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November 25th, 2010
MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World

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MacroWikinomics_CoverThere is an important book from Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams that is a follow-on to their groundbreaking work Wikinomics. This latest release takes on the application of crowdsourcing and the ‘hive mind’ to rethink our staid institutions for more immediate and measured outcomes that address the global problems of today.

MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World


Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams


ISBN: 978-1591843566    2010   432 pages 


Review by Matt Ball

There is an important book from Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams that is a follow-on to their groundbreaking work Wikinomics. This latest release takes on the application of crowdsourcing and the ‘hive mind’ to rethink our staid institutions for more immediate and measured outcomes that address the global problems of today.

The book discusses the impact of today’s social networking and information technology that have fostered more inclusive and participatory approaches. The book is broken into six main sections, first defining the idea of macrowikinomics, illustrating how the application of the concept rethinks the fundamentals of business, applying the concept to a re-industrialization that focuses on efficient production that combats climate change, tackling a re-think on learning and health care, new approaches to media, followed by new ways for government to involve citizens.

Not insignificantly, the book opens with the application of geospatial technology (specifically Ushahidi) to respond to the earthquake crisis in Haiti. The devastating impact of this event, and the difficulty that first responders had to move supplies and understand the level of damage, were combatted by a large international outpouring of effort to map the country from afar. This ad hoc volunteer group put together an information management solution that surpassed anything ever done by individual aid agencies, the UN, and the U.S. State Department.

Ushahidi’s ability to collect eye-witness reports via e-mail, text or Twitter, coupled with the the effort to create detailed maps upon the OpenStreetMap platform, gave a broadly distributed community the ability to participate and help from afar, while also providing a central technology for coordinated efforts on the ground, instead of the standard fragmented communication approach of the past.

According to the authors, the whole new crisis mapping paradigm that took place in Haiti serves to illustrate a whole new form of economic and social innovation that is sweeping across all sectors. Self-organizing people with passion and drive are using Web-based tools to make the world more prosperous, just and sustainable. The ability of technology to empower millions of ordinary individuals to play a larger role in everything means that dramatic changes are afoot for business, government, education, health care, science, finance and international diplomacy.

According to Tapscott and Williams, “Ushahidi highlights a profound contrast between a set of deeply troubled and stalled institutions that revolve around industrial age thinking and hierarchical organizational designs versus a new set of bottom-up institutions that are being built on principles such as openness, collaboration, and the sharing of data and intellectual property.”

Central to this book are the five principles for a world of networked intelligence, where they explain how companies, governments and NGOs can cut through the complexity of today’s world in order to make a lasting impact. Also central to this book is a catching enthusiasm that there has never been a more electric time to be human, with tools at hand that increase the impact of individuals to drive rapid, meaningful and dramatic change across global institutions.

It’s not surprising that the authors have referenced mapping efforts throughout the book as an example of a broad paradigm shift. Don Tapscott is well versed in the power of mapping to provide great insight. Back in the late 1990s, Tapscott rode the Internet wave with several insightful books (including Paradigm Shift: The New Promise of Information Technology, and The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence), and with an early role with the fleet routing and navigation company Maptuit. I had the pleasure of interacting with Tapscott at that point through his keynote at the 2001 GeoTec Event in Toronto.

There is a progression of thought here from these earlier works, with a common thread throughout of the impact of networks on business and on life. MacroWikinomics is full of excellent examples of this shift, with many of them having a geospatial component.

The European Environment Agency has taken a wikinomics approach to environmental monitoring with their Eye on Earth portal that takes advantage of online mapping technologies to give citizens the ability to browse imaging interfaces and drill down for neighborhood-level data about ozone levels, nitrogen dioxide, particle matter, and carbon emissions. The participatory element allows citizens to contribute their own data and information, including firsthand experience of climate change or potential explanations for environmental degradation in specific areas.

In regard to energy, the authors are concerned about energy-hungry times leading to a resource-inspired conflict between the five Arctic players. They suggest an approach where the Arctic ecosystem can be managed as an international commons, with profits from exploitation going toward research and development efforts to develop renewable energy. The suggestion builds on the need for new answers, rather than yesterday’s answers.

Among the wikinomics-inspired solutions is the Earth Systems Grid that combines supercomputing facilities with data, incorporating a wide range of ground- and satellite-based sensors, simulations and independent researchers that are indicative of a whole new level of collaborative science. This move builds on a growing need by researchers to know more about what others are doing, and not just within your own country, but across the globe. A global system of interconnected sensors is promoted for monitoring animate and inanimate objects that generate data  about our homes, our cars, our natural and man-made environments, and even our bodies.

The authors are pushing for whole new approaches to visualization, analysis and even scientific organization to address the exponential change that is underway. As individuals and organizations, we must grapple with the profound choice of participating in order to reboot old models, approaches and structures or to sit on the sidelines and risk institutional paralysis or even collapse.

This book does an excellent job of putting the concept of crowdsourcing into a greater context, and will be helpful for managers looking to transform their organizations as well as individuals that are looking for greater context to the changes underway. The geospatial professional will find the work enlightening both for the importance that new mapping technologies will play in this transformation, and the role they can play in speeding this transformation along.

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