Theodore E. Zorn and James R. Taylor
In 1973, Daniel Bell (Bell, 1973) wrote that we were moving towards a post-industrial society (and a post-industrial economy). More recently, Peter Drucker similarly observed that ‘we are entering the information society in which the basic economic resource is no longer capital … but is and will be knowledge’ (Drucker, 1995:42). It is far from evident, almost thirty years after the publication of Bell’s book, that we have left industrialism behind, but it is clear that there has been, as he foresaw, a remarkable growth in importance of the knowledge sector. The salience of the knowledge sector is reflected not so much in sheer numbers of people in the workforce, as in the influence the sector wields (Thompson et al., 2001). Knowledge ‘is increasingly regarded as the critical resource of firms and economies’ (Lam, 2000). Knowledge (sometimes referred to as ‘intellectual capital’), rather than traditional resources such as fixed assets and capital, is said to be ‘the critical resource in the determination of competitive advantage’ (Dunford et al., 2001): a ‘strategic asset’ (Narasimha, 2000). In short, ‘a knowledge-based economic revolution is taking place’ (Neef, 1999).
It is a ‘revolution’ fuelled by science, technology, as well as rising standards of education. It is materialized in a dazzling array of telecommunications and information-processing enablers, the product of a telecommunications/IT convergence promised more than half a century ago, but realized only in the 1990s, when the Internet and the World Wide Web became a commonplace of daily interaction. But, although it may be rooted in technology, the ‘revolution’ that now preoccupies management, and management science, is centred on people (McAdam and McCreedy, 1999). When the technology is available to everyone in general, it no longer confers a strategic advantage on anyone in particular. What now determines ‘competitive advantage’ is the know-how (practical knowledge) and know-what (formal or cognitive knowledge) of the people who develop and use knowledge in organizations: part specialized training, part hardwon job savvy. The knowledge community is a reality. Not surprisingly, this reality is reflected in the literature on management.
Certainly one of the more prominent features of the organizational landscape in the early years of the twenty-first century is a focus on a cluster of related ideas such as information, knowledge, and learning. There is much talk about the knowledge economy, the learning organization, and the information super-