Seven Hypothesis and Doorways to a Knowledge Economy (2006)

By Sohail Inayatullah


Speech, July 11, 2006

Creating a Knowledge Economy for the Sunshine Coast


The image of the future and the learning community

The Sunshine coast currently stands between different images of the future. The first is the traditional, small scale, strong community, fishing village. Basically, this was small scale tourism resort with some of the economy corporatized (local plus national) This image and reality has quickly disappeared in the last few decades. And with population growth likely to continue, it is unlikely that the 1950s Australia can be created. Globalization, cybertechnologies, the genetics revolution, aging and other variables make this unlikely.

The other image is that of endless urban growth, short termism, no concern for the environment, generally becoming totally integrated into southeast queensland, with no real self-identity. Tourism is heavily corporatized here (international plus national with very little family scale ventures). This would mean a conflictual divided society along the lines of access to jobs, eduation, housing and wealth. One group would be the tourists and international investors and the other single parents trying to make a basic living. This appears likely unless government policy, citizen demands and an alternative shared image of the future develops.

There are other images as well. A transformational image, for example, becoming small scale electronically connected communities based on sustainable development and alternative lifestyles – a different type of tourism, a more localised economy.

Also, transformational would be the coast finding some role in the globalized economy, perhaps as a niche player in specific types of emerging tourism – its internationalization. Government working with small scale enterprises, creating some spaces so they are not swallowed by bigger players.

Part of the challenge then is for the Coast to envision the futures desired and develop broad agreement on it. While technologies, global economies and demographic changes push the future, there is a pull of the future – the vision that defines what can be. There is also the weight of the future – traditional practices that limit our capacity to adapt, to meet citizen,market, human needs.

Central to adaption is creating a learning community. This notion is important in that it provides a context for creating an alternative future. It is not a recipe. Recipes for economic success come and go. In the 1980s it was Japanese management. In the early 1990s it was export, export and export. By the late 1990s it switched to Silicon Valley and the notions of clusters of innovativeness – university plus research centers plus the government providing incentives plus a tolerant creative workforce. Success creates success as the image of what is possible changes – the image becomes realizable.

The issue of how to respond to the knowledge economy is not only the problem of the Coast. Taiwan has the same issue. It knows that while copying has served well in the move from agriculture (self-reliance) to manufacturing (low cost producer and exporter), it needs to shift to the new technologies. But how to do so? And which new technologies. The response from the Prime Minister has been the vision of Green Silicon Island ie sustainability plus high technology plus independence. Singapore has met the problem of innovation by legislating creativity – ie pushing art and poetry, buying university leaders, buying biotech industry, but it is still top down governance, soft fascism. The question is can Singapore make the transition from manufacturing and finance to an innovator in other areas, the emerging technologies.

The knowledge economy is in some ways not recent, that is, all surplus, profit is based on knowledge. It is more the percent engaged in agricultural/manufacturing and services has dramatically changed in the last century. Less and less people are needed to produce goods.

In the USA today, 16% of the workforce is engaged in manufacturing, 3% in agriculture and 87% in knowledge and services. Australia is quite similar.

Moreover the mode of producing is changing. What is means is putting knoware in everything, smartness in everything. This is crucial in that while productivity in agriculture and manufacturing has increased 50 fold, changes in knowledge are quite small in comparison.

Thus it also means changing organizational structures so that creativity and questioning can blossom – this is essentially the notion of learning communities. Learning communities can 1. Increase productivity. 2. Weave communities. 3. Create meaning and purpose, that is the framework of the triple bottom line of prosperity, people and environment, that is, what is the triple bottom line for – it is for the vision of the community. Brisbane has focused its entire framework around the vision of the liveable city and now Brisbane 2010. This of course now needs to be updated. We need a similar shared vision for the coast.

Thus, for the Coast, with agricultural in continued decline, manufacturing not likely, and tourism generally low paying, what are the alternatives? Can it produce knowledge on a global scale? Is so, what knowledge can be produced here better than elsewhere; who are the buyers, what is the competitive advantage? How can tourism be smarter? While all reasonable questions that must be answered, I see the “solution” elsewhere, in capacity building, in creating learning communities.

The context of this issue of the rise and fall of collectivities. In Toynbee’s model, it is the creative minority that meets the challenge. For the Coast, the challenge is multifold: 1. Economic transformation, moving away from the uni-dimensional tourism model and toward a knolwedge economy, learning model. 2. Cultural transformation, moving away from uni-culturalism to multiculturalsim and 3. Shared vision, finding shared direction when there are deep cleavages between shires and between interests groups. The learning community model is creating contexts for learning so that the creative minority is far less important, where knowledge is democratized.

However, the notion of a learning community, I hope does not become another recipe, but rather a vision that creates more visions as well as a context that builds the capacity to create better futures.

My analysis of the learning community is the following. The criteria is:

  • Flexibility
  1. Beyond industrial standardized model
  2. From production based to consumer based
  3. Mobility of mind and body
  4. Yoga as metaphor – stretching body and mind
  5. Willingness to engage in cultural stretch (still keep basic root structure), interpretive, not rigid
  • Responsiveness
  1. Needs of community
  2. Needs of market – local and global
  3. Needs of citizens
  4. More important than actual structure of governance ie democracy, aristocracy, dictatorship
  5. Speed, distinctive, courteous
  • Anticipatory
  1. Changing needs of citizen, community, market
  2. Novel planning methodologies – scenarios (divergence), emerging issues analysis (leading indicators of change, short and long term) and causal layered analysis – changes in litany, system, worldview and myth
  3. Using multiple media – web, tv, festivals – for deepening democracy.
  4. Iterative process of opinions plus expert knowledge leading to community guidance
  • Innovativeness
  1. Questioning the product
  2. Questioning past, present and future
  3. Creative destructive
  4. Action learning – learning from doing and reflecting
  5. Out of box – learning hats – white (logical positive); black (logical negative); green (grow the idea); blue (authority); red (passion); and orange (spiritual – synthesis) plus hat for specific function
  • Leadership plus experts plus participatory
  1. Experts bring critical edge, knowledge
  2. People bring community concerns, new ideas, solutions
  3. Inclusion of others – individuals then ways of knowing
  4. Leaders can give direction, vision, create context
    Beattie – smart state.
  • Learning plus healing
  1. Learning to learn
  2. Life long learning
  3. Learning communities
  4. Smartness in all futures
  5. Triple bottom line – people, planet and prosperity
  6. Healing self, other, environment and planet

Example, Biology professor complaining about lack of understanding of species categories versus pokemon.

  • Microvita
  1. Reality spiritual and material
  2. Reality living – symbiotic – community as living organism.
  3. Change through technology, society plus unconscious, collective vision
  4. Evolution can be ethical, with direction

People visit Gaudi in Barcelona because they can’t see it anywhere else? What do we have that is distinctive? How can we embed learning and healing as well as the other points in everything we do ?

And what is our vision for the future of the Sunshine Coast?