I talk a lot about the knowledge era. I specialize in the measurement, management and monetization of knowledge intangibles. I wrote a book on intangible capital. So what I am about to say shouldn’t be that big a surprise to me but it kind of is….

Technology is not as important as it used to be.

If you think about it, technology and top-down industrial models still dominate our thinking. When we industrialized our economy, we industrialized everything from agriculture to education to government to manufacturing.

I have written before about how the shift from the industrial era is coming at a time when there are new constraints on our global economy. Externalities like energy use/mis-use, pollution, health are all represent (at the same time)nbsp; problems, opportunities and design constraints. The failure of the industrial model to address these new constraints and the potential of new models to address them is fueling the shift to the knowledge economy.

Of course, the shift has been driven by the rise of a new kind of technology: information technology and brain power.

In today’s Boston Globe, there is a great opinion piece that exemplifies what is going on.

World hunger is best treated with local growers and crops was written on the occasion of UN World Food Day on Sunday. It explains that the conversations about solutions to world hunger often go immediately to “ways to increase the food supply with purchased technologies”nbsp; that use chemicals and carbon-intensive solutions to food production.

This won’t be sustainable to improve the yields of the “half-billion small-farm families that still grow 70% of the world’s food.”

The alternative suggested is agro-ecological approaches that use local seeds, build healthy soil and conserve water. Finding the right approaches in individual communities solves the challenges of both hunger and greenhouse emissions (the article quotes GRAIN magazine’s estimate the agro-ecological approaches could offset as much as a third of global greenhouse gas emissions within 50 years).

Lest you think that this is only about the third world, read How the U.S. Curbs Farm Work. It's basically the same message.  That U.S. agricultural policies promote "industrialized and chemical intensive" production. And that

Ecologically based food systems should become the United State' overarching goal. Such a shift would invariably employ larger numbers of people while providing safer, more appealing jobs. It would also create safer, tastier, more nutritious food...

As with many knowledge-era solutions, these conversations are about bottom-up empowerment, not top-down control. It’s a way of solving problems using brainpower, training and teaching rather than large-scale production using expensive technologies and inputs brought in from outside a community. It’s just another set of examples of how our basic assumptions about the answers to our problems must be questioned.

This kind of thinking is very disruptive to existing economic and business models. Many businesses will fail in the face of this thinking. But many more will prosper. Which one will you be?

And when will you start treating knowledge intangibles as the key infrastructure of your own business?

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  • Yes, we all skirt around it but ultimately this is the message of IC: bottom-up empowerment. If you believe there is valuable knowledge there, then is there any other alternative?
  • Hello Mary,

    Some time ago, I viewed Pranav Mistry's TED presentation on youtube, re an interactive computer system, touted as being extremely inexpensive and hence accessible to the masses, particularly in developing countries - As I viewed the presentation I was thinking about the enormous potential this particularly tool posed for developing countries with very large populations (read human capital), driving efficiencies including Agricultural improvements (using strucutal capital to leverage human capital) -  using the rapidly development Information technology (structural capital) to access knowledge through relationship capital, leverage human capital and boost productivity is evident in the growth of economies such as China and India.

    I agree that building 'local' capacity, bottom up empowerment and sustainbility will deliver much better solutions to than 'imported' solutions - a strong focus upon KM solutions appears to be paying dividends in some areas and the key to others.

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