Technology, in all its many forms and facets has been Don Tapscott’s life’s work. Once identified by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore as “a world leading cyber guru,” he’s spent the last 30 years as author, teacher, researcher and management consultant envisioning the technological convergence of computing, communications and content.
Tapscott, who brought the term “paradigm shift” into the vernacular in 1991 with his landmark book published under the same name, says that we are in the midst of another paradigm shift with profound changes taking place in the deep architecture and modus operandi of just about every institution in society.
From the corporation and the way we orchestrate capabilities to innovate, to our in-flux financial system, to a collapsing media industry, to outdated university structures, health care systems and energy grids, “the viability of how we’re placed on this planet is now being called into question,” he says. “We have 40 years to reindustrialize the Earth.”
Yet a doomsayer Tapcott is not. He’s just lived and studied too many paradigm shifts to say otherwise.
Tapscott began his career in 1977 arriving in Toronto fresh from receiving his master’s degree in research methodology. He landed a “dream job” position as manager of the Future Group at Bell Northern Research and spent three months traveling the world with an unlimited budget talking to everyone who knew anything about computers and how they might change the world. He wound up at the doorstep of Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute.
Described by Tapscott as the “father of just about everything digital,” Englebart wrote a landmark paper in 1962 called “Augmenting Human Intellect,” which outlined a conceptual framework for how technology, especially computers, would provide answers to dealing with an ever more complex modern world.
“Englebart was remarkable. He dedicated his life to the pursuit of developing technologies that would expand our intellectual capacity. He wrote about things that we’re only now starting to realize. I came back from that meeting with the view that computers would ultimately change every institution in society,” says Tapscott.
After three years at Bell Northern, Tapscott left to pursue other interests. He founded and sold a few successful companies and wrote 13 books, including the best sellers Paradigm Shift, The Digital Economy, Growing Up Digital, The Naked Corporation, Wikinomics and most recently, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World.
His latest book, to be published September 28, and once again co-authored by Anthony D. Williams, is MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World. The book picks up where Wikinomics ended. “The same forces that are causing corporations to change are now forcing other institutions to do the same. It’s not just wikinomics; it’s a wikiworld,” Tapscott observes.
Tapscott says many of the ideas he’s been advancing over the years were ideas in waiting; waiting for a new Web, waiting for a new generation of young people for whom the use of technology is second nature — like the air we breath. “We have a new medium of social technologies that are enabling us to do everything differently and better. It’s more than just communication — it’s self-organization and this is leading to profound changes.”
But there’s something else. Tapscott says he’s convinced this recessionary period will not end with a return to the same old way of doing things. Systems eventually fail because “they’ve taken us to a certain point in history and can go no further.”
“There’s been a convulsive shock to the system that’s creating this burning platform in all of our institutions,” he says. “This is it. This is happening now.”
Despite the realities of the situation, Tapscott is incredibly hopeful about the opportunities that lay ahead and MacroWikinomics is a reflection of the growing appreciation that conventional wisdom isn’t going to cut it for success in this century. Instead, mass collaboration — in all its varied forms and functions — is beginning to revolutionize not only the way we work, but how we live, learn, create and care for each other.
The book profiles prolific innovators such as an Iraq veteran whose start-up car company is “staffed” by over 45,000 competing designers and supplied by microfactories around the country; a “micro-lending” community where 570,000 individuals help fund new ventures — from Azerbaijan to Ukraine; and an online community for people with life-altering diseases that’s also a large-scale research project.
“In this new age of networked intelligence,” says Tapscott, “businesses and communities are bypassing crumbling institutions and altering everything from the way our financial institutions and governments operate to how we educate our children to how the health care, newspaper and energy industries serve their customers.”
“This is a punctuation point in human history and with this book, my life’s work has come together around it.”
Visit Don's website: www.ngenera.com
Follow him on Twitter: (@dtapscott