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March 19, 2006

A Tale of Two Books on Knowledge

Two rather important and quite different books have been published this week that should be of considerable interest to anyone who cares about the task of better understanding how knowledge works in this world.

The first, The New Argonauts : Regional Advantage in a Global Economy by AnnaLee Saxenian is published by Harvard University Press.

This is the first real empirical study on how knowledge-flows really work.

The author has done extensive research in how the Indian, Chinese, and Israelis study and work and learn in Silicon Valley and how they bring this knowledge back to their countries where it takes root in often spectacular fashion.

This migration of knowledge thru the medium of human capital is a very powerful force in the growing democratization of knowledge and is rarely analysed and documented with such power as Saxenian employs.

Saxenian is an economic geographer and is Dean of the best school in the US to study information and knowledge: the University of California at Berkeley. Saxenian has done her work throroughly, both in voluminous interviews and in telling stories mixed with analysis. She conveys very, very well just how local and social knowledge is, and how it gets transferred by groups who already share trust thru shared ethnicity.

Another stunning, though quite different knowledge book, is David Warsh's Knowledge and the Wealth Of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery published by Norton.

Warsh is one of the very few economic journalists in the US who knows his theory as well as how the subject is practised.

This book is nothing les then an intellectual history of how the very idea of knowledge has re-entered economics (it was an important theme to Adam Smith but got lost in the later 20th century).

The book ends with a great discussion on the work of Paul Romer who has done the most to put knowledge into development thinking and explain it in a way that it will eventually find it sway into Freshman textbooks (if they still read).

If you are wondering why this is important to anyone besides academics or economists, its because once these ideas get established in mainstream disciplin es they gather momentum and begin to be taught in business schools. Until that happens the subject remains either a marginal activity or just one more thing consultants sell to bewildered managers.

Knowledge is far too important for this fate and Warsh explains just how it has risen, fallen and is rising again to take its place as a key concept in understanding the 21st Century.

Posted by Larry Prusak on March 19, 2006 03:16 PM | Permalink

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Larry -

Excellent CIMS presentation this morning.

How useful to find (via this blog) that David Warsh has a new book.

Posted by: David Eddy | March 23, 2006 02:54 PM

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