Messages from Monthly Keidanren, May 2000

Knowledge Management can re-create Japan for the 21st Century

Tsutomu Kanai
Vice Chairman, Keidanren
Chairman, Hitachi, Ltd.

The explosive growth of the Internet has a tremendous impact on the world economy. This growth seems to be so powerful that it has the ability to blow away the deflationary malaise of the Japanese economy. The impact of Information Technology is greater than any of our expectations. Looking around at other technological developments, such as biotechnology and the space station project, technical ideas that were mere dreams a short while ago are now likely to come true in the near future of the 21st century. The U.S. economic growth in the 1990's proves that technological innovation raises productivity. This means that the U.S. federal government's budget increase for science and technology in FY 2001 puts technology policy alongside fiscal, monetary and employment policy as a major focus of U.S. economic policy. The Knowledge Based Society has arrived along with the emergence of the New Economy.

In the Knowledge Based Society, each individual's idea and creativity is highly valued and appreciated. While an increase in the science and technology budget has impact, I believe that it is more important to nurture excellent individuals. In general, encouraging people to become knowledge workers must be an essential economic policy in order to enrich people's lives and increase the national wealth. For that purpose, intensive education and training is necessary. In other words, there is no investment that we can expect a larger return on than the investment in education. However, the current level of Japanese "university education" is ranked a low 45th out of 47 countries, according to the World Competitiveness Yearbook 1999 published by IMD, an executive management institute based in Switzerland. Education reform is the most urgent issue that Japan should tackle in the 21st century.

International competition among countries in the 21st century is a competition of time as well. We have to speed up education reform, as well as strengthening R & D ability, reform of regulation and tax system, and tackling many other challenges. But, looking at this issue further, we can not believe that the DNA of the Japanese creativity and diligence has changed. So, the point is how to brush up our potential ability. One effective solution is knowledge management by applying information technology. If people in industry, education, government, politics, NPOs and at home share our knowledge like our common needs and seeds of new ideas, then we can find a new approach to the goal, or a new way to speed-up learning. The re-vitalization of Japan begins with the practice of knowledge management.

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