrated with a combined academia, government and industrial bid that established new rules for the soon-to-be innovation landscape of the modern enterprise – although few realized its importance at the time. Collaboration – with all the difficulties if implementation – was to become the modern management mode-operandi.

I remember my first trip to Austin in 1984 to review the initial research and technology transfer plans of this new research consortium. I was impressed by meeting with Admiral Bobby R. Inman, USN, (Ret.), the Corporation’s first CEO, who was the former Director of the National Security Agency and Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I marveled at the plans for a new MCC facility – a researcher’s dream and an ideal location to create, exchange new knowledge in a spirit of collaboration that transcended the walls of significantly competitive firms.  I must admit, however, as I looked at the relatively barren landscape (sorry, but remember I was from Massachusetts), I wondered how the talent needed to succeed would be recruited to Texas. 

I returned only 18 short months later and it seems that a city had been built overnight! Already there were highways and skyways to rival a mature industrial complex…and it was only the beginning. It did not take long for us to realize, in fact, that the ‘infrastructure’ that had been so eloquently crafted by local leaders such as Dr. George Kozmetsky, Founder and Director of the IC2 Institute, was not of bricks and mortar. It was, instead, a vibrant ‘social capital’ infrastructure founded on the intelligence and interactions of people sharing with common purpose and shared vision.

They called it ‘collaborative individualism’ – these managerial architects of MCC. It was similar to ‘entrepreneurial teamwork’ - the core value of Digital Equipment Corporation, the 3rd official company to join. It was based upon a ‘technopolis wheel’ emphasizing the public/private collaboration across the academic, business and government sectors (Smilor, Gibson and Kozmetsky, 1988). A new form of technology transfer was being innovated – one that relied upon the flow of knowledge (not technology per se) to and from MCC. Success would be based upon the quality and intensity of those interactions.

 There was considerable energy in the deliberations – and excitement, if you will, that a new era was coming…and indeed, it was. The restrictive country anti-trust laws were rewritten; arch-competitors were collaborating and people were discussing possibilities – across functions, across businesses and even across nations.[1] The process of innovation was being redefined forever and we were all eagerly participating in that evolution. 

From NII to GII

About the same time, representatives in the scientific community were already witnessing the benefits of electronic communication. What originally began as ARPA-net in 1972 as the network for DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) - used by a few university military laboratories - was expanded as a general science network and became NSF-net in 1986. Once success was proven, the growth was explosive; and it eventually evolved into the platform for what was called the National Information Infrastructure (NII) – and later described in editorial shorthand as ‘The Information SuperHighway.’ 

The NII perspective – as originally intended - was based upon the assumptions that now seem an understatement: the pace of network communications would accelerate over the next decade; the boundaries of the traditional research scientific community are fading; and networks would link science and society in ways yet unimaginable.[2]

The platform as stated in the original National Information Infrastructure (1992) was to provide:

  • The facilities and services that enable the efficient creation and diffusion of useful information( in order) to:

    • Enhance the competitiveness of our manufacturing base.

    • Increase the speed and efficiency of electronic commerce, or business-to- business communication, to promote economic growth.
    • Improve health care delivery and control costs.
    • Promote the development and accessibility of quality educational and lifelong learning for all Americans.
    • Make us more effective at environmental monitoring and assessing our impacts upon the earth.
    • Sustain the role of libraries as agents of democratic and equal access to information.
    • Provide government services to the public faster, more responsively, and more efficiently.

In short, the NII was an agenda for national competitiveness. But even when it was broadened and renamed the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) during a subsequent G7 discussion, it was never intended to be the ‘information’ infrastructure at all. The ‘facilities and services’ were actually the network – and the ‘network’ was both technical and human. ‘Useful information’ could be considered ‘knowledge’ that resides in the minds of people whatever their cultural or professional origins. And ‘creation and diffusion’ is actually the innovation process – however defined, such as theory to practice, idea to market, cradle to grave, creation to application.

Therefore, the NII/GII was - in reality - the design of an innovation (not information) infrastructure – thus, The Innovation SuperHighway. Now with the geometric acceptance of Internet and the globalization of its application, the innovation intent can be realized - to move ideas from the point of origin to the point of opportunity (e.g., global business) or the point of need (e.g., to eradicate world poverty).

Today, if you do a search on the Worldwide Web for ‘The Information Superhighway,’ you will get everything from “Smart cars running on smart highways” (Weisenfelder, 1996) to a recent Winner of the American Society for Information Science and Technology's 2001 Best Book Award – From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure: Access to Information in a Networked World (2000) by Professor Christine L. Borgman, Presidential Chair in Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She explores with well-researched material, the implications of electronic commerce, electronic publishing, distance-independent education, distributed entertainment, and cooperative work that is depends upon the ability to discover and locate information, whether about products, services, people, places, facts, or ideas of interest. 

Borgman suggests, “None of these applications are new. What is new is the process by which they are conducted….Much is known about the information-related behavior of individuals and institutions, yet relatively little of that knowledge is being applied to the design of digital libraries, national and global information infrastructures, or information policy.” I would add that when the GII is viewed as an innovation infrastructure (i.e., looking carefully at the ‘how’ and to what end’), we might be able to use the network – admittedly human and technical – to more prosperous advantage.

Progressive managers and other enterprise leaders are already seeing the benefits of and application of these learning and networking technologies to the Knowledge Economy. Such an Innovation SuperHighway can bring together leading thinkers and practitioners from around the world, from different industry sectors and types of organizations, from governments and public policy agencies, and from professional organizations. Only with this level of cross-fertilization will it be possible to build a truly global infrastructure from which all sectors, functions and regions of the world can benefit.

Frame for progress

The dawn of the new millennium has been met with great enthusiasm and an equivalent 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). Individuals and organizations from every function, sector and corner of the globe are envisioning a new economic world order – one based upon intellectual, not financial capital. Of course, knowledge has always been an essential element in the advancement of civilisation, but today’s emerging economy proposes that knowledge be managed explicitly.

Certainly there are numerous facets to understand with this complex evolution; but there are three primary underlying themes are fundamental to the new infrastructure needed to create prosperity in this new economy:

  • Knowledge is the new, expandable source of economic wealth. There is an emerging recognition that the inherent intellectual assets – effectively exploited through innovation – are the most valuable resource of any country.

  • Innovation encompasses the full spectrum from creative idea generation through full profitable commercialization. Successful innovation depends on converting knowledge flows into marketable goods and services.

  • Collaboration, replaces the competitive (win/lose) paradigm, which is prevalent in many businesses today, with win/win benefits based on pooling competencies - knowledge, know-how and skills.

Today, we know that the knowledge agenda is worldwide, pervades every function and every industry, and has implications for industrialized and developing nations alike. Indeed, it has evolved well beyond the borders of a nation; it has become an agenda of international collaboration. Although originally thought to refer to white-collar, high technology workers, there is no such thing as a non-knowledge worker. And - originally to have been the focus of the services sector, there such a thing as a non-knowledge-intensive industry. The knowledge of all individuals is important. Knowledge is what makes companies unique – even within the same industry. We have more to gain by building upon the competencies of one another as individuals and nations.

Figure 1-1 Evolution of Thought

By now the shift in orientation from ‘data’ to ‘information’ to ‘knowledge’ – or reasonable facsimiles - seem commonplace; but we still hear about national initiatives for the Information Society and the needs for ICT (i.e., Information, Computers and Technology). There are still many who are caught without a fundamental understanding of the difference. Our simple explanation is that data is a base representation of fact, information is data with context and knowledge is information with meaning…fully actionable.

The innovation of which we speak - and must manage - is not a function of the flow of technology, or even the flow of materials into viable products and services. Rather, it is the learning process – the pace and effectiveness with which knowledge is exchanged – and how swiftly ideas (old and new) are applied. Customers have become so sophisticated and the realities of hypercompetition so prevalent, companies can no longer focus on products from a technology-push perspective. In fact, most customers are not even satisfied with a solution-based product offering. Instead, their knowledge needs to be considered part and parcel of an organization’s ability to innovate.

We now know that win/lose scenarios are sub-optimal at best. Even cooperative ventures (i.e., sharing the pie) may create win/win interaction; but do not capitalize of the real value of human interactions and the potential knowledge-sharing therein. On the other hand, collaboration can provide a synergistic win/win in which opponents/partners develop a shared understanding of what’s possible and make decisions on what might be created (and actualized) in consort with one another, rather than as separate entities.

We are just beginning to discover how to value knowledge in our organizations and the fact that knowledge has no value until it is put to use. Leaders in technological innovation and knowledge management are beginning to converge in their concepts and in their practices. University research initiatives are beginning to proliferate. Nations are launching initiatives for 21st Century positioning, and societal organizations, such as The World Bank, UN, EU and OECD, have placed knowledge and learning as centre stage for future sustainable economic development. It is only the beginning.

Potential of knowledge societies

There has been a compounding effect from the rapid advances and acceptance of virtual reality and the phenomenon of virtual networks.  Advances in one area appear to affect the other and visa versa.  In other words, communications technology - visible within the past decade as research experiments and “skunk works” - is now embodied in a plethora of products and services ranging from the most complex business simulations to video games.  This symbiosis makes possible the virtual organizational structures, as defined by Steven L. Goldman, Roger N. Nagel and Kenneth Preiss (1995) as “an opportunistic alliance of core competencies distributed among a number of distinct operating entities within a single large company or group of companies.” Such innovation enables organizations to operate with more fluid, flexible management practices on a global scale. 

In 1987, we held the first nation’s Roundtable for Managing the Knowledge Assets into the 21st Century (Amidon and Dimancescu, 1987) where we concluded:

“If we can agree that the knowledge base of the United States is our most precious resource, then we can begin to manage it more effectively. This requires a re-thinking of how the intellectual capital of each sector – education, government and industry – should be developed and applied to the dual goals of the advancement of science and technology as well as the international competitiveness of our nation.”

And so, the journey began with an exploration of the process of innovation: knowledge creation, knowledge translation and knowledge commercialization. Given the exploding receptivity of Internet capability, the concepts diffused quickly through all sectors of the economy, into Europe where there were already roots[3] laid by Karl-Eric Sveiby in (1987) and Hiroyuki Itami (1987) and Ikujiru Nonaka (1991) in Japan.


Figure 1-2: Evolution of Knowledge Economies[4]

These progressive concepts that initially focused on the enterprise level (e.g., Know-How Company. Knowledge Creating Company, et al) were elevated swiftly with adoption in the realm of economic development by various countries, such as France and Poland. Having been exposed to a US Study Mission on technological commercialization, the Prime Minister brought his entire cabinet to New York City – hosted by Dr. Michael Crow, Vice Provost of Columbia University - to understand the implications of the use of the technology for the sustainability of his country.

Soon, we saw evidence of the attention of industrialized nations through the initiatives by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with lead articles in the OECD Observer by Jean-Claude Paye (1996) on policies for a knowledge-based economy and Riel Miller (1996) on Human Capital Accounting. The World Bank followed suit with major initiatives including the publication of the World Development Report with the title Knowledge for Development (1999) that set to convert the institution into the World Knowledge Bank for developing nations. They followed up with major Global Partnership Conferences – the GKI in Toronto, Canada, and GKII in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that drew 1200 participants from 90 nations. By the time I visited Beijing in 1998, there were already several study commissions on the implications of the knowledge society for China.

By now, the notion of Intellectual Capital (IC) Reporting, originating at Skandia AFS, began to focus on the ‘Power of Innovation’ (1995) and was adapted to the level of the nation’s economy in Sweden. At the same time, several countries – namely Denmark, The Netherlands and Israel - were experimenting with the schema adapted for their countries. The European Union hosted a meeting in Utrecht bringing together Ministries of Education, Commerce and leading knowledge professionals to explore the ‘European Knowledge Union.’ Even nations like Peru were holding National Conferences on IC as early as 1999 and the World’s Fair in Hannover, Germany, created a sizable ’Knowledge Park.’

More recently, the Brookings Institute has released their study on Intangibles (Lev, 2000), FASB has issued Guidelines, The World Bank has issued new economic indicators and the United Nations  - together with McMaster University - has defined a National Intellectual Capital Index (Bontis, 2002). The US State Department has held briefings on converting nations like Russia to a Knowledge Economy, there are proposals for the Western Hemisphere Knowledge Partnership (WHKP) and the Prime Minister of Singapore has declared his intention for his country to be “The Innovation Nation.”

We need more demonstration projects to create prototypes for new ways of thinking about how research scientists and bench engineers – across disciplinary, industry and national boundaries – can collaborate on problems of mutual interest. We need more examples of the progress of developing nations and aboriginal communities in establishing new mechanisms to preserve and leverage their own cultural heritage. We need more success stories of the accelerated creation, movement and application of new ideas into products and services can ensure the profitable growth of an enterprise – large scale organizations as well as small start-up entrepreneurial firms – and ultimately benefit society. We need more incentives for individuals to value their knowledge and the knowledge of others and work collaboration for the common good.

Such international multi-year projects should not focus on the flow of information per se, but upon the interdependent creation and utilization of three types of knowledge: core knowledge (data, information and expertise); new knowledge (ideas and inventions) and applied knowledge (products, services and know-how). Evaluation of such systems will provide insight into the interdependence of the economic, behavioral and technological factors referenced earlier. It will provide some understanding of the managerial principles inherent in virtual networked learning – the challenge of The Innovation SuperHighway.

Foundation for sustainability

It was Dr. Tom Malone, formerly with Formerly at MIT and now a Distinguished Scholar with North Carolina State University, who introduced many of us to the real opportunity at hand with his comments on Global Learn Day:[5]

“The path to a prosperous, sustainable, and equitable society is long, winding, and difficult, but a start can now be made with a knowledge-based and human-centered strategy. This strategy empowers individuals to renew rather than degrade the physical and biological environment, aid to enrich rather than impoverish the social and cultural environment. Entry into this knowledge society will require new patterns of collaboration among the scholarly disciplines. New modes of partnership must also be established among all levels of government, academia, business and industry, and local community organizations."

Using the foundation for sustainability outlined for the Western Hemisphere Knowledge Partnership (WHKP) [see Chapter 14] that was premiered in Boston (USA) in July, 2001, participants imagined a vision (and relevant strategies) for nations and regions of the world:

1. Education -- life-long learning is a sine qua non for a knowledge-based economy. Distance education is a promising tool with which to pursue life-long learning.

2. Health and resilience of natural ecosystems - requires development of indicators for the pressures on, extent of, and output by agricultural, coastal, forest, freshwater, and grassland ecosystems. As civilization expands, hazards from natural disasters increase. Extensive use of collaboratories is envisioned in this and subsequent agenda items

3. Eco-efficiency in the production and consumption of goods and services - environment-ally benign to alleviate the impact of further economic growth on world ecosystems.

4. Energy -- to power economic growth -- conservation and exploration of environmentally friendly sources of energy (the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is emerging as a regional as well as a global problem).

5. National income accounts - extension to include environmental impacts and make realistic the consequences of contemporary patterns of production and consumption.

6. Intellectual property rights (the knowledge-based economy is transforming legal and measurement standards).

7. Delivery of health care -- now entering an era of profound change in which integration with the sciences and sharing of new knowledge and its applications to health care are increasingly important.

8. Community networks -- to foster interactive participation by individuals at all levels -- local, regional, and global -- indigenous communities to major urban centers.

It is not these factors individually, but the inter-relationship of how these elements combine to establish a foundation conducive to attracting foreign investment, stimulating entrepreneurial management to take advantage of the opportunities technological advancement provides.

Productivity without Borders

Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (recently reelected to office) in a keynote address provided the vision of an Innovative Society:

“To many people, the word "innovate" conjures up images of science labs, high-tech computers, and people with a string of degrees working in a faraway place called Silicon Valley. But that is incorrect. Innovation is nothing more than coming up with good ideas and implementing them to realize their value. It is about value creation…. Throughout the history of mankind and civilizations, countries and corporations, which were able to anticipate, respond and adapt to changes quickly, have triumphed over others. Those that failed to act and react quickly fell by the wayside.”

He suggests that to realize their vision of an innovative society, Singapore needs a concerted, deliberate effort to transform the mindsets and processes that choke and kill innovation. A national focus on innovation is required; and he has put resources behind the words to actualize the vision. The Singapore Productivity and Standards Board (PSB), Economic Development Board (EDB) and other agencies are working close together to cultivate the innovation culture among students, the workforce, businessmen, the Civil Service and leaders in society.

Ultimately, it is people who will make the difference in transforming Singapore into an innovative society, admits the Prime Minister. The Government provides the infrastructure and creates the environment for more people to take business risks; but it is each individual that must act. With a call for action, he inspires: “Each of you can and must innovate. Together, we can transform Singapore and ride the crest of change in the world.

What better foundation for The Innovation SuperHighway than such a vision of borders minimized? Indeed, the intent of the 2001 conference was a search for world synergy - not inappropriate given the events of 9/11. Indeed, by the leadership taken at this recent International Productivity Conference (IPC), Singapore – with the help of the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) – will lead not only the nation, but they could set the standards for creating the innovation region of the world!

In 1945, Vannevar Bush submitted a seminal Report to the National Science Foundation in Washington D.C. – “Science – The Endless Frontier.” Now, we have an opportunity – not with one Chief of State – but the academic, government and industrial leaders of the world to see innovation in a new light. No longer need we focus only on information, computers, and technology. In fact, we need no longer only focus on financial capital, for it is the intangible value hidden in the interactions among people, nations and societies that creates the true value; and innovation is how that value is realized.

In summary

In 15 short years, an agenda that was in the minds and hearts of a few has become the dominant theme of deliberations for the new Millennium. Knowledge – often defined in terms of Intellectual Capital – is clearly the source of new economic wealth. Innovation is the process by which that wealth is converted into action – products, services or initiatives. Although activities can be based at the level of the group, function, enterprise, or nation, ultimately real value is in what flows between the borders – creating collaborative advantage.

The variables for sustainability – economics, education, environment and more - are interdependent. Similarly, we represent nations that are treasured for their diversity, but true value is discovered in the collective – what we have to offer one another. All innovation begins with the individual within whom lie intuition, intellect and imagination. Innovation is a call to action, for only when knowledge is acted upon is there a benefit to society.  The dramatic effects of the acceleration of technology – its receptivity and promise – are providing an infrastructure within which our knowledge can be created, shared and applied…and ‘real-time.’

The Global Information Infrastructure  - The Information SuperHighway – captured the imagination of professionals in every corner of the globe. Now, we can step back and see that the network – both technical and human – was never intended to be about information per se. It was the design in practice of The Innovation SuperHighway that has spread in versatility and with global reach unimagined only a decade ago. We’ve all become actors in the exploration of the new innovation frontier.


[1] There was an international intelligence function designed to scout information beyond national boundaries.

[2] Assumptions in a workshop, “Management of a National Telecommunications Highway” that was presented to NASK – the Polish Equivalent of the NII by Willem Scholten and Debra Amidon, October 1994.

[3] Visit the detailed ENTOVATION Timeline based upon Innovation Strategy for the Knowledge Economy: The Ken Awakening for the evolution of the knowledge movement: http://www.entovation.com/timeline/timeline.htm.

[4] This list is intended as a representative sample of national and societal initiatives.

[5] For a detailed description of the 24-hour dialogue described in 7 vignettes of global interactions, visit: http://www.entovation.com/whatsnew/learn-day-entovation.htm.

© 2002 ENTOVATION International Ltd. All rights reserved.
DRAFT text for the book - The Innovation SuperHighway: Harnessing Intellectual Capital for Collaborative Advantage (ISBN: 0750675926 - Butterworth-Heinemann 2002)


To view forthcoming publications, click here.
For further information on these publications, contact debra@entovation.com

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