Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2008

Building on the Past, Imagining the Future: Competency Based Growth Strategies in a Global Digital Age

John Zysman, Niels Christian Nielsen, Dan Breznitz, Derek Wong

October 2007

Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy


The policy objective for governments is classic and enduring: sustain the growth of employment and productivity to assure expanding real incomes of the citizens. Success requires that “under free and fair market conditions, the community (firms and populace) can produce goods and services that meet the test of international markets while simultaneously expanding the real income of its citizens.” Yet, the logic of competition and value creation in global markets has evolved. Consequently, old strategies of simply supporting the competitiveness of particular national flag firms or chasing smokestacks are clearly obsolete, but merely investing in R&D or education is not sufficient, and doing nothing is a formula for decline. Regions have to conceive new strategies to find distinctive advantages to support employment and productive activity. Those strategies will need to target competencies, not particular firms or specific sectors. We argue, first, that basic shifts in global markets have altered for firms the logic of value creation and the character of competition. Second, we contend that this changed value logic also alters the policy choices and growth strategies for places, be they regions or nations or simply communities. The focus of and foundation for policy analysis must be the domains of competency that underpin diverse activities of firms and are central to competitive advantage in sectors. Finally, we argue that there are no magic strategy bullets, but rather an array of options and choices. Successful strategies will emerge by building on the past while imagining the future.