Companies & Industries

Book Excerpt: Macrowikinomics (Part 1)


In an edited excerpt from their new book, Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams make the case for "rebooting the world"

…These industrial age institutions brought us mass production of goods, mass media like newspapers, radio, and television, mass education and learning for everyone, mass marketing and mass democracy and government in which elected officials produced and distributed laws and services. As a mode of production the industrial economy was infinitely superior to what came before it (the agrarian craft society), dramatically advancing wealth, prosperity, and the standard of living for many. But this was a centralized, one-way, one-size-fits-all mass model controlled by the powerful owners of production and society.

Now because of the new Web the old industrial models are all being turned on their heads. There is now a new engine of innovation and wealth creation and a powerful new force that radically drops collaboration costs and as such enables communities to collaborate on shared concerns, endeavors, and challenges. Greater openness in innovation and science, for example, is creating more economic opportunity for citizens and businesses that learn how to tap into global innovation webs.

In the fight against climate change, ordinary people are forging a mass movement to bring greater consumer awareness and a sense of community to making ordinary household and business decisions that can reduce our carbon footprints. In education, leading universities are breaking down their ivory towers and building a global network for higher learning—a rich tapestry of world-class educational resources that every aspiring student on the planet can use and return to throughout his or her lifetime. Innovators across the public sector are harnessing the Web to generate more productive and equitable services, bolster public trust and legitimacy, and unlock new possibilities to co-innovate solutions to local, national, and global challenges. Put it all together and it becomes increasingly clear that we can rethink and rebuild many industries and sectors of society on a profoundly new, open, networked model. Indeed, for the first time in history, people everywhere can participate fully in achieving this new future.

In our previous book, Wikinomics (Portfolio 2006), we called this new force "mass collaboration" and argued that it was reaching a tipping point where social networking was becoming a new mode of social production that would forever change the way products and services are designed, manufactured, and marketed on a global basis. But, in the four years since penning the idea, it's clear that wikinomics has gone beyond a business or a technology trend to become a more encompassing societal shift. It's a bit like going from micro- to macroeconomics. In which case, wikinomics, defined as the art and science of mass collaboration in business, becomes macrowikinomics:the application of wikinomics and its core principles to society and all of it institutions. Just as millions have contributed to Wikipedia—and thousands still make ongoing contributions to large-scale collaborations like Linux and the human genome project—there is now a historic opportunity to marshal human skill, ingenuity, and intelligence on a mass scale to reevaluate and reposition many of our institutions for the coming decades and for future generations. After all, the potential for new models of collaboration does not end with the production of software, media, entertainment, and culture. Why not open-source government, education, science, the production of energy, and even health care? As we will discover in later chapters, these are not idle fantasies, but real opportunities that the new world of macrowikinomics makes possible.

…[M]any of our institutions are stalled, lacking vitality, leadership, and dynamism. It's like every last ounce of oxygen has been squeezed out, leaving a mess of deflated expectations and chronically underutilized resources. This apparent paralysis, in turn, begs some pretty fundamental questions: if the knowledge, leadership, and capability required to solve the really tough problems can't be found in the corporate headquarters and national capitals around the globe, will it be found at all? And if so, where will the new insights and leadership come from? Indeed, if our problems are not solvable by fine-tuning existing institutions, what new models and structures should replace them? Are you, wearing your various hats as an employee, manager, learner, teacher, entrepreneur, voter, consumer, community member, or citizen of the world, prepared to take on a larger role in reinventing our beleaguered institutions? What must be done to reboot business and the world and how can you participate?

These are just some of the tough questions we tackle in this book…. As citizens, and as leaders within our organizations, we need to look beyond the borders of nations and think about society in broad, global terms. If our problems are global in scale, then we need to come together as global citizens to solve them. A system erected around the primacy of national and corporate self-interests just isn't going to cut it for this century.

The good news is that while many institutions are in various stages of decline, for each we can now see the clear contours of fresh thinking, new approaches, and rebirth. To be sure, collaborative innovation can have downsides—including tough adjustments for industries whose business models were based on scarcities that no longer exist.…

The growing prominence of collaborative endeavors also raises a number of tough questions about the roles and responsibilities of different actors in society. Can we really rely on the self-organized masses to deliver criticalvservices such as compiling life-and-death information in a crisis? What happens if the funding dries up or people lose interest and move on to something else? Who will take responsibility if something goes wrong, or claim success when things go right? And who's ultimately accountable when everyone is on everyone else's turf?

In the old paradigm, there were clear roles and responsibilities. In the new world of wikinomics, the lines between sectors and institutions are blurring. Nonprofits increasingly act like entrepreneurial start-ups. Businesses are taking on some of the functions of government. Governments are caught in a network of powers and counterinfluences of which they are just a part. And though most people recognize that problems get solved more quickly when governments, businesses, nonprofits, and citizens work together, there is still a dearth of understanding about how to make partnerships across sectors work at the pace of wikinomics. These are just some of the genuine concerns that we will return to throughout the book.

Excerpted from Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams by arrangement with Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, 2010.


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