Generation Collaboration

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 01-15-2007

In the world of Web 2.0, companies need to rethink how they foster collaboration among employees, vendors—even customers. That's the message of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Portfolio, January 2007), co-authored by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, the chief executive and a research director, respectively, at Toronto-based think tank New Paradigm. Based on a $4 million study that analyzed how new technologies affect business dynamics, Wikinomics explains how companies can take advantage of blogs, wikis and other social-networking tools to promote greater collaboration and faster innovation. An excerpt from the book follows.

Today humans engage in an elaborate pattern of task sharing that is well beyond individual comprehension. Most of us obtain a substantial share of our sustenance from strangers—people to whom we are not related by blood or marriage. Our systems of production, trade, and finance are truly global, operating with real-time information and harnessing resources from around the globe. We can exploit the capabilities of large numbers of specialized producers who come together to cooperate on projects while separated by time and space. And we have accumulated a staggering body of knowledge given the relatively short time span in which we have devoted significant resources to thinking.

Now, having largely mastered the productive challenges of our physical environment, we find ourselves confronting the opportunities of the cerebral environment, an increasingly virtual world of knowledge, media, and entertainment; a world girdled by information involving billions of connected individuals; a world where anyone can plug-and-play and where collaboration between diverse entities is the modus operandi of the day. We call it the world of "wikinomics"—in which the perfect storm of technology, demographics, and global economics is an unrelenting force for change and innovation.

For half a century there have been successive theories and attempts to free the creativity of human capital. Most of these management theories were predicated on the view that computers could change the ways organizations work. In 1962, Douglas Engelbart wrote an extraordinary paper entitled, "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework," where he explained how electronic workstations could augment the thinking and communications abilities of what he called "knowledge workers." The theme of teamwork was big in the eighties, and empowerment and networking were big in the nineties. But what has really changed?

The record shows that corporations have become networked in the sense that they build business webs with partners on a platform of information technology. While this is a huge development, fundamental changes in the internal structure and management or organizations have been elusive. However, the new business environment, the Net Generation, and the rise of the new Web are finally beginning to change all this. Competitive pressures are making organizations leaner and more agile, more focused on the customer, and more attuned to dynamic competitive strategies. This means firms are less hierarchical in structure and decision-making authority than they used to be. At the same time, the nature of work itself is changing. A younger generation of workers is embracing new Web-based tools in a way that often confounds older generations but promises real advantages for companies that adapt their style of working. Tools such as blogs, wikis, chat rooms, peer-to-peer networks, and personal broadcasting are putting unprecedented power in the hands of individual workers to communicate and collaborate more productively. This in turn is driving a new revolution in workplace collaboration of a qualitatively different nature.

Reprinted from Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, 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, 2006.