Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Internet unleashes intellectual power of the masses

[Excerpts from the Globe and Mail article. Also a web site worth visiting is the author of Wikinomics Don Tapscott-- BSA]

Don Tapscott's web site

The rules of innovation and competitive advantage in the new age of digital social networking and Web-based communities are not the same as those we've come to know and trust.

A key principle is to look outside rather than inside your firm for strategic direction and ideas. Rallying Web communities to contribute their thoughts and knowledge is an essential dynamic. Wikinomics is "the art and science, theory and practice of understanding how to harness collaboration for competitiveness," the author says.

The first case study in the book details how a mining firm grasped fortune from failure by appealing to the world of online communities and individuals for help in determining where on its property it should drill for gold. The CEO of Vancouver-based Goldcorp Inc. was inspired by the story of Linux where the operating system's development was achieved through Internet-based collaboration.

He launched the online Goldcorp Challenge contest, offering more than half a million dollars for help in determining the best places to look for mineral deposits on its property. Contestants had access to a file that contained all of the company's geologic data. The result: Approximately 110 targets were identified, half of which had not been earmarked by Goldcorp's own engineers. More than 80 per cent of these sites yielded substantial deposits -- a total of more than eight million ounces of gold.

"Companies that have the myopic view that [the only] unique qualified minds who can do everything for their business exist inside the company are making a huge mistake," Mr. Tapscott said during a recent interview. "This is a new paradigm and the future is going to be a bleak one for companies that don't move to exploit it."

Harvesting ideas outside corporate walls is a startling contention for many. Old thinking suggests that those who don't know your business don't have much to contribute, and the knowledge that exists among the masses can't possibly be of much value.

It might also need a leap of faith in the good of people and their ideas. Mr. Tapscott is a believer in the idea that the great collaborative masses include qualified and brilliant minds that simply haven't had the opportunity to participate. Perhaps they would if they could, and the Web provides the means.

Wikinomics challenges business to think differently about their intellectual property, too. Old views suggest companies need to guard their ideas, but in the new emerging economy such thinking may in fact discourage opportunities. Sharing may have much more value than selling. Companies need to open their minds to that potential, Mr. Tapscott contends.