The Knowledge-Value Revolution, or a History of the Future, by Taichi Sakaiya (Kodansha International, 1991), was first published back in 1985, in Japan, where it became a best-seller. Its publication in the United States earlier this year went virtually unnoticed by the press, but don't let that stop you from buying it. There are at least three good reasons to read this book.
First, it will challenge you to look at the future through the prism of history, something noticeably absent from most American thinking and writing about business, especially the work of "futurologists." Sakaiya, a former official of Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), believes that a radically new society is about to emerge and that only by using history as a guide can we begin to glimpse that society's character.
Second, the book will give you an entirely different perspective on phenomena of our own times. Consider the miniskirt, which most of us think of as nothing more than a fad. Sakaiya sees it as the first meaningful movement away from traditional fashion controlled by the industrial-inspired, utilitarian criteria of another age. Through examples like that one, he reminds us that clues about the future are found on the fringes of our culture, not in the mainstream.
Finally, The Knowledge-Value Revolution will force you to reexamine basic assumptions about business. For example, Sakaiya argues that, in the "knowledge-value society" of the future, rational pricing will give way to a system in which price will fluctuate according to such factors as the identity of the buyer. Before you dismiss such a prediction as absurd, read Sakaiya's discussion of pricing through the ages. You may not buy his argument, but you can't help being stimulated by it -- which is a pretty good reason for reading any book.
"My friend Susan [who worked at Digital Equipment Corp.] . . . used to say that sometimes when she was working at her computer terminal she would become so consumed by the lighted screen, the quick flashes of numerals and words, that she would lose track of time and forget to eat. One day she forgot to leave work on time to pick up her daughter at day care. When this happened a second time she arranged for a vacation. She rented a cabin on a hill in New Hampshire and spent two weeks trying to do nothing. She was edgy during the first week, but by the weekend she had become comfortable in the place. By the end of the second week, while she was out picking blueberries, it struck her that she could go on in this manner for a long time, picking blueberries with her daughter and feeling the heat of the sun on her back. She gave notice when she returned."
-- From Living at the End of Time, by John Hanson Mitchell (Houghton Mifflin, 1990)