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Information for Social Change

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ISC 15. The best ideas for operating profitably in a hyper-competitive world

by Jimmie T. Boyett and Joseph H. Boyett, New York: John Wiley, 2001, Introduction - vii-xiv; 418pp; includes diagrams

Reviewed by Ruth Rikowski

Perhaps, unbeknown to the authors, this is an illuminating book. It provides insights into the direction in which we are all being pushed - within this latest version of capitalism. It also provides many facts to substantiate the arguments that are presented by the authors. It focuses on areas such as globalization, the knowledge economy, knowledge management and e-commerce (there is a chapter on each of these topics). These can all be seen to be aspects of this latest phase of capitalism (see also Rikowski, 2000a and 2000b). The other two chapters in the book examine 'Customer-Relationship Management' and 'Business Ethics in the Knowledge Economy'.

Boyett and Boyett refer to the 'gurus' on the main different subjects covered in the book (one 'Guru list' for each chapter). Thus, they list the 'gurus' (or experts) on the knowledge economy, for example, and the 'gurus' on globalization. This is very helpful as a reference tool. At the end of the book they also provide detailed information about all the different gurus referred to throughout the book, in alphabetical order, by the authors surname. There is also a long bibliography and a notes section. Thus, the book is well researched. There is also an index.

The chapter on 'Globalization' is very interesting. Boyett and Boyett are of the opinion that the gurus who research and write about globalisation tend to focus on one of two main issues - the social implications of the emerging global economy or the implications of globalisation for business.

Focusing initially on the first of these two points, Boyett and Boyett cite various critics of globalisation, such as Luttwak, Friedman and French. It is this type of critical analysis that makes the book illuminating and powerful. Luttwak is the author of 'Turbo-Capitalism' (1999) and he argues that globalisation is forcing a new kind of capitalism on the world that is different from the controlled capitalism that we have had in the past. Very interestingly, he refers specifically to the threat to libraries from this new form of capitalism. Thus, in 'Turbo-Capitalism' Luttwak says that what is demanded in this new order is:

"..the privatization of state-owned businesses of all kinds, and the conversion of public institutions, from universities and botanic gardens to prisons, from libraries and schools to old people's homes, into private enterprises run for profit. What they promise is a more dynamic economy that will generate new wealth, while saying nothing about the distribution of any wealth, old or new." (Luttwak, 1999, p. 27)

Friedman, on the other hand, argues that globalisation forces us into an economic and political 'Golden Straitjacket' (as there is, apparently, 'only one way to economic progress' - Boyett and Boyett, p.257) and French is concerned about the environmental problems arising from globalisation. As Boyett and Boyett say, according to these experts: globalization creates tremendous economic inequalities, destroys cultures, and devastates the planet. (Boyett and Boyett, 2001, p.205)

However, having written a useful summary about some of the critics of globalisation, Boyett and Boyett then seem to be rather dismissive of them and conclude that globalisation is inevitable anyway. From this position, they then decide that there is little to be gained from pursuing these critical issues further, but rather that we need to consider how businesses can succeed in the global economy. Thus, they say: "Globalization is a lot of things, say our gurus, but the most important thing to know is that it is here to stay. That reality leads us to the second big globalization issue. If globalization is here to stay, how do businesses play the game ? How do they succeed in a global economy ?" (Boyett and Boyett, 2001, p.266)

Boyett and Boyett then attempt to answer this question, and it is this dual role that is played throughout the book that exposes the weakness of the book. Is the book attempting to provide a deep, important analysis, or is it just trying to answer questions raised by business and endeavouring to help businesses to succeed in this global economy? (i.e. a 'How to succeed' guide for business!) The writers move from analysis to the seemingly important topic of business success in an apparently seamless fashion, which can only lead to confusion for the reader.

Boyett and Boyett appear to recognise that we are living in free-market capitalism and that this is, in essence, what globalisation is. They refer to Friedman's 'Cold War and Globalization' chart (Friedman, 2000, pp.7-15), for example, which highlights the importance of Professor Joseph Schumpeter's ideas regarding globalisation, where the essence of capitalism is "creative destruction" (Boyett and Boyett, 2001, p.240). Having arrived at this conclusion though, they do not take it further.

They also fall short in this way, in other chapters in the book. In the chapter on the knowledge economy, for example, they explain how we are moving into the knowledge economy and they refer to the importance of value networks and information. Boyett and Boyett say, for example, say that: "Information is the 'glue' that holds together the structure of business" (Boyett and Boyett, 2001, p.45)

They then go to say that we might even be moving into a new 'post-knowledge economy'. Thus, they say that: "A new post-knowledge economy may be emerging that is based not on the exploitation of information, but on stories. This market for feelings may gradually eclipse the market for tangible products. Six such emotional markets can be discerned now: adventures for sale, the market for togetherness, friendship, and love, the market for care, the who-am-I market, the market for peace of mind, and the market for convictions". (Boyett and Boyett, 2001, p.47)

They conclude the chapter by saying that: "Ultimately, we may see the development of an even newer post-knowledge economy in which the chief values won't be food, material things, information, connectivity, emotional satisfaction, or experiences but individual or personal transformations" (Boyett and Boyett, 2001, p.47).

This shows incredible, albeit scary foresight about the direction in which the knowledge economy/post-knowledge economy may be heading. Yet, they do not consider the implications of all this. A real missed opportunity.

Similarly, with the chapter on knowledge management. Boyett and Boyett emphasise the importance of human capital and structural capital for knowledge management (KM), for example, and say: "Knowledge management, say our gurus, is at least about nurturing human capital and then turning human capital into structural capital." (Boyett and Boyett, 2001, p.101)

Then, they look at the works of some of the KM gurus, such as Edvinsson and Malone and Thomas A. Steward and see how they examine human capital and structural capital. However, they do not take the analysis further. What does it actually mean? What does it actually involve? - transforming human capital into structural capital?

In conclusion, this book identifies and explores some of the main directions in which capitalism is going, such as globalisation and the knowledge economy. However, in attempting to provide both an analysis and a critique, as well as a guide to help businesses to succeed, it 'muddies the water' and leaves the reader feeling somewhat dissatisfied and possibly confused. However, given its informative, well-researched and at times, critical nature, it is a worthwhile book to read. It also demonstrates how books that on the surface might seem to be quite 'conventional' (e.g. supporting the needs of business), can also be quite illuminating and useful, and I suggest that further reading of these types of books could prove to be worthwhile.

References

Edvinsson, Leif and Malone, Michael S. (1997) Intellectual capital: realizing your company's true value by finding its hidden brainpower. New York: HarperBusiness

French, Hilary (2000) Vanishing borders: protecting the planet in the age of globalization. New York: Norton

Friedman, Thomas L. (2000) The lexas and the olive tree: understanding globalization. New York: Anchor Books

Luttwak, Edward (1999) Turbo-capitalism: winners and losers in the global economy. New York: HarperCollins

Rikowski, Ruth (2000a) The knowledge economy is here - but where are the information professionals? (Part 1) in Business Information Review, September, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 157-167

Rikowski, Ruth (2000b) The knowledge economy is here - but where are the Information professionals? (Part 2) in Business Information Review, December, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 227-233)

Stewart, Thomas A. (1998) Intellectual capital: the new wealth of organisations. New York: Doubeday

 

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