The New Economics of Collaboration

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. New York: Penguin Books 2008. 351 pp.

I beg your pardon, reader, but I need to start by asking you a question that is also the last sentence of the book: “Is your mind wired for Wikinomics”? I hope it doesn’t affect your reading experience. Wait. I do have to explain what Wikinomics is first. To the authors, Wikinomics is an art and science based on four ideas: openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally. They believe that if you, an individual or company, apply these concepts in your business, you cause innovation and collaboration, amplifying your chances to succeed in the market. Before you organize your thoughts and answer my question, I will try to answer it myself by showing you some pictures:

Most of these networks are examples of the Wikinomics concept in the book, so unpretentiously I would say: “Yes, of course my mind is wired for Wikinomics. Do you not see it?” However, thinking critically – I believe that being part of Wikinomics is not the same thing as “doing Wikinomics”. From the individual’s perspective, I believe the book lacks some explanations regarding how to make a profitable business using this art. On the other hand, it gives vivid and detailed examples of companies that are lucratively adopting Wikinomics, and it shows the full potential of a generation that is growing up digital.

The authors present limited ways for individuals to profit from Wikinomics. In chapter four, the authors explore the concept of ideagoras, i.e., global marketplaces that find uniquely qualified minds. To exemplify it they discuss InnoCentive’s purpose, which is to make industrial and business problems available to allow the global scientific community to solve them. Tapscott and Williams affirm that researchers from all over the world can use their skills to help these businesses and perhaps be financially compensated. Nonetheless, they do not consider that researchers need to have a complete infra-structure to work on complex research. You may argue that researchers can use universities’ labs to do their work, but if they are not rewarded by the company who purposed the problem, it is unfeasible for a university to donate, for example, expensive chemical substances to help one individual to build reputation or to be recognized for his or her capabilities.

Another example of individuals profiting from Wikinomics is in chapter seven, where the authors recount Paul Rademacher’s case. Rademacher was a developer who built his business on Google open platform, and was later hired by them. I think that his example is too restricted to suggest that others can also monetize good ideas utilizing tools for collaboration. How many people have ideas and how many angel investors are out there? Tapscott and Williams also don’t clarify that people need to have management knowledge or software background to successfully run a business based on the Internet’s democratizing tools. While I was reading the book, I also felt that I urgently had to have my own business and use the benefits and great opportunities that the Internet offers, especially when the authors used strong statements such as “a world where only the connected will survive” (pp. 12), “If you expect to be around in the next decade your organization will need to find ways to join and lead prosumer communities” (pp. 49) or “effectively, it’s globalize or die” (pp. 61). However, gaining visibility and running a business is more complex than peering, sharing, and so on.

On the positive side, Taspcott and Williams give examples of winning companies that use new models of production based on communities and collaboration. Proctor and Gamble is one of the companies utilizing InnoCentive to expand opportunities and increase its R&D capacity. Another example is Merck Pharmaceutical, which is working in a partnership with Washington University School of Medicine and creating a public database of gene sequences. I think the book is especially relevant to managers who want better understand how private companies are adapting to an approach of openness and using different strategies for creation. Business leaders can benefit from the details and evidence of the success of distinct industries that are using Wikinomics.

Another well-formulated insight is about the net generation. The net generation is the group of young people who is growing up immersed in the digital age. I think Tapscott and Williams are correct in arguing that growing-up digital changes a cultural orientation. People will compare and contrast different sources of information, they will be willing to share and to participate in diverse communities, they will want to act globally in the workplace. They will be open-minded and hunt for innovation and interaction everywhere. One point that was not clear concerns what I call “half-way net generation”. The authors argue that people born between 1977 and 1996 are part of the net-generation. However, I think a change of mentality, mainly in the work environment, doesn’t happen so easily if a person has already worked in a conventional workplace. I believe Tapscott and Williams are right only when refer to a generation who literally used its first computer connected to Internet when they were four to six-years-old.

Going back to my first inquiry, I would respond “My mind is partially wired for Wikinomics”. If I happen to be a business manager some day, I will be aware of many successful actions of companies who invested in openness, sharing, peering, and acting globally. Then I will definitely try to use this knowledge to profit and to find solutions to my company’s problems. However, if I remain a user, I will keep updating my Flickr, my Facebook, and the entire set I showed in the introduction. I will use Skype if the quality doesn’t decrease with its super-access. If I truly believe in my potential as a wiki-consumer-producer I may first pursue a business or computer science degree. Did this help you to decide if your mind is wired for Wikinomics? Leave a comment.

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