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Acquiring, Evaluating, and Implementing Information in a Knowledge-Driven Economy

(September 2008) posted on Tue Sep 09, 2008

The old saying "knowledge is power" is more true today than ever before. Find out why old ways of thinking and applying information need to be changed in order for business and society to flourish.

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By Mark A. Coudray

Let me be perfectly clear. In my opinion, there is no way we can remain competitive if we continue to use the methods of the past. I’m not talking about equipment, but rather the management methods of the industrial and post-industrial periods. Bear with me, lest I sound like some stodgy economics professor.

The industrial era was largely based on the guild system. You started off as an apprentice, became a journeyman, and eventually a craftsman and master craftsman. Knowledge was shared, learned, and implemented over many years. Those who were at the top of the food chain never shared their knowledge outside of the system with those below. Likewise, information was not shared within the industry. Our own industry today still has this ridiculous tendency to hoard knowledge and technique, often calling it trade secrets. While it is important to maintain a competitive edge, successful companies from this point forward will do so differently.

Secondly, the way we hire and train blue-collar employees leaves us at a disadvantage. Most line-level workers come with little education beyond high school. Now, with the workforce changing with mixed ethnic, cultural, and national origin, we are further handicapped in this area. We face language and education barriers. The old model was instruct once, use many times. The basic information was taught and the worker performed the operation over and over in an assembly line.

Long production runs—if they’re not already gone—are becoming a thing of the past as emphasis shifts to just-in-time and mass customization. Digital printing has facilitated the individualization of our work as we implement databased marketing and variable-data imaging. The Total Quality Manufacturing (TQM) movement of the 1990s was designed to repurpose the traditional mass-manufacturing line to a flexible, adaptable, manufacturing model based on what the customer actually wanted or ordered, instead of producing for finished inventories. This evolved into mass customization as we know it today. This well established trend will only accelerate.


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