ATLANTA – I recently attended a presentation by Don Tapscott, author of the best selling book “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything“. Tapscott explained how businesses can tap the potential of the emerging networked economy and its self-organized, mass-participatory communities. A digest of some of the more interesting insights I heard from Tapscott, along with my own observations:
The corporation as an institution chosen to create goods and services is going through massive change.
At the same time, the knowledge, resources and computational power of billions of people are self-organizing into a massive collective force. The Internet is becoming the first global platform for collaboration in history, interconnected and orchestrated through blogs, wikis, chat rooms, peer-to-peer networks and personal broadcasting.
Businesses that know how to tap into this self-organizing ecosystem of partners will co-create and peer-produce value for customers in ways that companies relying on internal capabilities and tightly-coupled partnerships will not be able to match.
A fundamental change in technology: the old web was accessed via the PC. The new web is accessed via smart communication devices.
The next generation is driving change. Kids today have no fear of technology because it is like the air – it is just there. The population isn’t merely aging as many people think, it is bifurcating: getting older (the baby boom generation) and getting younger (the baby boom echo). In fact, the echo (80 million strong) is larger than the boom, and these kids are going to dominate the twenty first century. Their defining characteristic: they are the first generation to grow up online.
For the echo generation, time spent online is taken away from time spent watching TV. The echo generation comes home from school and turns on the computer and multi-tasks. They watch TV differently – it is passive and in the background. Most important, they process information differently during a key developmental stage for their brains, and this affects synapses.
Tapscott says that when he was a child, he was “an expert on model trains”; kids today are experts in every institution! Unlike previous decades known for their “generation gap”, today there is a “generation lap”. For the first time in recent history, kids and their parents listen to the same music on their iPods, with overlapping musical taste. Having said that, kids are lapping their parents in everything digital.
Looking at the audience of mostly boomers hearing Tapscott’s presentation, I couldn’t help but think that they are indeed being lapped. And worse, they don’t know what they don’t know. Are YOU part of the boomer generation and are you being lapped? How will YOU keep up? My prescription: experiment with new ways of communicating and collaborating. Start a blog. Try out Twitter or Facebook. As I often say in my keynote speeches: “Change means the time to innovate is now.”
A young panel participant once told Tapscott: “E-mail is yesterday’s technology. Today’s generation communicates by text message, IM and Facebook. A good use of e-mail? “Sending a thank you to your friend’s parents,” she said. Interestingly, even I am using text messaging and Twitter much more, often replacing e-mail with those a text or Tweet. I recently guest lectured at Kennesaw State University and asked them what they thought about the trend. That group, born in the late 1980’s, said Tapscott’s young panel participant is not representative of their generation. Sure, they use text messaging and Facebook (some of them multi-tasking during my lecture!). But they all use e-mail regularly.
The Internet is a platform for collaboration, and Tapscott banned the word “websites” in his company. “None of you should have websites,” Tapscott said. “You should have communities.” That’s an interesting concept. When I was building the online sports network Rivals.com in 1999, the secret of our success was we didn’t just create team sport websites, we created communities of fans around topics. I found most traditional journalists who grew up in the world of print struggled with creating and growing online communities, while people who had immersed themselves in online discussions were naturals with online communities.
All this affects how we innovate and invent new products. It used to be that we all worked for companies because the transaction costs for finding the right information, coordination and collaboration were higher outside the company than inside the corporation. All that has changed with mass collaboration on the Internet – and companies need to act as peers instead of superiors. Mass collaboration requires: peering, being open, sharing some of your intellectual property and acting globally.
We’re in the age of the wiki workplace and we need to transform how we do technology inside the corporation. “If you have people wasting time on Facebook, is that a technology problem?” What a great opportunity to figure out how to use social networking in the workplace. Unleash the power of human capital locked into old constraints.
Tapscott says everyone in a company should have a blog. Believe and trust in your people. In three years, his company hasn’t had any problems with that approach. I compare that with CNN, which reportedly recently fired producer Chez Pazienza for blogging. CNN’s policy as described in published reports: employees may not write anything that appears elsewhere, without first having it reviewed through CNN’s “Standards & Practices Department”. This centralized command and control management is in stark contrast to the Tapscott’s recommendations.
One of my favorite comments from Tapscott: at his company, they don’t have management meetings, instead the run the business via a wiki. With everyone traveling and based in different locations and time zones, this works well for them. Think about your own company: do you run the company via centralized management meetings? Could you experiment with replacing the meetings with an online wiki? I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried this, how did it work out for you?
Tapscott concluded by saying that there is a crisis of leadership. “Welcome the future, for soon it shall be the past.”
What are YOUR thoughts about Don Tapscott and Wikinomics? Post your thoughts in the comment section.