"Technical change and the new context for development"

1994. “Technical change and the new context for development”, in Mytelka, L. ed, South-South Co-Operation in a Global Perspective, OECD, Paris, pp. 55-87 ISBN : 92-64-04033-1

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Table of Contents:

1. The growth of intangibles in investment
2. Investing in organizational change:
1. Organization as the Achilles heel of the traditional technology leader
2. A change in common sense and the difficulty of diffusion
3. Reorganization as an effective option of modernization
3. Investing in human capital
1. From people as cost to investment in people
2. The need for a participatory framework
3. Education and training at the core or development strategies
4. Investing in technological capability
A new focus on innovation and diffusion
Networks of collaboration
Networks and the habits of an ISI past
5. Market focusing and strategic specialization
1. The collective dimension of specialization
2. Turning static advantages into dynamic strengths: rescuing the development value of natural resources
3. Market segment and technology focus
4. Networks and territorial proximity
6. Internal constraints and windows of opportunity
1. Obstacles to surmount and opportunities to pursue
2. Some avenues for south-south cooperation


For the past two decades the world has been shaken by three successive waves of change. First there was the all-pervasive impact of information technology on products, production, services and communication. Then there was the managerial revolution with the diffusion of organizational practices pioneered by the Japanese and other challenges to traditional mass production emerging in various countries of Europe and elsewhere. Now, while those two are still unfolding, there is a wave of political and institutional change involving processes as diverse and complex as the dissolution of the Soviet system, the movement towards trade liberalization, the adoption of market systems and the creation of regional blocs in every continent.

These waves of transformation in technology, management, economics and politics are interrelated. They point to a world in transition where the rules of the game are changing at every level. The conditions under which competition takes place in international markets are moving further and further away from those that prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s or even the early 1980s. In this changing environment, it is wise to reassess afresh every policy, every development strategy, because the previous success or failure of a particular policy is unlikely to be a good predictor of future performance [1].

One of the most striking examples of how a once effective policy can become inadequate under changing conditions is the Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) strategy adopted by many developing countries from the 1950's onwards. Although initially it did achieve significant results in developing industrial capacity, infrastructure, skills and managerial competence, by the early eighties to persist in these policies became counterproductive. A basic necessity for the development of new strategies, however, is an understanding of the processes of technical, organizational and institutional change which, though starting in the North, are transforming the entire world economy, North, South, East and West. This paper, therefore, will examine the way in which technical and organizational innovations have changed the context for development strategies and consequently for any complementary actions in terms of cooperation between countries. It will attempt to indicate some of the new opportunities and constraints confronting the developing countries in the 1990's.

The first section looks at intangible investment. The new development strategies will need to increasingly stress knowledge accumulation, in contrast with traditional development strategies which were heavily oriented towards fixed capital accumulation. Among the most important components of intangible investment are education and training, scientific and technical services and technology infrastructure. These are discussed in Sections 3 and 4. However the appropriate scale and direction of these types of intangible investment must be carefully considered to increase their effectiveness. For this reason Section 2 analyzes the organizational changes which are needed at the enterprise level for developing countries to succeed in the new competition. This analysis shows that even though the initial intangible investment in reorganization may be quite modest, it is an essential pre-condition for the success of the other tangible and intangible investments which may follow. Moreover the pattern of organizational change which is required, with its strong emphasis on flexibility, initiative at all levels and multi-skilling has rather strong implications for the human resource strategies discussed in Section 3 and the technology strategies which are the subject of Section 4.

Successful development strategies in the 1990's and the early decades of the 21st Century will however depend not only on these kinds of tangible and intangible investment but also on appropriate specialization within the international economy. Such specialization must clearly vary a great deal with size of the economy, level of development, human resources, factor costs and of course the endowment of each country in natural resources.

In the past developing countries have been wary of excessive dependence on primary commodity export specialization because of the extreme vulnerability to price fluctuations and to shifts in the patterns of demand. However the new technologies and the new organizational principles are revitalizing and upgrading all branches of the economy, including the primary sector. The resource endowment of each country and the experience accumulated in their exploitation can be a great source of competitive strength provided they are used as a platform for a whole constellation of new developments. The historical examples of Sweden and Finland show that export strength in primary commodities can be the starting point for strengthening many related branches of manufacturing and services which are mutually reinforcing and provide greater security and breadth of development. The question of achieving appropriate strategic specialization and market targets in the new forms of global competition are the subject of Section 5.

Whatever the specialization, collaboration with partners in other countries has become an imperative. The importance of global networking for education and technology already emerges in Sections 3 and 4 but Section 5 explores some aspects of global networking in production and marketing. A wide variety of possible forms of international collaboration is opening up, most of which depend on the initiative and flexibility of the relevant enterprises. There are of course many barriers and great difficulties confronting firms in developing countries, not the least of which is the heritage of established and now obsolete attitudes, customs and institutions. The final section sums up the constructive new approaches which can help developing countries to overcome this dead weight from the past and to embark on a new forward trajectory. Some of the emerging possibilities for South-South cooperation are considered in this overall context.


[1] Elsewhere we have suggested that these technological, organizational and institutional changes can be seen as interrelated and constituting a favorable opportunity for a leap in development. See PEREZ, C., (1989); as well as FREEMAN, C. and PEREZ, C., (1988)



Published 2002

'...the book fills an important gap in the literature on business cycles and innovations. I most strongly commend it to all those attempting to understand the past and future evolution of technology and the economy.'

Christopher Freeman, Emeritus Professor, SPRU,
University of Sussex, UK

'...Carlota Perez shows us that historically technological revolutions arrive with remarkable regularity, and that economies react to them in predictable phases. Her argument provides much needed perspective not just on history, but on our own times. And especially on our own information revolution.'

W. Brian Arthur, Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico

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Technological Revolutions Financial bubbles Installation Period Frenzy Deployment Period Golden Ages Dual strategy Techno‑economic paradigms Neo‑Schumpeterian Respecialization Synergy Turning Point Future markets Knowledge society Green growth Maturity Full global development Globalization Sustainability Socio‑economic development Paradigm shifts Irruption Market hyper‑segmentation