Book author Don Tapscott says corporate inertia prevents mass collaboration

Don't focus on protecting intellectual property or you'll end up like the record industry, he warns

In 2006, author and technology think-tank head Don Tapscott teamed up with Anthony D. Williams to write Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Penguin Group), a book about the Web 2.0 economy that is still among the top-selling titles on in categories such as telecommunications, the Internet and communication skills. Now Tapscott and Williams have written two new chapters that offer business executives tips on how to embark upon mass collaboration efforts; the additions are included in a new version of the book that was released last Thursday. Tapscott, who is CEO of Canada-based New Paradigm, spoke recently about the challenges of executing upon mass collaboration strategies in the corporate world.

How did you come up with the title Wikinomics? Was that itself an example of mass collaboration?

The subtitles were; the title came out of a brainstorm [session] at New Paradigm. It occurred to me that a wiki wasn't just a piece of software but had become a metaphor for new collaboration that could occur on a phenomenal scale.

In the beginning of the book, you cite an example of how Goldcorp used an open-source-type model to invite geologists and others to help it identify possible locations to mine for gold on its properties in Canada. But for other organizations, what are the common roadblocks they encounter or create for themselves that prevent them from embarking on similar initiatives?

The big one is that we fear what we don't know and understand. For any senior executive to decide to move forward on this, personal use is a precondition. So unless a senior executive decided to edit a Wikipedia page, or has spent time on Facebook with their kid, or has tagged a photo on Flickr, they have no idea why this new Web is different than the Web of the dot-com era. People still think the Internet is about Web sites and stickiness and clicks and page views. But that was the old Internet of 12 years ago. We banned the term "Web sites" [within New Paradigm]; now we have communities.

The other thing is that many people mistakenly believe this is about social networking and hooking up online, or creating a gardening community, or putting a video on YouTube. But all of that is so 2006. This is a new mode of production. There's a profound change in the ways that we orchestrate capabilities to create goods and services and to innovate. I don't think it's hyperbolic to say it's the biggest change in a century to the corporation.

[But] the principles of wikinomics are kind of counterintuitive. This guy at Goldcorp is my neighbor. The conventional wisdom is to work inside your boundaries. What he "should've done" is fired his head of geology and gotten better talent. But he didn't do that - he wondered who his peers are. And the best submissions [of potential mining sites] didn't come from geologists but from mathematicians and consultants and military officers. And he gave away his intellectual property. That's unheard of. Why would you do that? Well, IBM gave away hundreds of millions of dollars of IP with Linux, and it was one of the best moves made in a decade. The market value of [Goldcorp] went from US$90 million to US$10 billion, and a lot of it came down to trust.

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