Video interview: Don Tapscott beyond Wikinomics

Wikinomics became the number one management book for 2007 Don Tapscott's latest book, Grown-up Digital", is now available. Cliff Saran meets up with him to discuss the internet generation.

Tapscott's Wikinomics sent shock waves through businesses on its release. The book questioned the viability of existing business models in the internet era and called on business leaders to adapt or watch their corporations fade as new businesses emerge to take advantage of the new economy of the web.

In Grown-up Digital, he argues that today's youngsters have grown-up with the internet and are better suited to working in the digital age than previous generations. But business and governments are lagging behind. "We need to rebuild all our institutions. The corporation is broken. The financial system is broken. We need to change the basic modus operandi of government. Industrial age bureaucracies have been around a hundred years, and was a good idea because we had systems to prevent corruption. Now we have opportunities to move towards networked models, to create public value and change the nature of democracy."


Tapscott believes the internet enables a new era of democracy where citizens are able to participate and engage. For instance he says, "There are new multi-stakeholder networks around issues like climate change. There are millions of people involved.This is the first time on planet Earth that the world is being mobilised but we are all on the same side. We've been mobilised before around world wars, but soon hundreds of millions of people will be engaged in re-indutrialising the planet to change our energy grid and our transportation systems."

Tapscott believes that a new generation of young adults is emerging that will have a greater impact on society than previous generations. "There's a lot of cynicism about young people and technology. But it has never been harder to get into top schools. IQ scores are going up compared to previous generations." For Grown Up Digital Tapscott undertook a $4m research project to investigate the web generation's impact on society. "We found that the web generation is the smartest generation by all the measures we have. These young adults have very strong values. Youth volunteering around the world is at an all-time high. The number one job choice for Harvard graduates is not to work in an investment back but to work for Teach America. They also elected their first president with Obama. This is a generation we can be very hopeful about because my generation is leaving them with a whole load of really big problems [like climate change]."

However Tapscott concedes that there is a digital divide, which will affect about a third of the web generation. "The bottom third have poor access to technology, but they have many other problems too. In the US, they are coming from single parent families and are in a school system that isn't that great, where teachers last 5.1 years and class size is 40 children." He says the old model of teaching does not support these underprivileged children, who are being excluded from the digital society. He says these kids find traditional teaching methods based on lectures "boring".
















While in the UK, Tapscott has been trying to meet Peter Mandelson, Labour's Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, to question the wisdom of the Digital Economy Bill. "This Bill has some really bad stuff in it that if it gets adopted will affect everybody in the world."

Among the biggest problems he sees concerns file-sharing. He says, "File-sharing should not be a legal issue. The record industry needs to change its business model to embrace the digital age. It's illusory to suggest that by threatening people he can reduce file-sharing by 70%. This is just a dream. It's not going to go down at all."

According to Tapscott, the record industry must embrace a new business model, where music is considered a service rather than a product. He says, "We react in old ways. Take Linux for instance. Rather than embrace it, a lot of companies fought open source software and it hurt them. IBM, however, embraced it and gave away $400m of software and created a platform on which they have built a multi- billion dollar business, saving themselves $1 billion a year on developing their own proprietary operating system and also got to stick it to Microsoft."

Traditional models around protecting intellectual property are not always a good fit with how business works today. "Sometimes it makes sense to share your intellectual property because it enables you to compete better, to innovate better and to orchestrate capabilities better."

Along with being a best-selling book author, Tapscott is also chairman of Engenera Insight, a think tank, which is part of texas software company Engenera. He says, "What we have is basically a software company implementing my ideas." Projects include a collaborative platform, Enterprise Server, that manages social networking like Facebook along with back office functions,

The think tank is also investigating how the web and wikinomics is changing marketing, talent and government.

*Readers of Computer Weekly can order Grown Up Digital (RRP £19.99) at the special discounted price of £15 (including p&p). To order, telephone McGraw-Hill on: 01628 502720 with your credit card details and quote special offer code 'GUDCW9'. The offer ends February 2010.

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