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Virtues of new era to be found in intangibles

Big thinkers love to name big things. Eras, for example. The 19th century, with the mighty impact of the industrial revolution is logically enough labelled the industrial era.

The 20th century, having industrialised every possible aspect of life and then some, moved into the post-industrial information era.

Welcome to information technology and telecommunications, mobile phones, the Internet, email, e-commerce and resultant globalisation.

Most of the historic – as opposed to prehistoric – ages of man have been based on hard stuff that you could see, thump, grab hold of: the Stone Age, Iron Age, Industrial Age.

The Dark Ages may be one exception, although we could say it was so dark you could touch it.

The Information Age has moved us into new territory – the intangible.

The three driving forces of the 21st century global economy are all intangibles: finance capitalism, knowledge capitalism and social capitalism. They cannot be measured or touched, cannot be put on container ships and cannot be traded on the stock market.

In this new era, the basis of wealth creation is not capital assets.

No wonder so many big boys on the Terrace are in denial of the future – the most important factors of production are no longer iron ore, oil and gas, heaps of cheap labour or plant and equipment.

They still matter, but only as support for the use of knowledge, ideas and intelligence.

The greatest asset any organisation has is its brainpower and creativity.

Social capitalism is the ability for that brainpower and creativity to work together to achieve shared goals – any goals – be they increased profit, people networks, specific knowledge, or enhanced creativity.

The successful organisation understands that to build social capital requires risk taking and trust.

Risk taking because you cannot achieve much as an investor, producer or even consumer unless you are willing to take the risk that someone or something may let you down.

The smartest risk takers in our age of intangibles will be those who know they can rely on other people to help them achieve their goals. Trust - another intangible.

Dr Dorothy Marcic, Director of Graduate Programs in HR Develop-ment at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and respected executive consultant to the likes of AT&T Bell Labs, recently enthralled her audience in Perth with the seven key attributes for the successful organisation: trustworthiness, unity, justice, respect, service, humility and love.

In her latest book, Managing with the Wisdom of Love: Uncovering Virtue in People and Organizations, Marcic demonstrates, using concrete corporate examples like Hewlett-Packard and Federal Express, that these are no longer just warm fuzzy spiritual values, but are the New Management Virtues essential for business success.

Charles Leadbetter, global thinktanker extraordinaire, says that an ethic of trust and collaboration is as important in the new economy as individualism and self-interest.

The era-namers might have to look outside the normal business and government envelope to find an appropriate moniker for an ethical, trusting, collaborative, creative and intelligent era.

• Ann Macbeth is a futurist and principal of Annimac Consultants.

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