Ireland can recover by embracing knowledge and risk

12 Jan 2010

CK Prahalad, Ernst Schumacher and Peter Drucker are not names to be used lightly. Master economists with paradigm-shifting global visions of mixing social justice with sustainable economic growth, tales of how these men saw the world are naturally woven into Prof Martin Curley’s own vision.

Curley, as senior principal engineer and global director of IT innovation and research at Intel and adjunct professor at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, sits comfortably in both worlds of academia and industry, which might explain his affinity for a seemingly at-odds combination of economics based on humanist principles but sheds more light on the newly launched Knowledge-Driven Entrepreneurship – The Key to Social and Economic Transformation, a book he has co-authored.

About the book

In this book, written Curley along with Prof Thomas Anderson and Prof Piero Formica, the ideas of furthering social concerns like global health and education while innovating and unlocking potential entrepreneurship at all levels of industry and society is brought to its logical, high-tech conclusion.

In essence, this is a survival bible for those looking beyond the currently troubled Western model of doing business.

“Arguably you could say we have lost our way in the West – the model we have (exponential growth) may be unsustainable and ultimately bankrupt” says Curley. “Evidence has been gathered for the past 30-40 years: if you look at the famous study done by The Club of Rome, ‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972), it explored the impact of exponential growth with finite resources and no matter what scenarios were modelled, the outcome predicted major ecological or economic collapse. We may be seeing the first elements of that.”

A triple helix

While Knowledge-Driven Entrepreneurship is not aimed at the man on the street, it does target a broad audience: policy makers, entrepreneurs, and what Curley describes as the increasingly vital triple helix of industry, government and academia.

A new socioeconomic model is needed, says Curley, and while in the past we innovated by electrification and electrons it must now be done through bits because knowledge is the new Harland & Wolff, Ford Motor Factory and Ardnacrusha.

“Knowledge can become a commodity. This is where entrepreneurship comes in.”

Why entrepreneurship? Because by its very nature it is willing to take risks, says Curley, and this is a very powerful force.

We’ve all heard about the need for innovation and the benefits of the entrepreneurial mindset but we mostly associate it with “other people”. Perhaps bright young university graduates or former industry heads.

Seeking entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs can and do exist in the most unlikely places, for example, the public sector. This book, says Curley, aims to reach out to those kinds of people and the management structure where they work.

I tell Curley that many people, if asked honestly, have a view, right or wrong, of public servants as being unwilling to innovate or hostile to change. His answer is that for innovation and entrepreneurial thoughts to happen there must be willingness for risk within the organisation’s culture.

“The public service needs agility but it has finite resources. Some areas might be under loaded, eg, planning departments, while others are under strain.”

It would make sense for the public service to be entrepreneurial, says Curley, adding that there is an opportunity in every job to be so as long as the environment is conducive to this.

“Some of the most successful companies allow for failure but you can’t just ask for change from the top, you need to set an example, create a climate where it is welcome, failure is rewarded, not just tolerated.”

Curley says that one of the big issues is around corporatism: that social partnerships, while initially beneficial, end up maintaining the status quo and can damage competitiveness.

“In Ireland, we have courage built into our DNA, we could do a lot better if we empowered people. If Ireland was in an (economic) bubble it would be OK but we must work together with the notion of the triple helix,” explains Curley.

By Marie Boran

Photo: Prof Martin Curley, co-author of Knowledge-Driven Entrepreneurship – The Key to Social and Economic Transformation