The Commoditisation Of Knowledge
In the last article, we examined how China and India are altering the world economic order. Malaysia has to identify the underlying shifts that have brought them to this position, so that we can figure out how to compete effectively.
The second underlying shift is the commoditization of knowledge and information, historically a domain of universities and institutes of higher learning. Today, knowledge and information is a commodity that can accessed by anyone. Sometimes, even the best material is available free. MIT, the world-renowned university in America, already makes coursework and other resource materials available free on the internet.
For self-learners around the world, MIT’s world-class OpenCourseWare that features lecture notes and other reference materials used by the professors is available at the click of a mouse. MIT believes that for knowledge to benefit humanity, it must be shared and made accessible to anyone who thirsts for it, regardless of geographical location.
Last December, Google started on a wildly ambitious plan to digitize the collections of some of the world’s largest university and public libraries, making public domain books free over the internet. For books that are still in copyright, Google now makes it easier to find relevant books, especially books that users may not be able to find any other way. Partnering with Harvard University, Oxford University, Stanford University, University of Michigan and the New York Public Library, Google scans the books and makes their full text searchable.
Every page becomes searchable and how much of the book a user can read depends on its copyright status. The aim of the project is simple – to organise the world’s knowledge so even off-line information becomes searchable and available globally. A student sitting in Botswana can just as easily access a book in English, French, Italian, German or Spanish as a student enrolled in Harvard or Oxford.
Google’s mission does not end here -it has started another project that enables a user to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, pre-prints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Researchers from around the globe can now easily find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, pre-print repositories and universities as well as other scholarly articles available across the web.
Observe Project Gutenberg, the largest single collection of electronic books or E-Books, available free on the internet. Today, its catalogue consists of 16,000 E-Books can be downloaded by anyone in the world for no cost whatsoever. There are three sections of the virtual Project Gutenberg Library -the first being light literature with classics such as Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, Peter Pan and Aesop’s Fables.
The second section contains heavier literature; including the Bible and other religious books, Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Paradise Lost and countless others. The last section includes reference material such as Roget’s Thesaurus, various almanacs, a set of encyclopedia, dictionaries and the like. There are also over 500 audio E-Books available in MP3 format, read out in either human voices or computer-generated speech. Downloading these audio E-Books and listening to them over an MP3 player or even a mobile phone is child�s play today.
What all this means is the internet today has become synonymous with access to the world’s treasure trove of credible knowledge. It can no longer be associated to just dubious and dodgy information. Imagine the ripples this shift is creating around the globe -access to knowledge is no longer the privy of wealthy gatekeeper nations. Visualise the opportunities that have suddenly become real and tangible to disadvantaged citizens of developing countries and it immediately becomes possible to see how this commoditisation of knowledge and information is going to change our world forever.
This is the second shift in the Age of Commoditisation. How can access to knowledge and information be considered a position of strength when this access has been commoditized to the far-flung corners of the world? How can being knowledgeable and full of information remain a competitive advantage when knowledge can be easily accessed, when needed, in a “just-in time” manner? When your challengers posses the same weapons that you do, you have to shift your basis for competition to other elements that cannot be copied easily and quickly. The key now is to grasp how to innovate using the same body knowledge and create a competitive advantage that is sustainable.
To succeed, we have to learn methods of innovation that involve thinking and analysing relationships in the knowledge to find patterns that are not obvious to the untrained eye. The opportunities that lie in these relationships or intersections of knowledge often result in innovations that are wildly successful. The domains of critical thinking, constructive thinking and innovative thinking have to be studied and mastered if we are to keep our noses above the water when competing in the Age of Commoditization. The objective of this Mental Protein series is to introduce and examine these modes of thinking that are the foundation for creating an innovative society.
In the next article, we shall examine the third shift that is underway – the commoditization of education.
Source: Dr. Kamal Jit Singh is the CEO of British Telecom’s Asian Research Centre and specialises in using Innovation as a strategy for increasing competitiveness. He is passionate about changing the way Malaysians think and hopes his articles provoke and challenge conventional thinking. Brickbats are welcomed at: email@example.com.