I recently came across this article from a couple of months ago that illustrates how the U.S. economy is evolving. The story (“Working the Land and the Data“) is from the NY Times and highlights the example of Kip Tom’s farm operation in Leesburg Indiana:
From a self-driving John Deere combine, Ernie Burbrink, a Tom Farms employee, sorts real-time data about moisture, yields and net bushels per acre on his iPad, sending important information by wireless modem to distant cages of computer servers that begin analyzing the data for next season’s planting.
“It used to be, if you could turn a wrench you’d be good at farming,” Mr. Burbrink said. “Now you need to know screen navigation, and pinpointing what data should go where so people can plan and predict. You need to be in tune with other people: seed consultants, agronomists, the equipment folks.”
As I’ve noted before, agriculture and all other industries are becoming more knowledge intensive. It is not the case that these industries are begin replaced by knowledge-based industries. They are being transformed. This follows transformation of agriculture in the early 20th century. Farming did not simply move to other nations with lower-cost producers using the traditional techniques. Agriculture was mechanized–or industrialized, if you prefer. Now it (and the rest of the economy) are becoming “knowledge-ized.”
The key is how an industry creates and utilizes knowledge – not what the underlying activity is. Yes, some industries and some companies can and will resist the trend to a more knowledge-intensive activity. But there is nothing inherent in any economic activity that precludes it from generating and using knowledge that will make it more effective, efficient and productive. It just takes people who understand that knowledge is an important input to the production process. It is not something that exists “out there” but something that is everywhere. As more industry leaders understand that simple truth, the vision of knowledge economy will finally unfold.