The Untapped Competitive Advantage In The Knowledge Economy Is Personal Infrastructure: Here’s Why – And What It Is

By Reva Seth
October 2, 2017

As the World Bank describes it, since the time of Adam Smith, infrastructure has been considered the foundation for both productivity and growth.

Traditionally, infrastructure meant roads, bridges and the other basic physical and organizational structures that literally make up our cities and towns.

The digital, information and telecommunications revolutions expanded the term “infrastructure” to include high-speed internet access and mobile phone penetration – both of which are now considered essential for optimal economic activity and growth.

Government and policy have also become increasingly focused on the skills, training and digital literacy needed to build a prosperous and inclusive economy.

Personal infrastructure is an essential part of this preparation for the global knoweldge economy.

And it’s especially important for the growing number of entrepreneurs, founders and self employed individuals who face a unique set of pressures and are generally forced to do so without additional resources or traditional organizational support.

The term “personal infrastructure” refers to finding scaled up ways to provide the greatest number of people with the tools, insights, habits and regular opportunities to positively foster:

  1. Proactive mental wellness;
  2. Effective personal management;
  3. EQ (emotional intelligence);
  4. Constructive relationship skills; and
  5. Emotional resilience.

Traditionally, the five components of personal infrastructure were considered the responsibility of the individual to foster or neglect as they chose.

However, research increasingly shows that there is a shared business, policy and public case for ensuring that more people are better equipped with these necessary life skills.

In my upcoming third book, The Whole Person Advantage, I make the case that the cities, organizations, companies and countries that most effectively foster the “personal infrastructure” of their people will in turn benefit on every indicator of wealth and wellness – creating what I call, “the whole person prosperity advantage”.

Here’s one example: currently one in five Canadians experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.

Mental illness broadly costs the Canadian economy more than $50 billion (from health care, social services and income support) and Canadian businesses lose $6 billion annually as a result of lost productivity, absenteeism and turnover.

The economic costs of these numbers are significant – as is the broader impact on our country.

The ripple effect that our national mental health crisis is having on our families, workplaces and communities is even more staggering.

In 2012, Statistics Canada found that approximately 11 million Canadians had a family member with a mental health or addiction problem. More than one-third reported that their own lives had been directly and adversely affected by their family members’ mental issues.

The numbers show that it’s a shared crisis that goes beyond the individuals or their families, and scaling access to opportunities and tools that can help foster proactive mental health (a core component of personal infrastructure) would be an evidence-based initiative.

For entrepreneurs and founders, investing in their personal infrastructure is both defensive but also the path to increased successes.

While popular culture glamourizes the start-up journey, the lived daily reality is often defined by burnout, anxiety and high stress as well as a lack formal support.

The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship’s focus on researching how to deliberately train emerging entrepreneurs with better personal infrastructure skills to help them more effectively navigate the roller-coaster of the startup journey is similarly grounded in data on the need for better.

Current research shows that 30 percent of startups fail due to the emotional state of their founders. Similarly, a recent study suggests that depression is more than four times as likely to take root in the lives of entrepreneurs.

A deliberate approach to cultivating the personal infrastructure of entrepreneurs is more than essential preventative care, it’s also the path to more optimal outcomes. Increased EQ for instance, is directly linked to improved entrepreneurship, performance and leadership potential.

In a knowledge economy, where prosperity depends on the ability of more entrepreneurs to successfully innovate and create, providing an increased level of personal infrastructure is a shared positive investment.

Just as paving your own driveway but failing to fix the public road by your house is short-sighted and ineffective – so to with personal infrastructure.

As government and public policies adjust to the dual pulls of a knowledge economy that requires people to have the skills and ability to nimbly learn, innovate and create; and to be able to do so in an economic landscape defined by self-employment, disruptions and workplace precariousness; public infrastructure needs to provide new tools to help people, especially entrepreneurs and innovators, thrive in this rapidly and dramatically changing world.


Reva Seth is a Senior Fellow at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship with over a decade of experience at the intersection of journalism, public policy and strategic communications.

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

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