Who Is Leading WikiRevolutions?

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Interview with Don Tapscott


There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come is a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that Don often uses in his talks. And the time has come! The world is changing – and we can watch it change! Now that the internet has slashed the costs of collaboration, companies, governments and people can very easyly and instantly connect and start something very powerful. We truly enter a networked world with game changing principles. Don is saying that no matter if the changing system is a nation, a government, a company or a university, the five organizing principles of collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependency and integrity are still the same …


Don Tapscott
… is one of the world’s leading authorities on business strategy and innovation. He is the chairman of Moxie Insight and was founder and chairman of the international think tank New Paradigm before its acquisition by Moxie Insight. He is a fellow of the World Economic Forum and Adjunct Professor of Management at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Don is the author of 14 widely-read books including 2010’s Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (co-authored by Anthony Williams).


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we_magazine:
Don, let’s start with our WE-question. How has your understanding of WE changed since the rise of the Internet?

Don Tapscott: You may remember 2006 when Time Magazine published the Person of the Year and it was “YOU”. Back then it was all about user-generated content – content produced by “YOU”. Today they should make it ’WE’ or ’US’ because it’s no longer about users generating content, it’s about users collaborating. But more than that, it’s about creating some kind of collective intelligence. Together we can perhaps even create some kind of consciousness that transcends individual human beings.
You see, in MacroWikinomics we’re talking about the five organizing principles: collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependency and integrity. You can see these principles being brought to bear on all kinds of different institutions. And even on nations, as we are seeing right now in the Middle East. We have seen the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments and we don’t know what’s next. You see people now collaborating together in a massive way, with enormous power including the power to bring down autocratic governments! So the ’WE’ in these cases has become pretty big and powerful.

we_magazine:
In your talk at lift11 you mentioned that in Egypt and Tunisia there were no leaders anymore leading this revolution …

Don Tapscott: Yes!

we_magazine:
You call it a ’WikiRevolution’…

Don Tapscott:

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Well, it is a ’WikiRevolution’. It’s my term for a peer-produced revolt enabled by social media and lacking a traditional vanguard. In a ’WikiRevolution’ there are leaders but they change constantly depending on the situation.

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You do know the MacroWikinomics video I put online: the murmuration of starlings. In it I ask whether companies, institu-tions and governments can adapt to starlings’ behaviour and learn from their ability to manoeuvre “in a common sense” as the flock turns and dives through the air. I think this can be done.
What we saw in Tunisia and Egypt and may see in more Middle Eastern countries, – wasn’t possible until only recently.
Today with the Web it is possible and we have these ’WikiRevolutions’! What the Web does is it radically drops the transaction and collaboration costs of dissent and rebellion so that large numbers of people can come together as peers and do something extraordinary – including bring down a government.

we_magazine:
But what does this mean for leadership? One of the biggest problems we are facing in Tunisia, and probably in Egypt as well, is that there is some kind of power vacuum, a lack of opposition, “absence” of leadership – there is neither a leader in the revolution nor any organized structures, any kind of “so-called” opposition, who can take-over. How can leadership evolve? Is it indeed still needed?

Don Tapscott: It’s an extraordinary problem! Indeed there is this huge vacuum and with that comes risk. The vacuum can be filled by the old regime coming back in. It can be filled by extremist elements like Islamists who can come in and destroy secular society and democracy and take us back centuries. It’s a quite astonishing problem. To me it means that the West has a big responsibility to make sure that there is a rule of law to encourage the creation of some kind of interim government. It’s also important not to have elections right away so as to give time for new groups and parties to get organized and have a real chance of winning. We’ve seen this partially – even though the West was hesitating to get heavily involved – when President Obama in fact contacted Mubarak and said, “Look, you’ve got to move along, you’ve got to do this in an orderly way or really bad things can happen.” Of course Obama was right about that.
It’s a nice change and also a challenge for US foreign policy …

we_magazine:
It would be a nice change, yes indeed. Leadership in a networked world, what does it look like? Are we going to lose all kinds of hierarchy? What is the picture you see Don?

Don Tapscott: That’s really an interesting question. One of the new ministers of the Tunisian government – whom I talked to in Davos – foresees that this horizontal revolution will lead to a much more horizontal government. That’s the term he used. Now he didn’t really explain what that means, but it’s a pretty juicy proposition. We’ve talked about this in MacroWikinomics and termed it government as a platform. Government as a network as opposed to an old industrial-age bureaucracy …

we_magazine:
But isn’t that different from a platform?

Don Tapscott: Well they’re both. A platform is an instance of a network. We talk about network governments whereby we network all kinds of capability in society to create public value. One of the ways a network government can do that is by creating a platform where others can self- organize, and you create a platform by just creating raw data.
Governments provide data that enable individual, civil society organizations, private companies and other governments to create their own networks to do something. To solve a problem in society, to deliver a service, rather than governments doing this by themselves as they did  in the past.

we_magazine:
Where do collaboration and leadership meet?

Don Tapscott: The concept of leadership has changed fundamentally!
The downfall of the Tunisian government was brought about by a new kind of leadership, a collaborative, collective leadership. There was no great orator, no great visionary selling a vision. There were neither command and control lines nor an executive responsible for orchestrating all this capability. It just happened. And it happened almost overnight! We saw a new kind of leader. Leaders who work together in networks, who understand that their own interests are consistent with the interests of the many. We still need people who stand up and inspire or motivate. We need super smart people who provide leadership in a more traditional sense, but increasingly they’ll lead through the people, not over the people.

we_magazine:
How does ’transparency’ fit in with this concept?

Don Tapscott: Well, transparency is one of the principles of these new network models of everything. We need to build transparency into every institution whether it’s the financial system or governments. Whether it’s a model of science or education and so on. Transparency is a good thing – sunlight is the best disinfectant! Also transparency drops transaction costs, so you get better innovation, you get lower costs, you get things happening more quickly when you bake transparency into the DNA of any entity.

we_magazine:
How do you bake transparency into a company’s DNA?

Don Tapscott: For starters the CEO needs to drive this. A CEO sets the corporate culture by their own behaviour whether they intend to or not. Companies need to default to transparency rather than opacity and to do this they need what I call a “transparency strategy.” They need to think through what information they can provide to customers, shareholders, employees and business partners and why that would be of benefit. My book The Naked Corporation, written with David Ticoll almost a decade ago shows how.

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