This idea is backwards

“Wikinomics” and mass collaboration’s role in creating business innovation brings to mind an episode of the old hit comedy TV show, Seinfeld. It’s the one where self-loathing George turns his life around through the discovery that he needs to do the exact opposite of what his instincts have traditionally told him. So George tells the pretty girl at the restaurant he’s unemployed and lives at home, and gets a date with her.

At a job interview with the New York Yankees, George reveals that he once had sex in the office at a previous job and berates George Steinbrenner for his meddlesome ownership. Naturally, George gets hired for a position with the club. Up is down and black is white, he observes, explaining the dynamics of his new way of thinking. I

n Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, author Don Tapscott hopes to convince business leaders to similarly question their old ideas. The rules of innovation and competitive advantage in the new age of digital social networking and Web-based communities are not the same as those we’ve come to know and trust. In Wikinomics, things work quite differently.

A key guiding principle is to look outside rather than inside your company for strategic direction and great ideas. Rallying Web communities to contribute their thoughts and knowledge is an essential dynamic. Wikinomics is, “the art and science, theory and practice of understanding how to harness collaboration for competitiveness,” says the author.

The book weaves its story through examples of companies that have appealed to the outside cyberworld to leverage innovative breakthroughs and solutions to problems that may have confounded those on the inside.

The first case study in the book details how a mining company grasped fortune from failure by appealing to the world of online communities and individuals for help in determining where on its property should it be drilling for gold. The CEO of Toronto-based Goldcorp Inc. was inspired by the story of Linux where the operating system’s development was achieved through Internet-based collaboration. He launched the online Goldcorp Challenge contest, offering more than half a million dollars for help in determining the best places to look for mineral deposits on its property.

Contestants had access to a file that contained all of the company’s geographic data. The result: approximately 110 targets were identified, half of which had not been previously earmarked by Goldcorp’s own engineers. More than 80 per cent of these sites yielded substantial deposits — a total of more than eight million ounces of gold.

“Companies that have the myopic view that (the only) unique qualified minds who can do everything for their business exist inside the company are making a huge mistake,” Tapscott said during a recent interview. “This is a new paradigm and the future is going to be a bleak one for companies that don’t move to exploit it.”

Harvesting ideas outside corporate walls is a startling contention for many. Old thinking suggests that those who don’t know your business don’t have much to contribute and the knowledge, which exists among the masses, can’t possibly be of much value.

It might also require a leap of faith in the good of people and their ideas. Tapscott, for one, is a believer in the idea that the great collaborative masses include qualified and brilliant minds that simply haven’t had the opportunity to participate. Perhaps they would if they could and the Web and Internet provide the means.

But it is a world of good and evil. What goes on in the Web is a reflection of what’s good and bad in society, Tapscott admits.

“So this approach can be used to help find a cure for AIDS and it can be used to create horrific evil acts by terrorists,” he admits. “My only hope is that there are more good people than bad people in the world and that good will ultimately out.”

Wikinomics challenges business to think differently about their intellectual property, too. Old views suggest companies need to guard their ideas, but in the new emerging economy such thinking may in fact discourage more and better opportunities. Sharing may have much more value than selling. Companies need to open their minds to that potential, Tapscott contends. He was asked whether he might consider sharing his own intellectual property. Would Tapscott, for example, object to the posting his book on the Web and freely giving away his intellectual capital in order to promote and grow the Wikinomics concepts, and position himself as an expert?

“I think it’s a fair enough question,” he says. “First of all, if I could give away my book I would. I have a publisher and I need to have a publisher to print, distribute and promote (the book). We did talk them into letting us release the first three chapters and you can get a PDF of those free on the Web. The publisher also agreed to (let) the last chapter be a wiki that we don’t even own.”

The bottom line is you need to have a well-thought-out strategy in the world of Wikinomics, Tapscott says. You don’t just give away your intellectual property and you don’t do all of your business innovation in the public domain.

Rather, you consider the greater value.

The author expects to do approximately 80 speeches this year and at one time would have vehemently objected to having his presentations videotaped, seeking instead to strictly control any recording and distribution. He certainly would have charged for it. “Now I’d let people video me all the time,” he says. “You can go on the Web and there are all kinds of videos of me giving talks.” It’s an issue of strategy rather than ethics — it’s good promotion and in the long run it helps.

And it’s completely contrary to what his business instincts might have told him not so long ago.

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