Thanks Zac for posing this interesting question:
Can someone please tell me what comes after the knowledge era?
In some ways it is tricky to predict although many have put pen to paper as I’ll outline below. Then again there are many with more pressing issues to contemplate other than wonder what on earth is meant by a ‘knowledge era’ . I’m sure the people of Zimbabwe, for example, being mostly deprived of the most basic of life’s essentials, aren’t spending too much time on this topic at the moment!!
This illustrates then, that whichever era we think we are living in, and whether this is even a topic of interest, is quite relevant to one’s circumstances and this positioning is a great example that “the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed” (William Gibson).
Before I answer Zac’s question it may be prudent to look at the eras that have gone before the ‘knowledge era” as this diagram illustrates (Cooperrider in Staron, 2006, p. 23):
Referring back to Gibson’s aphorism that “the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed” it is also worth noting that any era does not simply announce itself at an appointed time or place and that often there is overlap–in events, timing, thinking and emotions–that makes the process quite messy. One thing we can take comfort in is that people throughout time have gone through similar processes when confronted by paradigmatic change, as James (1996) reminds us:
Anthropologists use social data and models from the past to provide a frame or a context for the future. The details of millions of years of history and hundreds of societies reveal patterns. When you understand these patterns of the past, culture is often the last system to adapt. Vestiges of old beliefs hang on long after the technological, economic and demographic systems have changed (James, 1996 p 22).
So what may come after the knowledge era?
The consensus is that we are currently living in an era defined by “an economy in which the production, distribution and use of knowledge is the main driver of growth, wealth creation, and employment across all industries” (Department of Industry Training & Research, in, Andrews, 2004, p4).
There will be overlap, no doubt, between the current and any new era, just as we’ve seen throughout history and one overlap that is unfolding at present is the shift that Drucker (1993) refers to as a shift from a capitalist to a post-capitalist society. Drucker’s “Post Capitalist Society” is a recommended primer. In it, Drucker asserts that in a knowledge-intensive economy much hinges on being able to increase productivity of knowledge work in much the same way as Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) dramatically improved work processes and output of manual labour in the industrial era. He makes the point that the means of exponential improvement will lie, not in the breaking down of tasks to gain efficiencies as Taylor advocated and Henry Ford applied, but rather in the harnessing of intangible assets held by and within knowledge workers.
Perhaps it is the growing interest in the intersections between sustainability (of people and the environment) and the economy that will prove to be THE indicator that a shift to a post-capitalist paradigm has occurred? These topics in combination are emerging in more recent literature too (see as a recent example Mirchandani & Ikerd, 2008).
One definition for the next ‘era’ after the information era (which preceded the knowledge era) is Daniel Pink’s (2005) ‘conceptual era’ ruled by artistry, empathy, and emotion. Perhaps that means that we are in this era already? I’m not so sure we there just yet, but as far as an aspirational position to aim for I think the conceptual age is a good place to start.
I’d be interested in hearing from others where they think we are and where we are heading as far as eras are concerned? No matter where we are and what drives any changes it is worth noting, as I finish this blog, that:
The Iron Age did not end because humans ran out of iron. It ended because it was time for a rethink about how we live (Hames, 2007 p 282).
Andrews, K. 2004. Attachment A: A review of selected knowledge-focused literature. In J. Henry (Ed.), Working and learning in Vocational Education Training in the knowledge era, Brisbane: ANTA.
Drucker, P. F. 1993. Post-capitalist society. Oxford, Butterworth Heinemann.
Hames, R. D. 2007. The five literacies of global leadership: what authentic leaders know and you need to find out.Chichester, England, Jossey-Bass.
James, J. 1996. Thinking in the future tense: a workout for the mind. New York, Simon & Schuster
Mirchandani, D. & Ikerd, J. 2008. Building and maintaining sustainable organizations. Organization Management Journal, 5 (1), pp. 40 – 51.
Pink, D. H. 2005. A whole new mind : moving from the information age to the conceptual age. Crows Nest, N.S.W., Allen & Unwin.
Staron, M., Jasinksi, M., & Weatherley, R. 2006. Life based learning: a strength based approach for capability development in vocational and technical education: a report on the research project “Designing professional development for the knowledge era”. Sydney, TAFE NSW ICVET.