posted 15 Jun 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 9
By Paul Louis Iske
In the modern economy, the importance of knowledge is often reflected in the use of phrases like ‘competing with knowledge’, ‘knowledge as a key differentiator’, ‘the knowledge economy’ and the like. But how sustainable is the thinking on which such concepts are grounded?
Suppose we do indeed fulfil the key promises of knowledge management, in particular that knowledge within a given organisation becomes available at the right place at the right moment. Many KM tools make it increasingly likely that this will happen, or at least that many organisations will get close to this ideal. At the same time, consider the stunning increase in the number of highly educated people in countries like
We have to face the fact that knowledge in itself will eventually become a commodity. So what will remain as the key differentiator between people, organisations and nations? What will make them unique? The answer can be found in the following connected areas: creativity, application and culture.
Knowledge has no intrinsic value. Knowledge becomes valuable when it is applied in an appropriate context. To find new areas of application, creativity is required. But to unlock and leverage creative forces, the right culture is required. Those who are in direct contact with the areas of application will be inspired to find the knowledge necessary to create value. Hence the reason direct contact with customers is so important. Customers are a great source for new ideas and new knowledge. They know what they want or, together with their supplier, can discover new needs. Co-creation is an approach to involve customers in product (but also knowledge) development processes. But it is only one approach of finding new ways to add value.
In the knowledge economy, everyone should be motivated to think about new ways to create value for themselves, their organisation’s customers, the organisation itself, the country and so on. For this, creative, innovative and entrepreneurial thinking and behaviour should be stimulated and trained. This process should begin early. At schools and universities, too little attention is paid to the creative aspects of intellectual development. Most often, people are being trained to reproduce facts and ideas, or to apply knowledge to existing and known areas of application. Trial and error are usually ignored as a way of learning. Linear thinking remains dominant.
We should continue to develop tools and techniques to embed and share knowledge. But the battle will be won by those who are able to take this process one step further and develop the ability to explore new areas for knowledge development and application. This will most likely happen if people are educated in a culture where curiosity, creativity and value-based thinking are fostered. It is in this sort of environment that imagination and knowledge application meet. The unique combination of these elements should be the basis for competitive differentiation, rather than the availability of knowledge.