OpenEd – week 9

Wikinomics, written by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams points to a number of surprising business stories that nobody would have foreseen before 2000.

It is, in some way, on the optimistic side with respect to Thomas Friedman’s The world is flat. For instance, T&A argue that Friedman sees free software but not the multibillion-dollar ecosystem that surrounds open source. T&A’s book is enthralling but, admittedly, it may give a somewhat optimistically biased idea to many. I must say to propend for T&W vision instead of Friedmans one.

The key suggested by T&A to understand these phenomena consists in how mass collaboration may produce a vibrant business ecosystem where conventional business rules are broken apart. The authors talk in terms of a new economy where totally new organizational structures can co-create value with millions of autonomous producers to challenge traditional business designs.

Several examples in quite different context are given, so that the scope is quite large. The stories are definitely relevant and, probably, they represents the most innovative and huge success stories in the last 10 years.

Actually, we must say that each story , in its own field, represents the exception instead of the rule, even if absolutely an outstanding one.

T&W say that all these stories have four basic attributes in common, four attributes that are in sharp contrast with common enterprise wisdom:

  • Being open

  • Peering

  • Sharing

  • Acting globally

Adoption of these rules lends the leadership to give up some control and to be more confident in spontaneous phenomena that are driven by personal interest of very large masses, very often not an economic interest.

When talking about the strategy of Robert Stephens, leader of Geek Squad, 12000 employees expert in solving problems with electronic gadgetry, $1 billion in services per year, T&W tell:

When it comes to orchestrating employee collaboration, Stephens has a new rule: First observe and then implement. “I’m deathly afraid of waisting time and energy trying to get people to do something they don’t want to do.”

Tim Bray at Sun Microsystems tells us that

The technologies that come along and change the world are the simple, unplanned ones that emerge from the grassroots rather then the ones that out of the corner offices of the corporate strategists,” When talking about the new workplace, T&W say

The bottom line is that the workplace is becoming a self-organizing entity where centralized and tightly controlled processes are increasingly giving way to more spontaneous and decentralized forms and mass collaboration.

And, finally, IBM strategist Joel Cawley cautions

Keep in mind that there was no strategy to do what we did with open source. It was happenstance all the way through the journey. We started doing what made sense, and kept on doing that each step of the way.”

Whereas T&W indicate openness, peering, sharing and global action as the common denominator of the different stories, I like to see the matter in a somewhat broader perspective.

According to second law of thermodynamics, with time the Universe tends to be structure-less

but

when somewhere a sufficiently large number of interconnectable entities happen to be in touch, after a sufficient time lapse, something new may appear

  • bacteria from a soup of molecules -> life

  • humans from a living ecosystem -> humanity

  • thoughts from a multitude of neurons -> mind

  • shared thoughts from a loosely connected multitude of humans -> social aggregation, business, culture as we have known before 2000

  • shared thoughts from a tightly connected multitude of humans -> social aggregation 2.0, business 2.0, culture 2.0 ?

In all these cases, if one waits for a sufficient time, something completely new will arise. It is the wonder of complexity. Or a miracle if you like, anyway, it is a fact: it just happens.

In all these cases it is useless to force or to control the processes; it is not possible to control such complex environments. The savvy can hope to make a minimal set of actions to maintain the health of the environment, in some way as the ancient peasant took care of the soil to let good grass grow.

The new brave 2.0 managers described in Wikinomics stories behaved in that way. The question is: will this become common wisdom?

And what about education? Is it worthwhile to work hard to devise some clever business model to foster open education or should we just wait for the next 2.0 wiki-similar tool?

As a last point, it is worthwhile to mention the way the book was written. According to T&W’s description of Wiki workplace in a number of different context, the book itself was written by means of a wiki, Don Tapscott being in Toronto and Anthony Williams in London. They also used the wiki features to let others contribute.

The final chapter, N.11, The wikinomics playbook, has only fifteen words: “Join us in peer producing the definitive guide to twenty-first-century strategy on www.wikinomics,com”.

Actually, anyone may contribute. Quite a number of new chapters are available. In particular Beyond the classroom is pertinent to the topic of this course. As far as this specific chapter is concerned, while I share the points were the relevant role wiki could play in many aspects of education, I’m a bit perplexed with the final statement

… we have been interested in developing some classroom ‘work books’. These would not be full texts, but supplemental modules – physics, chemistry, math, computer science, history, literature and even religion and law. If someone would like to tackle a project like that with us, we would be very open to sharing IP/Revenues. We are especially interested in the high-school markets and home school demographics. Anyone want to form a team?

where it turns out that the author of the article is the president of a company. There is nothing wrong in this but it leads us on the business model issue, again. Frankly, I think that truly relevant open education realities will appear only thanks to some mass collaboration phenomenon.

One thought on “OpenEd – week 9

  1. Elisa - ITALY ha detto:

    Nobody can easily foresee the future, but some people (e.g. at the workshop “Apprendere, socializzare, conoscere con le tecnologie: libri e scenari per il futuro” – Firenze, Milano, Roma, 30 marzo 2007 organized by the SIe-L: Italian e-Learning Society) are already talking of a new form of the WWW, the Web 3.0, also called web of trust, that springs from mass collaboration and new forms of knowledge management.

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