3.2 Knowledge Revolution

3.2 Knowledge Revolution

            The Knowledge Revolution (KR) refers to a global-scale paradigm shift that many compare to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. The revolution is about a fundamental socio-economic change from adding value by producing things which is, ultimately limited, to adding value by creating and using knowledge which can grow indefinitely. The nature of the final form of the revolution is not yet known, but it will be very different from the industrial society from which it emerged. However, Dr. Tichy (2003) has warned, ‘We are living in a revolutionary era.  The hardware era is giving away to the software age, and as a result, the economic and social landscape of the world is undergoing seismic changes.  The world is also struggling with massive geopolitical turmoil, as evidenced in the 9/11 attacks, not only in the Mideast but around the world.  Right now, more than fifty ethnic wars are occurring.  We are entering a twenty-first century where our optimism must be tempered with the realities of a very uncertain and violent world.’ Therefore, reviewing the history of societies and cultures; in this section we will try to understand the hidden dimensions of the knowledge revolution.

            In his book ‘The Third Wave’ Alvin Toffler (1980) describes three types of societies, based on the concept of “waves”—each wave pushes the older societies and cultures aside.

  • First Wave is the society after agrarian revolution and replaced the first hunter-gatherer cultures.
  • Second Wave is the society during the Industrial Revolution (late 17th century through the mid-20th century). The main components of the Second Wave society are nuclear family, factory-type education system and the corporation. Toffler writes: “The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureaucracy.”
  • Third Wave is the post-industrial society. Toffler would also add that since the late 1950s most countries are moving away from a Second Wave Society into what he would call a Third Wave Society. He coined lots of words to describe it and mentions names invented by him (super-industrial society) and other people (like the Information Age, Space Age, Electronic Era, Global Village, technetronic age, scientific-technological revolution), which to various degrees predicted demassification, diversity, knowledge-based production, and the acceleration of change (one of Toffler’s key maxims is “change is non-linear and can go backwards, forwards and sideways”).

            Peter Drucker (1995) reviews the human history in knowledge perspective and express that the meaning of knowledge radically changed since 17th century, which itself led to birth and emergence of four revolutions: the industrial revolution (1770-1880), productivity revolution (1881-1960), management revolution (1960-1995) and during the 1990's, simultaneous impacts of the Internet and Digital revolutions, led to emergence of fourth revolution which is the knowledge revolution (1995-on-going). It was through this last revolution that companies became aware of the importance of "becoming aware of what they know" (Drucker, 1995).

            Reviewing the transformation of technology driven society, in her book, Marilyn Ferguson (1980) anticipate the emergence of knowledge revolution taking into account the emergence of to describe a new consciousness revolution involving a leaderless network of many enlightened individuals to bring about radical change in modern culture, based on a greatly enlarged concept of human potential. She identified the ascendance of an irreversible shift in the global state of mind; a fundamentally new world view that encompasses insights from ancient times through current technological advancements. Keeping in view this global societal change, Savage (1990) affirms that this change is in attitudes, values, and norms. It only comes through a struggle of thought because many of the changes are counter intuitive from a traditional point of view and they are difficult to conceptualize with industrial era vocabulary. He further argues that this paradigm shift is not a simple. To reap the benefits of this shift new principles have to be learned and some old principles have to be unlearned.

            In another literary work, Sakaiya (1991) indicates three major disrupters of this paradigm shift – population shifts, resource supply, and technological developments. These disrupters are producing phenomena which have never been encountered in the industrial society.  Brown (1997) comments that the change will not flow from the mobilization of new machines; rather it will require a fundamental revamp of the human context in which machines are used. He suggests that creating new frameworks for the evolving world will require challenging the assumptions that support our traditional intellectual constructs. Johnson (1997) recommends that when such transformation occurs only once every few centuries, one has to be a visionary to see beyond the limits of current forms.

            Many such changes laid down the foundations of Knowledge Revolution (Darvish, Kharaghani  & Selseleh, 2010). In terms of what will change Gilder (1989) states that the basic principle of the knowledge revolution will be the “overthrow of matter”; wealth, in the form of physical assets will diminish, while wealth, in the form of knowledge assets will increase. The power of mind will take over the brute force of matter/things. Similarly, Jeremy Rifkin (2000) affirms that the industrial age emphasized the exchange of goods and services whereas the knowledge revolution emphasizes the exchange of concepts.

            From an organizational perspective, Amidon (1997) indicates that the knowledge revolution is reshaping how organizations are created, evolve, mature, and evolve or die. It is reshaping how business is done, how economies develop, and how societies prosper. Ruggles & Holtshouse (1999) pointed out that the phenomena will be characterized by a dispersion of power and by managers who lead by empowering knowledge workers to contribute and make decisions.

            Viewing Knowledge revolution from a societal perspective, John Seely Brown (1997) raised a number of key questions, including who will control the keys to the digital economy? Who will be the trusted intermediary in the marketplace? How transparent will their mediation be? What standards will be used for accountability? Some people are skeptical knowledge revolution may revamp every aspects of previous revolution.  Thomas A. Stewart (1997) comments that just as the industrial revolution did not end agriculture because people have to eat, this revolution will not end industry because we still need physical products.

            Presently, we are witnessing the dawn of Knowledge Revolution. Industrial Revolution & Information Revolution have introduced mankind to the wonders of technology. The advent of Information and communication technologies in the 21st century has brought about technological, economical, social, and cultural changes on an unprecedented scale. Among which, IT enabled e-Commerce, revolutionizing the way we go about the traditional exchange of goods. More importantly, IT infused new life into the service sector, enabling a new breed of service called IT-enabled Service like remote healthcare monitoring services provided via the Internet.

            Knowledge Revolution manifests itself in many different ways: there are closer links between science and technology; innovation is more important for economic growth and competitiveness; there is increased importance of education and life-long learning; and more investment is undertaken in intangibles (R & D, software and education) which is even greater than investments in fixed capital. And of course there is the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) explosion which brings worldwide interdependency and connectivity.  These trends have led to increased globalization, competition and technological advancements (Utz, 2006).

            The knowledge revolution is creating a constant state of restructuring at the global, country, community, and organization levels. While this raises tremendous possibilities for enhancing growth and competitiveness, it also carries risks that countries, organizations, and individuals will not keep up with the rapid changes. Consequently, their competitiveness depends more than ever on their ability to access, adapt, and utilize knowledge for development (Utz, 2006). He further maintains that KR has created new opportunities and possibilities for the access and use of knowledge and information. To capitalize on the knowledge revolution to improve their competitiveness and welfare, individuals, organizations, communities and countries need to build on their strengths and carefully plan appropriate investments in human capital, effective institutions, relevant technologies, and innovative and competitive enterprises. Global societies, such as Korea, Ireland, Malaysia, India, and Chile illustrate the rapid progress that can be made (Utz, 2006).

            Though the increased importance of knowledge provides great potential for individuals, organization, societies, and countries to strengthen their economic and social development by providing more efficient ways of producing goods and services and delivering them more effectively and at lower costs to a greater number of people,  it also raises the danger of a growing 'knowledge divide' [rather than just a 'digital divide'] among those who are generating most of this knowledge and those who are failing to tap the vast and growing stock of knowledge because of their limited awareness, poor economic incentive regimes, and weak institutions. Combined with trade policy liberalization, the knowledge revolution is leading to greater globalization and increased international competition, which is eroding the natural resource and low labor cost advantage of most developing countries (Utz, 2006).

            We will conclude this section with the Chichilnisky’s (1998:51) concluding points about Knowledge Revolution:

  • The knowledge revolution is changing society.
  • Knowledge is an intangible privately produced public good, and is today the key determinant of economic and social progress.
  • The primacy of knowledge as an input and as an asset has the potential of altering long-standing debates on the relative advantages of capitalism and socialism, and more generally of free markets and government intervention.
  • In a knowledge-based society, markets behave differently and require more egalitarian patterns of distribution of resources in order to achieve efficiency.
  • The primacy of human capital can lead to changes in the distribution of income and wealth, in corporate structure and financial markets, and in the environmental impact of economic activity. It can lead to new patterns of development and chart new relationships between industrial and developing countries.
  • Since the knowledge society is more innovative, the cross-fertilization of different ideas and ways of thinking may prove valuable. The creation of knowledge may flourish in societies that are more socially diverse than those prevailing under the industrial and the agricultural societies.
  • Knowledge-intensive development is the key to economic progress. It replaces resource-intensive growth, which dominated the world economy since World War Il and led to a deep and extensive destruction of bio-resources, and to substantial alterations to the ecological systems that support life on earth.
  • The knowledge society is innovative and diverse, but deeply conservative in the use of the Earth's resources. Humans and human capital are at the centre of economic progress, replacing capital and material property. In this society, economic progress means achieving more with less material inputs, and without destroying the ecosystems to which the human species has adapted optimally throughout the ages.