Brainpower: The New Natural Resource

Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis, Annual 1996 | Go to article overview

Brainpower: The New Natural Resource


It truly is an honour and a privilege to be able to address the Institute, and to have an opportunity to share with my new city and community my views on the value of "brainpower" to our future economic, social and cultural development.

While the importance of great minds to a society has never been in question, knowledge and information have never before been viewed as anything other than a means to an end - what distinguishes today from yesterday is that "brain power" is now being considered an end unto itself - a marketable commodity, if you like. Let me explain.

Dr. David Ho. Does the name mean anything to you or ring any bells? What does Dr. Ho have in common with Newt Gingrich, Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbechev or Corazon Aquino? Still puzzled? Dr. David Ho has joined the ranks of those with higher public profiles, by being named the 1996 Time Man of the Year.

David Ho was one of a small group of researchers who recognized from the start that AIDS was probably an infectious disease. He performed or collaborated on much of the basic virology work that showed HIV does not lie dormant, as most scientists thought, but multiplies in vast numbers right from the start. His insights helped shift the focus of AIDS treatment from the late stages of illness to the first weeks of infection. And it was his team's pioneering work with combination therapy, reported in this very city at the Vancouver AIDS conference, that has raised hope that the virus might someday be eliminated.

David Ho is not, to be sure, a household name. Yet, Ho's selection as the 1996 Man of the Year speaks volumes of the era we are entering. For while some decades are defined by their wars or epidemics, political re-alignments or social trends, the era that we are currently embarking upon will be defined by its people and the knowledge they create. When the history of this era is written, it is likely that the men and women, such as David Ho, who have used their brains, will be the true heroes.

The David Ho's of the world are helping to define, in an extraordinary way, the industrial revolution, or what I like to call the "knowledge revolution," that we are currently living through - a revolution that is transforming the economy, the goods and services we produce and consume, the nature of work, the education and skills needed, the kind of banking system we must have, and indeed almost every facet of our lives, including where we will live and how we will spend our free time.

This revolution, as with the others that preceded it, will determine the shape of our economy and define the culture of the regions in which we live - it will, as with the earlier industrial revolutions, identify the competitive resources a community possesses and direct the development of its people.

The first industrial revolution, based on the new technology of steam power, led to the mechanization of industries such as textiles and clothing. Steel and railroads dominated the last half of the 19th century, and cities that had access to natural resources, such as Pittsburgh and Montreal, thrived. Coal, ore, and iron, along with shipping routes and waterways, were essential to prosperity - and labour forces with the physical strength and stamina required to mine the resources were critical to success.

The second industrial revolution occurred during the first part of the 20th century and was based on electricity, the telegraph and telephone, and the new manufacturing processes that ushered in the automobile and chemicals industries, along with the assembly line and a new structure of work. Regions were defined in terms of their access to cheap, relatively unskilled labour forces and their transportation and trucking routes - roads and super highways. Cities such as Detroit, Toronto and Windsor flourished and people migrated to these centres from rural and less populated regions.

The third revolution - our revolution - will be based on knowledge and know-how, as personified in David Ho. …

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