EU should focus on leadership rather than competitiveness, says US innovation expert
By now, most are familiar with the EU's Lisbon goal of becoming 'the world's most competitive knowledge based society' by 2010. National leaders and EU policy makers are agreed that the creation and exploitation of knowledge are vital preconditions if Europe is to maintain and extend its position in the global economy.
For Debra Amidon, a leading US innovation expert and keynote speaker at the Baltic Dynamics 2004 conference in Riga, Latvia, from 10 to 12 September, Europe's aim of creating a knowledge economy for the 21st century is the right one. She has been described as one of the architects of the knowledge economy, and her international Entovation 100 consulting network now extends to 90 countries around the world.
Yet although Dr Amidon welcomes Europe's focus on the knowledge economy, she also identifies certain elements of the strategy that she feels are outdated and counterproductive. Traditional economic theory, she told the conference, is based on the concept of scarcity, given the finite nature of resources such as labour, capital, and land. Knowledge, however, defies this principle - it proliferates - and the more it is used, the more it spreads. Furthermore, real value is created only when knowledge flows from the point of creation to the point of highest need.
Having outlined these underlying principles of the knowledge economy, Dr Amidon argued that some of the rubric of the EU's Lisbon Agenda is unnecessary. 'Competition language shuts people out, whereas Europe must reach out to the world. In the global economy, a successful EU depends on a successful US, Asia, Africa, etc. After all, the EU is built on a platform of cooperation that is the envy of the world,' she said.
'It's widely accepted that the majority of what a company, country or region needs in order to be innovative lies outside their borders - for instance, with their customers or international partners. Therefore, no matter how big an entity you are, even Europe, you must rely on international collaboration and learn lessons from all over the world,' Dr Amidon continued.
Instead of a focus on competition and competitiveness, Dr Amidon told CORDIS News that the EU's focus should be on leadership: 'Wanting to be a global leader is fine - leadership doesn't close the door to collaboration in the way that competitiveness can. Incidentally, US policies are equally competition-oriented: our national innovation initiative, for example, is coordinated by the 'council on competitiveness',' she added.
Reacting to Dr Amidon's argument, Renate Weissenhorn, head of the innovation networks unit in the Commission's Enterprise DG, emphasised that: 'Competitiveness is not about competing, it's about becoming better. In this context, the term shouldn't have negative connotations, and the EU's strategy doesn't preclude cooperation; it is based on cooperation.'
While many indicators do reveal a widening gap in the economic performances of the EU and US, for instance in areas such as productivity and private research investment, Dr Amidon believes that in many other 'intangible' areas, Europe already occupies a leadership role. 'International collaboration, respecting diversity, creating a shared vision and a common language: these are all areas of great strength for the EU,' she said.
At the conclusion of the Baltic Dynamics 2004 conference, Dr Amidon declared herself 'very impressed' not to have heard any references to the information society. 'I think this shows that the experts gathered here understand the difference between information and knowledge. Knowledge is essentially human - a function of learning, exchanging and adapting - whereas information is simply a thing.'
She was also encouraged that the main focus of discussions at the event was on the necessary conditions for innovation, rather than on end products or technologies. For the public sector to effectively support the development of an innovative and knowledge based economy, Dr Amidon stressed that: 'It's not just about funding R&D [research and development], specifying technologies or generating ideas; it's about creating the culture and conditions to be innovative - promoting responsible risk taking and allowing people to learn from their mistakes.'
There is no single model for a successful knowledge economy, as far as Dr Amidon is concerned, and while their goals may be the same, different cities, regions and countries must explore different approaches to linking the cultural, business and educational elements that will form the basis for these knowledge societies.
Given that premise, one of the tasks of her own Entovation network is to monitor and publicise the emergence of 100 different 'knowledge zones' worldwide. 'The idea is to make them visible and contrast what works and what doesn't. Administrations from various cities can exchange notes and learn from one another, with the aim of achieving a better use of their tangible and intangible resources,' she explained.
Dr Amidon concluded that: 'The rules of the game have changed significantly. We are creating a new economic world order: one based on the flow of knowledge, not technology; innovation, not information; and collaboration, not competition.'
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Data Source Provider: CORDIS News Interview with Dr Debra Amidon
Document Reference: Based on a CORDIS News interview with Dr Debra Amidon
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Economic Aspects; Innovation, Technology Transfer; Social Aspects