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... all major languages have what are called 1st, 2nd and 3rd person pronouns. The 1st person perspective refers to "the person who is speaking", that is I (singular) and we (plural). The second "person who is spoken to" includes pronouns like you. The third "person that is spoken about" is him or her or they and them, if not it. The 3rd person, or "it" is objective Truth, best investigated by science. The 2nd person or you/we refers to Goodness or the way we treat each other, in other words with basic morality. And the 1st person deals with I, with self expression, art, Beauty and aesthetics.

Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality (1)



While for Havel it was the relationship between nature, culture – including art and science – and politics that was all important, for a group of European researchers, including one of the authors, Ronnie Lessem, that gathered together for three years in Munich, in the 1990s, sponsored by the Roland Berger Foundation, it was culture and innovation. In fact, as social scientists at the time, our shared concern was the upliftment of the "European Project", from its primary concern with politics and economics, to a parallel concern with art and science. Our (2) overarching concern, altogether, was with European-ness and innovation. Though the majority of the researchers, as political scientists, sociologists, economists and management academics, came from Europe, specifically from France, Germany, Italy and the UK, there were also representatives from America and Japan.

As we enter the knowledge era we, in Europe as we reckoned at the time, ignore our heritage to our peril. For unless we reach into our own roots (in the shadow), and evolve from them, we will forever be bound to others, most notably the Americans and the Japanese (in the light). The most effective proponent of the concept of a knowledge creating company, to date, are two Japanese organizational sociologists, Nonaka and Takeuchi (3). Indeed Ikijiro Nonaka was the Japanese representative within our research group. Finally, it is important to note that a Canadian journalist, Morgan Witzel, who joined our group late in the day, did much to further ground our work in historical Europe, as we shall now see. Interestingly enough Witzel (4) has since gone on to study India, in an emerging political and economic, as well as commercial, light.


The European quest for knowledge, as Witzel recognized, began in ancient Athens in the age of Socrates. It was Socrates who first steered the course of human inquiry towards things of the physical world rather than the gods and supernatural phenomena; it was the student of Socrates, Plato, who first elaborated a set of ideals by which humanity could reach through art, science and design. In effect truth, goodness and beauty were the three ideals which Plato viewed as being the goals of a just society. The pursuit of these fundamentals, we argued, have occupied European innovators in every sphere of thought, feeling and action ever since.

By 1107ad Paris had become famous as the European centre of learning. Whereas conventional wisdom agreed with St Anselm – I believe therefore I know – a young scholar and theologian Peter Abelard (embarking on a passionate love affair with one of his female pupils, the poor man was castrated by a vengeful uncle) challenged this wisdom. By doubting we come to examine, and by examining so we perceive the truth. Repeatedly condemned by the Catholic Church, Abelard nevertheless set the spirit of inquiry that led to the discoveries of Descartes and Newton five centuries later.

In 1434 Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal set out to explore the limits of the known world; for the world that marked a period of European discovery, but also colonialism. From being an expanse of unknown, the world quickly became a vast frontier where men ventured forth. World trade, in the 16th and 17th centuries, became the new frontier of discovery and imagination. As economies grew they became more complex, and this led in turn to further increases in wealth. That paved the way in 1776 for a 53-year-old Scottish academic, Adam Smith, to say that the invisible hand of the market, without intending it, without knowing it, advances the interests of society.

Smith was not so much an innovator as a catalyst for thought and development, who synthesized a previously disorganized field and made it into a discipline. From Smith came the three factors of production – land, labour and capital. His influence was further strengthened by relating his economic ideas to the moral dimension of human action. In fact, among the greatest of European innovations is that of the corporation. The prototypes of such were established in northern Italy around the time of the first crusade (1096), having their origin in high-value, high-risk trade in Eastern goods between Europe and Asia. Companies were therefore founded as societies of traders banding together to invest capital, take advantage of economies of scale and share risk. By the 14th century every major European centre had its stock exchange and double-entry accounting had been established, together with the forerunners of modern business schools – teaching standard business practices. We now turn more specifically to knowledge and innovation in Europe.

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