What we can do to give ourselves a leg up Companies and industries are seeing a bigger slice of their assets falling into the "intangibles" category. An increasing share of our national wealth comes from these products of knowledge rather than from labour and physical capital. So what, if anything, can we do to give ourselves a leg up in this new "post-industrial" economy? We have to start by identifying the factors that lead to a successful knowledge-based economy. This is a big question that’s not helped by the fuzziness of the term "knowledge economy" and our tendency to lapse into abstractions or jingoism. We hope this special issue of Computerworld will be a significant step in getting the debate moving quickly and intelligently. New Zealand is not alone in realising the importance of the knowledge economy and we’ll be competing with many other countries for attention. Here are some of the priorities that top my list. First, and most importantly, we have to figure out how to win and keep the world’s best talent. New Zealand will fail if it loses in the fierce global battle for talent. This needs a clear agenda for attracting, nurturing and retaining the people who create the intellectual capital just as the "old economy" policy makers have aimed to lure physical and financial capital. This programme needs to include both political change — perhaps in areas such as immigration or tax — and social and workplace changes. The latter might involve shifting Kiwi attitudes toward wealth and success where we value and reward the tall poppies rather than punish them. It involves developing new organisation and management practices (the information technology industry has a lot of innovative practices to share) and maturing the cultural life of our young, somewhat narrowly sports-obsessed country. The same factors that will attract the best migrants and businesses to New Zealand will keep New Zealand’s brightest at home. Governments can restrict the movement of money and physical capital but forcing their citizens to stay home is an option closed to all but a shrinking handful of autocrats. The bidding war for intellectual capital is taking place in an international context so tackling it needs a global, not national, perspective. Second, we have to support the new industries and workers with the tools to get the most out of their innovations. Several areas of our national infrastructure need improvement. On the technology front, we need the best possible information technology and communications and we must be able to use it better than anyone else. Our remoteness can still be a challenge even in the world of the Internet so provision of a plentiful and competitively priced telecommunications resource is a national priority. Our financial markets must do a better job of supporting the special needs of knowledge-based industries. Two priorities here are a sophisticated venture capital industry and a cure for our sick and unsupportive stock market. And we need legal, financial and regulatory changes that protect intellectual property, measure its worth and recognise its value in the financial community. As we build our infrastructure and talent base, we shouldn’t be afraid to import the best examples and learn and profit from them. A xenophobic outlook has no place in the highly mobile and global knowledge economy. The third thing is, we should identify those industries which are most likely to propel us into the tops ranks of knowledge-based economies. We can then develop plans that support the individual efforts of the people and companies within those industries. Picking winners is a hazardous and often unpopular business but here’s my pick anyway: education. Why education? Lots of reasons. It’s almost a pure knowledge economy play. We’re already good at it and selling successfully into overseas and local markets. It’s a market sector that will see long-term high growth as approaches to public education change and the knowledge economies of the world demand higher skills. And the opportunity will expand still further as people embark on lifelong learning and as the wired world opens important new avenues of distribution. But it’s much more than that. If we can sell our education to the world, we can deliver world-class education to our own citizens. It’s a double win for New Zealand with a trickle-down effect that can feed new industries in the same way that a few powerhouses have seeded technology industries in places like Silicon Valley, Taiwan and Ireland. Finally, it should be one that can engender the political will to act. This special issue of Computerworld is the beginning of a number of initiatives that IDG is taking to spur debate and set an agenda for New Zealand’s entry into the top ranks of successful knowledge economies. If you want to participate in this dialogue, give me your ideas and let me know what we can do to help get New Zealand moving. Martin Taylor is managing director of IDG Communications and publisher of Computerworld. firstname.lastname@example.org Letters for publication can be emailed to email@example.com.