Sunday, July 13, 2008

Copy and Paste Knowledge Creation?

Finland is the popular destination of educators from across the globe these days. Its school system has been rated #1 by Organization of Economic Co-Operation's Programme for International Student Assessment. They are coming to Finland to learn why it is so incredible and then replicate it in their own nation, or perhaps find out why they themselves are unsuccessful. Click here for details on the PISA testing and results.

This begs the question whether one can duplicate the academic excellence of Finland or any other leader in this space? Can one copy Stanford or MIT by merely putting up a campus of such institutions? Can one copy the breakthrough Georgia Institute of Technology has achieved through its Advanced Technology Development Center? Or let’s make it easier, could a nation copy the syllabus and organizational structure of MIT (it is all available online) and achieve the same? What I have learned and seen of the world, duplication is flattery yet self effacing in academia.

Click here for an article from The Economist that explains why the lineage of the people, the environment, history and culture all come to play a role to push academics to excellence.

The trend of copy and paste knowledge creation stations continues across the globe. For example, if ever in Dubai, one must visit what I have come to call the mall of universities i.e. the Knowledge Village. It is over 300 universities from across the world with literally a store front like setup. At the same time though, the American University in Dubai has built a large and open campus that creates a sense of being in an education institution in comparison to the Knowledge Village.

Georgia Tech’s, MIT’s, etc. cannot be duplicated. For the nations that desire such should consider creating an environment first where the knowledge worker and the knowledge creator feel compelled to come and stay. Next, they should work on needs and issues that cannot find solutions from the developed world or existing solutions that must be supplanted to create new paradigms. And finally, for the knowledge creators to perpetuate they must build association to the land – America leads the world in this, it offers the most incredible opportunity in the world to do what one wants while offering the individual to become its citizen. It encourgages competition while rewarding the winners on merit. This is the foundation of a globally diverse society coming together building a nation and continuing to make it great. Otherwise, they will come and then… they will leave. See here an excellent article on America's supremacy in knowledge creation.

I am specifically discussing Finland's leadership in the early education versus USA's leadership in higher education for one specific reason - prior experience is not a guarantee of future success.

Probably one of the most important aspects for the success of the institution is the realization of the knowledge created into a business venture. For example, Georgia Tech’s ATDC enables the intellectual property from the school to incubate and explore the commercial arena. There is a community of funding providers and mentors to further support these ventures.

Lastly, and most importantly, the knowledge creator must be allowed to fail. I am afraid that the large corporate culture of incremental innovation and avoiding or not recognizing failure may creep into the academic institutions, where risk taking is encouraged to create breakthroughs. More on this topic in the near future.

I will discuss how incremental innovation has provided above 10% growth to multi-nationals in the 20th Century while the same recipe may not lead to the same results in the 21st Century in the next few weeks.

See my previous blog on related topic - Academic Capitalism.

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