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Author's profile photo Vivek Bapat

Why Knowledge is Becoming the Ultimate Currency

More than a million babies die each year on the day of their birth. Those lucky enough to survive enter into a world of stark contrasts, full of promising opportunities, but also one of exploding prosperity gaps. An individual’s success in life is no longer dependent upon where she is born. What may matter even more is whether she is born into an information rich or information poor culture.

/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/knowledge2_226570.jpgAs a driving force for individual empowerment, the ubiquity and access to information through Internet connectivity and mobile devices have uplifted entire societies, created billions of new consumers, and challenged repressive governments. The economic impact of some of these emerging information technologies could range from $10 trillion to $20 trillion annually in 2025.

But serious gaps still remain. More than 1.4 billion people live in poverty so extreme that they can barely survive, and around 25,000 people die from hunger each day. In contrast, a new billionaire is created every second day. The three richest people in the world control more wealth than all 600 million people living in the world’s poorest countries. If left unchecked, a new digital caste system emerging between information-haves and have-nots is likely to further exacerbate the global inequality gap.

To break through this impasse, a new “creative economy” is taking shape. This new engine for growth in this economy is powered by unleashing of human potential everywhere. Individuals, business and government draw upon the knowledge, experience and imagination of people across the globe to solve the world’s biggest problems by developing innovative solutions that were previously inconceivable.  “Big-data”, combined with the transformational power of social, mobile and cloud technologies provide the speed and simplicity necessary to do so at massive scale. As a result, information becomes the new independence platform, and knowledge is the ultimate currency.

To achieve this future state, the role of business must be extended beyond profit maximization, to also improve the lives of people they touch through their products and services.  Government in turn can do its part by creating new information policies to fuel entrepreneurship and better engage

Fortunately, a growing number of pioneers are already showing the way. I believe these five imperatives from global leaders will help shape the new creative economy and help the world run better:

  1. Transition beyond economic profits to socio-economic profits – Standard Bank of South Africa, for example, has found
    a new way to
    provide banking services the country’s large “unbanked” population in rural areas – via mobile phones. Not only has this helped lift millions out of poverty, but it has also enabled the bank to grow its business more sustainably.  The world’s largest bio-metric program, Adhaar has already enrolled 380 million Indians to facilitate more than $50 billion in cash transfers to poor citizens,
    potentially saving $6 billion in corruption related fraudulent payments.
  2. Co-Innovate with your customers – Customers are no longer just “consumers” at the end of a supply chain, but rather become the focal point of everything an organization does.  Doritos’ customers helped it create “Goat 4 Sale”, voted the best commercial in Super Bowl 2013. Chicago’s new open data initiative, for example, makes datasets from different city agencies available to all residents, who in turn can explore the data and uncover new ways to improve city services, from protected bike lanes to crime reductions. The City of Boston now publishes the results of its city services online so everyone can track and measure their “tax dollar at work” in real time.  
  3. Turn employees into entrepreneurs – Google initiated the idea of giving employees 20% of their time to work on personal projects, leading to big-time products like the G-Mail, and most importantly, an innovative culture. More businesses are following suit – LinkedIn, another Silicon Valley innovator, recently launched a new program that offers employee up to 3 months to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. TwoGo, a new app designed to facilitate carpooling among employees of any company, was born out of a personal skunk-works experiment started by two developers from SAP.
  4. Renew and optimize resources – In a resource-constrained world, smarter and more efficient consumption is the new advantage. UPS, for example, has saved 2% on fuel costs by using software that helps plan delivery routes with fewer left turns (which use more fuel than right turns). Others are building new models to better share resources – General Motors is partnering with RelayRides to allow owners of GM cars equipped with OnStar system to rent out their own personal vehicles when they would have otherwise stood idle.
  5. Use networks to create and share knowledge – the power of business networks is more than just exchanging information and transacting with your partners. P&G’s Connect+Develop (“C+D”) program proves that the next game-changing idea doesn’t have to come from your own R&D department. The C+D program has allowed P&G to tap into the knowledge and innovations from a network of suppliers, partners and entrepreneurs, yielding “big hit” products like Swifter Dusters year after year.

Today, less than 1% of available data has been analyzed. Already we’re seeing benefits in how this analysis, accelerated with revolutionary new technology, is improving the treatment of diseaseslike cancer, providing new insights into consumers, supercharging supply chains, and creating a new breed of business, social, and public services applications.  Imagine the possibilities when we’re able to tap into other 99%. 

Newborns are entering into a spectacular world of possibilities. Let’s not leave their future to chance. It’s time for us to act.

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      Author's profile photo David Trites
      David Trites

      Great post, Vivek. It would be great to see the digital divide reduced to zero. The Internet was born when computers were big and expensive and connecting to it was difficult. But now that almost everyone in the world is walking around with a small, powerful, inexpensive, and connected computer in their pocket (called a phone for some reason), the world is changing rapidly and the opportunities for advancement, at all levels of society, are truly exciting!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Great post! it's interesting to look at how businesses have grown over the last century - much by exploiting & controlling physical and labor resources (Standard Oil, US Steel, ExxonMobil...). The division of resources, coupled with the drive for maximum scale/profits, have led to the widening gaps between the wealthy and the poor. Data and information are the new resource of our age. Finding ways and tools to distribute and democratize data & information for all will be key to bridging poverty gaps. Also makes you wonder if some of the new "data-hogging" companies like Google, FB are part of solution or problem?