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Intellectual Capital

by Mark Peres

February 4,2005

Corporations have long known that their most valuable asset in a knowledge economy is the intellectual capital of its workforce. The balance sheet includes valuations of raw material, machinery and financial assets, but it is talent that differentiates. It is talent that dazzles: overcoming obstacles with innovation, creating brand and culture, patents and copyrights, developing history and systems. It is talent that destroys paradigms.

Businesses have hired Chief Knowledge Officers to capture the collective intellect of its workforce, to insure lifelong learning, to further professional credentials and to structure organizational brainpower. Corporate survival depends on creativity.

The public sector is similarly competing for creative knowledge workers to survive in a rapidly changing economy. The point is reflected in a new book published this past December called “Intellectual Capital for Communities: Nations, Regions and Cities.” The editors, Ahmed Bounfour and Leif Edvinsson, bring together essays and studies on knowledge as a publicly-measured and managed asset. Those communities that consciously invest in intellectual capital as a key driver of productivity and competitiveness are far more likely to generate and sustain social equity and wealth creation.

Charlotte has long been a city of boosterism and action. Give the city a challenge that tests its civic mettle, and it’s impressive what volunteers and a little corporate backing can get done. If you think back to high school, the city at its can-do best is made up of ambitious student-government leaders whose sense of personal accomplishment is very much tied up in getting the prom done on time and on budget. The leaders who run this city now were likely to have been in nearly every club in the yearbook.

I happen to love the company of colleagues who are community-minded and task-focused. I always have. They have a strong sense of contributing to projects greater than themselves. They act with optimism. They are practiced in playing on a team, switching roles with ease, getting work done while driving toward a collective goal.

I also love the company of the intellectually curious. I always have. I’m drawn to ideas, to debate, to cross-disciplinary references and liberal education. In high school, I enjoyed the complexities of history, reading philosophy, the chess club and painting scenery as much as student council, and today could spend hours over wine talking about the great compromise of the Constitution and what makes terrific architecture.

The city is filled with citizens who seek a life of contribution, of elevated discussion, and who want to make change at all levels. Many of our brightest and most energetic people teeter on leaving the city, drawn to environments that welcome exceptionalism.

In seeking to attract and retain talented citizenry who are unsure of what to make of Charlotte, the debate turns to amenities that would attract those in black turtlenecks who adopt kids from foreign countries. Let’s be careful. As Charlotte considers what makes for the best place to live and work, it’s not about entertainment, cafes and political leanings. It’s not about what could be a trendy investment in lifestyle to attract a changing demographic. It is about investing in intellectual capital that is organic, lifelong and structured.

Lasting infrastructure that supports brainpower includes public-private partnerships in academia, in professional schools of higher learning (we may be the largest city in the nation without a law or medical school), public centers of discourse (three cheers to the new civic design forum), a prominent-dominant central park with civic interchange at its design core, a K-12 public education system that is driven first, foremost and always by achievement and a love for learning.

Intellectual infrastructure insures all that is interesting in a city. It makes a city an urban campus – vivifying mind, body and spirit age upon age. It is enlightened curiosity (and a deeply caring heart) that we must celebrate, informing our neighborhoods, our businesses and our relationships. It is a passion for education, for change, for innovation that keeps a city young and yet wise – relevant in history and happening tomorrow.

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