Macrowikinomics Book Review

Posted on November 25, 2010. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Cover of the book, "Macrowikinomics"

Macrowikinomics by Anthony Williams and Don Tapscott

I was drawn to this book mostly through having met one of the authors, Don Tapscott. At a conference a few years ago, he spoke about his first book, Wikinomics. The idea of social media (or Web 2.0) was a brand concept for me at the time.

Macrowikinomics is a big book (432 pages) and the writing is thorough in its treatment of both the underlying wiki principles and examples of how these ideas are applied in the real world. It reads as much like an encyclopedia as a novel, meaning, one could read the first few chapters to get an idea of the general principles and then pick whatever specific subject he or she is familiar in order to hear Macrowikinomics applied to that particular topic.

Five Principles

Don Tapscott and co-author Anthony Williams suggest Wikinomics derives from five general principles: openness, collaboration, integrity, interdependence and sharing.

Openness

If social media has taught us anything, it’s that life takes unpredictable turns at most every opportunity. To close one’s self to the unexpected is to limit our options and relegate ourselves to sub-optimal outcomes. Openness represents the need to remain flexible for considering avenues of exploration and previously unavailable solutions.

Collaboration

As the lead for innovation training at a large multi-national corporation, I learned innovation is as much about collaborating creatively when solving problems as anything else. This principle embraces the concept of diversity in experience and viewpoint, accepts these unique views as valuable input and urges us to pursue goals that acknowledge the needs and requirements of more players not less.

Integrity

When open to new ideas and seeking diverse viewpoints through collaboration, it is very easy to lose one’s way. Integrity is essential in remembering what is most important and working toward those ends constantly, especially in the face of adversity.

Interdependence

“No man is an island.” (John Donne, 1572-1631) This trueism has never been more true than it is today. In the grand web of life, we are all connected and all impacted by the actions of others. Tapscott and Williams see optimism in the concept of interdependence and see this as a potential pathway for a more loving and accepting world (my words, not the authors’.)

Sharing

A friend recently introduced me to the concept of network externalities. A fancy sounding phrase with a straight forward meaning. The more something is shared, the more valuable it becomes. The classic example is the telephone. When the first one was invented, it had very limited value since there was nobody to call! With the addition of each new phone, however, the value of the entire system expanded. To share our knowledge, ideas and indeed our successes benefit us all.

General Observations

Embedded within these five themes are others that often get more press, so it is worth mentioning them briefly. The internet is a transformative presence in modern life. We are witnessing not only the demand for more transparency in everything from government to corporate governance, but the tools for making this a possibility are becoming more powerful and accessible every day. Imagine, ever more representative government courtesy of your smart phone!

“With great power comes great responsibility” (credit to either Ben Parker, father of Spider-Man, i.e., Stan Lee or maybe more accurately, Socrates.) Participation is the foundation of a collective system, like democracy. With the power of the internet and the interactivity of Web 2.0 and beyond, expect to see greater participation in the future.

Collective action, or the wisdom of the crowd, has been collecting more validation through data in recent years. Studies show in certain circumstances — such as guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar — the average guess of a sufficiently large number of people is highly likely to be accurate.

Finally, although not specifically called out as important concepts of Wikinomics, sustainability, distributed effort/perspective/storage, networks, and self-organization appear in different shapes and forms throughout the book.

Applications

Once the principles are laid out for Macrowikinomics, the authors turn their attention to numerous examples of the concepts in action. There are case studies for climate change, energy, health and sick care, solving business problems, transportation, media (digital: news, music, movies) and open source intellectual property.

Should you read this book?

Yes, if you think “big,” enjoy seeing large patterns or have reason to understand the context of large scale social change. This book will make you think.

No, if you become easily distracted, if nuance is lost on you or if you are so busy getting things done that you don’t have time for contemplative thinking.

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