published on Monday March 26, 2007 in The Miami Herald
Harness the power of collaboration for profit.
Corporations employ open-source methods to tap into a wide range of knowledge and resources resulting in new and powerful enterprises.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. Portfolio. 320 pages.
A few months back, I read and reviewed a fine book called The Starfish and The Spider about businesses thriving through collaboration with their customers and other companies, some of which are competitors. It also placed the phenomenon in an historical context, noting the success of indigenous tribes and other disparate -- and seemingly disorganized -- organizations.
Because that book made its case effectively and with ample panache, when Wikinomics came out, I passed, deeming it unnecessary and a waste of my precious time.
Mea culpa. My mistake.
Yeah, there's a bit of overlap, but in Wikinomics, authors Tapscott and Williams drill a bit deeper into the business of collaboration, with some interesting and revealing studies of collaborative ventures undertaken by big, established firms like IBM and Proctor & Gamble, as well as newer enterprises like Flickr, Second Life and YouTube.
They also get into more of the specifics, examining how companies that are usually fiercely protective of their intellectual property, like the aforementioned IBM and P&G, are willing to allow outsiders unprecedented access. By bringing in diverse and sometimes unpredictable voices and approaches, they were able to accomplish things that had heretofore been unattainable.
IBM, for example, suffered a long losing streak in developing its own computer operating systems for a variety of reasons. But when it wanted to get into the open source world of Linux, an operating system maintained and upgraded by a loosely knit (at best) international team of developers, IBM was compelled to do so with uncharacteristic openness and even humility. Its usual power as a giant multinational corporation was not an advantage here, but a liability, according to the authors.
Like The Starfish and The Spider, Wikinomics delves into the story of Goldcorp, a Canadian gold and mineral mining company that wasn't sure where on its vast holdings it should drill for gold. Its CEO, Rob McEwen, did a really strange thing: He made all of the company's geologic surveys and other data available to the public through the Internet. The idea was to employ the collective wisdom of experts, amateurs and others. Their efforts would be rewarded if they resulted in the establishment of a new vein. Not only was the odd strategy successful, write Tapscott and Williams, it made the company one of the most successful operations of its kind. In an industry where information is a closely guarded secret, the open-source collaborative method was nothing short of revolutionary. That it resulted in useful, even hugely lucrative findings is quite remarkable.
In addition to examples, Wikinomics also tries to present suggestions for employing this method of working that is intrinsically contrary to almost every traditional business model.
While Tapscott and Williams are thorough, helpful and hopeful, one senses that until an actual project begins, things will likely unfold of their own accord and will resist an imposition of authoritarian management.
Regardless, Wikinomics is the right book at the right time, and likely portends new openings for the future of businesses big and small.
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