Interview with Dr. Nick Bontis, Associate Professor of Strategic Management, McMaster University.
Q: Your area of expertise is intellectual capital- what is that?
A: Intellectual capital in a nutshell is the brainpower of an organization. Let us take a business, for example, and assume this business has 50 employees. Normally when we value a business we look at indicators such as cash flow, sales and revenue. However, beyond these factors there is an intangible element to every organization and that is the expertise of its employees. This "intellectual capital" is a very important part of our economy and what I am interested in is how it can be effectively measured and managed. Knowledge management involves protecting these assets within an organization because people try to steal ideas from one company to another.
Q: What do you believe are the major challenges that organizations will face in the knowledge era and how will they deal with them?
A: One of the biggest challenges or concerns facing organizations in the knowledge era is the idea of ownership in relation to intellectual property rights. Upon entering an organization, a lot of young graduates are asked to sign an employment contract. Unfortunately, most tend not to read all of the legal jargon included in these documents, but there you will find information regarding intellectual property ownership. In many cases what is stated is that by signing this contract the organization actually owns your emails, your database, your hard drive, even your ideas. This scenario makes it very
difficult for young graduates to moonlight because it becomes very difficult to discern whether an employee figured out an idea when they were working for company A or when they were moonlighting for company B.
Q: In your opinion what major changes will current students face in their future work environments?
A: One of the things that I find quite interesting is how current graduating students define what a career is. A few generations ago, students typically would graduate from university and begin working for companies that they would remain with for the rest of their careers. Of course we know that trend no longer holds true. Average university graduates will now finish university, start with their first employer and will remain with that employer for only eighteen months. They will then migrate to another employer, and another. Not only will they migrate to multiple employers within the first 10 years of their career but they may even migrate to a totally different industry. This brings us to the idea of the "free agent nation". Free agency is a very appealing model because some people just dont know what they want to do when they grow up, including myself. [smile] Todays students in their final year of university are asking, "Why do I have to sign a permanent employee contract?" This is a figment of a previous generation. The current generation might say, "I want to work for a law firm on Mondays. On Tuesdays I want to work in advertising. On Wednesdays I want to work in the steel industry." Technology has made this a viable option and students find the idea of working as a free agent for multiple organizations simultaneously a very attractive alternative.