Sharon Stone, CEO’s and the post-knowledge economy

Yes…It is that time of the year again. Tomorrow, the global elite will gather again in Davos. To get in the mood I’ve assembled some remarkable quotes on the Word Economic Forum.

Peter L. Berger on globalisation:

Arguably the most important elite vehicle is the Davos culture, an international culture of business and political leaders. Its basic engine is international business, the same engine that drives economic and technological globalization. But it would be misleading to think of this culture only in terms of those few likely to be invited to Davos; there are millions who would like to be invited and who engage in what sociologists have nicely called “anticipatory socialization.” (in: Many Globalizations, OUP 2002)

Ben Verwaayen, CEO BT Group:

Only at Davos can you talk to people from every walk of life about arts, politics, business and culture on a completely equal footing. And that is the key to the WEF. Everyone who attends is equal, from a world leader to a humble businessman. It gives us access to an environment in which we can discuss global challenges in an informal, open and honest way, and no single opinion is counted as more important than any other, and no subject is off-limits.

Andrew Gowers (Sunday Times Business Section)

What do you get if you take an Alpine resort, populate it for up to a week with more than 2,000 politicians and pundits, business leaders and lobbyists, celebrities and social activists, ply them with mountains of food and oceans of drink, and ask them to come up with recipes for saving the planet?

  • A penetrating response to the problems and dilemmas raised by globalisation;
  • A world-class, all-expenses-paid skiing opportunity;
  • A chance to fill your boots with business deals while easing your social conscience;
  • Enough hot air to melt the slopes.

Hollywood stars determined to make poverty history mingle in the snow with obscure clerics from the tamer sects of the Middle East. Sharon Stone discusses African orgasms with the chairman of Microsoft. What is hard to take is the pervading sense of flatulent self-importance. Participants – 66% male, 41% in their fifties and 70% from Europe and North America, according to a survey at last year’s meeting – just glow as they are told every five minutes that what they say or do in Davos matters for the future of the world.

Bruce Nussbaum of Businessweek (subscription only): Davos Will Be Different; Innovation is the new byword, and India has grabbed top billing from China

Previously, discussion at the World Economic Forum revolved around two main economic themes: outsourcing and China. This year innovation replaces outsourcing and India replaces China in the dialogue. This year there are an unprecedented 22 sessions under the theme of “Innovation, Creativity, and Design Strategy.” There is a special series of six workshops just for CEOs. They include “Building a Culture of Innovation,” “What Creativity Can Do For You,” “A World Without Intellectual Property,” and “Making Innovation Real.” And there are larger sessions on such topics as “Prepping for the Creative Economy.” Tellingly, the main discussion on outsourcing will come in a panel examining the outsourcing of innovation.

And then Nussbaum writes that he will moderate one of the sessions in the WEF Programme. The title of the session? “Prepping for the Post-Knowledge Economy”

The post-WEF2006 era will start the 30th of January…

Let’s stick together

Yesterday, Inside Higher Ed and the education section of the Guardian wrote about the establishment of yet another international consortium of universities: The International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). Obviously, I have a special interest in these things since I have written my PhD dissertation about this phenomenon. Here I also concluded that many of such consortia do not fully exploit the opportunities that emerge in these cooperative ventures. And basically this has to do with the resistance of universities to give up any authority to these consortia.

The members of IARU are the Australian National University, ETH Zurich, National University of Singapore, Peking University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Copenhagen, the University of Tokyo, Yale University, Oxford and Cambridge. The inaugural presidents’ meeting in Singapore elected Professor Ian Chubb, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University as chairman for 2006-07.

Cambridge and Oxford said that topics that have been discussed for joint research by alliance members include the global movement of people, aging and health, food and water, energy and environment, and security. Ian Chubb said: “In the longer term, we plan to seek corporate/foundation/government support for research projects; perhaps convene a forum to share knowledge about the commercialisation of research and the legal and academic framework in each country; work jointly on benchmarking; and develop shared positions on key public policy issues.”

Like the establishment of similar alliances, this event has been accompanied by a lot media attention and a lot of promises. Many of similar alliances however went into oblivion or experienced a silent death. Let’s see where IARU ends up in a year or so…

In yesterdays Higher Education section of the Australian, Dennis Tourish writes a crushing article on the state of Australian higher education policy. And he makes some good points. Tourish – now a professor at Aberdeen Business School in Schotland – writes:

I came to Australia in 1999 to work at a sandstone university. But within three months of my arrival I started applying for jobs back in Britain and left within a year. My recent visits tell me that many of the problems that existed then have intensified. At the bottom, these can be summed up in one word: managerialism. This is the wholly unreasonable conviction that those at the top always know better than those they manage, who must bow in all matters to the wisdom of their betters.

On the basis of other studies on organisations he suggests the following lessons for Australian policy makers and managers in the field of higher education: improve employment security, decentralise decision-making, and improve pay and encourage trade union organisation. He illustrates these suggestions mainly by referring to studies on manufacturing companies. Although I agree with many of his arguments, I am not sure whether universities can easily be compared to manufacturing companies. Maybe more knowledge intensive organisations would be a better unit of comparison.

In a special issue of Newsweek on ‘the Knowledge Revolution’, Google presents 10 golden rules on how to get the most out of knowledge workers. They build on the late Peter Drucker’s argument: “smart businesses will strip away everything that gets in their knowledge workers’ way. Those that succeed will attract the best performers, securing the single biggest factor for competitive advantage in the next 25 years.”

Here are five of Google’s Golden Rules that might present a lesson for Higher ed:

  • Hire by committee. Virtually every person who interviews at Google talks to at least half-a-dozen interviewers, drawn from both management and potential colleagues.

I think in Academia, this is still very much in the hands of academics and has not shifted to managers. Not yet…

  • Cater to their every need. As Drucker says, the goal is to “strip away everything that gets in their way.” Let’s face it: programmers want to program, they don’t want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.

Here’s a lot to learn for university managers: academics want to teach and do research, not fill out forms!

  • Make coordination easy. In addition to physical proximity, each Googler e-mails a snippet once a week to his work group describing what he has done in the last week. This gives everyone an easy way to track what everyone else is up to, making it much easier to monitor progress and synchronize work flow.

Hard for me to say since I am basically working on ‘my own thing’, but I think that many departments have too much become a collection of a lot of small ‘shops’ run by individual academics.

  • Strive to reach consensus. Modern corporate mythology has the unique decision maker as hero. We adhere to the view that the “many are smarter than the few,” and solicit a broad base of views before reaching any decision.

Tourish would clearly agree with this. In his view however, it are the managers who decide, not the academics. Of course most universities have some consultation procedures in place. The question is however what their impact is…

  • Encourage creativity. Google engineers can spend up to 20 percent of their time on a project of their choice. There is, of course, an approval process and some oversight, but basically we want to allow creative people to be creative.

Probably no academic in the world would disagree with a policy like this.

Can university leaders and managers learn from Google?

Review and preview of 2006

What better way to start of the New Year than by looking back on that same year. The International Herald Tribune publishes a column by  H.D.S. Greenway of the Boston Globe in which he looks back on 2006. Looks like it’s going to be an interesting year.

Chalabi will run for president in Iran. Rumsfeld will resign because of alleged relations with Saddam Hussein. The term ‘torture’ will be redefined by Cheney. The US will create its own Foreign Legion. And Blair will start working part-time as the new US Secretary of Defense. Let’s review these predictions later this year

My plans will be more down to earth. Number one priority will be gathering the empirical data for my post-doc research project. First I will need to revise the planning slightly because of some practical problems I encountered at the end of 2005 regarding my projected case studies. Probably the case of Singapore will be excluded from my research. Instead I will try to compare Southeast Asian developments (related to higher education policies and the idea of the knowledge society) to developments in OECD countries by including Australia and the Netherlands in my project. Hence some trips need to be planned to go to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Netherlands this year.

Other plans include participation in workshop 27 of the Joint Sessions of the European Consortium for Political Research in Nicosia (Cyprus) and in session 2 of the Research Committee on Sociology of Science and Technology at the annual International Sociological Association conference in Durban (South Africa).

And of course I will try to be more frequent in my postings while I am abroad. Due to my stay in the Netherlands in October, in Portugal in November last year and my current stay in the US, I have not been posting as regularly as I wanted. When I am back in Australia next week, I’ll try to get back to a ‘normal’ schedule.