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Macrowikinomics Book CoverDon Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams are two men on a mission. Like another reviewer said on Amazon.ca, “this book is not an operations manual; rather, it is a manifesto.” This book provides a blueprint for the future, offering fresh ideas to help us reboot outdated and failing systems, such as healthcare, journalism and education.

The book’s scope rivals The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman, its ideas and content parallel Jeff Howe’s Crowdsourcing, and its extreme optimism calls to mind the writings of futurist Ray Kurzweil (of The Singuarlity is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines fame). Kurzweil uses his law of accelerating returns, based on Moore’s law of increasing technology, to make predictions about the future. Tapscott and Williams don’t have any fancy laws, but they do have plenty of examples of applications of wikinomics happening right now, all over the world in all types of industries.

The Age of Networked Intelligence

This inspiring book argues that we are in the midst of a revolution, entering a new age in history. Just like the printing press helped to provide the shift from an agrarian society to an industrial one, we are now leaving the industrial age, with the assistance of the Internet, and entering an Age of Networked Intelligence. Sound like the stuff of science fiction? Think again.

Reproduced with permission from Anthony D. Williams.

Networked intelligence is on display in all ranges of industries, at all levels. The Web 2.0 is connecting us in ways we could not have imagined ten or even five years ago. Websites and communities such as Wikipedia, Innocentive, VenCorps, and Kiva.org represent just a handful of the countless examples the authors use to illustrate the workings of the age of networked intelligence. Tapscott and Williams take us on a tour of the present world of wikinomics and the coming future, splitting the book up into sections encouraging us to Rethink the Fundamentals , Reindustrialize the Planet, and Reboot the Public Square. Other sections include a wikinomic approach to Learning, Discovery and Well-Being as well as a look at the newspaper’s demise, and the future of music, television and film in Turning the Media Inside Out. The book is split up into countless subsections, so you never read more than 3 or 4 pages without coming to a new subheading. While some readers might find this annoying, I think that it was intended with the reading habits of the Net Generation and blogosphere in mind, and I enjoyed it.

Macrowikinomics shows us astounding examples of crowdsourcing: from R&D at Proctor & Gamble, via an impressive website called Innocentive, to amateur astronomers helping to identify galaxies at Galaxy Zoo. We are treated to speculation about the future of the car (its dashboard will be an open set of APIs, connected to the Internet and able to download songs and connect to Skype) and given a great perspective on why open-access knowledge is so much more powerful than subscription model in the world of science. Quoting Peter Binfield, publisher of PLoS ONE at the the Public Library of Science: “There’s an entire 99 percent of the rest of the world that might have an interest in that content that can never access it in a subscription model,” he says. “But with a wiki model you’ve got a chance to get some useful insights out of those 99.9 percent of people that you couldn’t have got otherwise.” There are certainly some insights to be had here, to say the least.

New Paradigms

Their prequel, Wikinomics (2006) was often criticized for being too general and repetitive, with most critiques saying that while the book shows great examples, it doesn’t actually offer any concrete demonstrations of how to use wikinomics in a practical sense. I think they tried to tackle this with their chapter on Ground Rules for Reinvention: Making Wikinomics Happen in Your Organization, although it is a short chapter. That being said, I don’t think this book is intended to explicitly show you the way or fix your company with one fell swoop. It’s next to impossible to accurately predict the next big thing, and Tapscott and Williams illustrate how difficult it is to create the new in this passage, which I quote in full:

“The law of new paradigms has kicked into play: leaders of the old paradigms have great difficulty creating the new. In hindsight their record is pretty predictable, even pathetic. Why didn’t Rupert Murdoch create The Huffington Post? Why didn’t AT&T launch Twitter? Yellow Pages could have built Facebook. Microsoft had the resources to come up with Google’s business model. Why didn’t NBC invent YouTube? Sony could have pre-empted Apple with iTunes. Craigslist would have been a perfect venture for The New York Times or any regional newspaper. As the media becomes democratized and as those vested in the old paradigm fight change, a historic period of calamity is in the making. At the same time there are fresh, sometimes breathtaking new innovations in every medium – experiments and juggernauts that show us the way forward.”

When you think  of it this way, it makes you wonder how can anyone can possibly predict what the next big thing will be? What Macrowikinomics does is give us countless examples of how other people and organizations are utilizing wikinomics principles, in hopes of inspiring you or your organization to take those principles and put your own spin on them.

It’s called Macrowikinomics for a reason. It’s focusing on the big ideas. Macrowikinomics is not so much an operations manual or map (maybe this will come in the form of  a Microwikinomics sequel) as it is a bold blueprint of a future world which is rapidly becoming more connected, more collaborative, and more open in the age of networked intelligence. As anyone who’s ever built anything knows, blueprints can often change, and renovations can occur. Many of our industries are broken, outdated and failing, and this book, if nothing else, provides us with some ideas and inspiration to reboot them.

Bottom Line: Extremely readable, with a little something for everybody. From climate change to collaborative healthcare, from Twitter revolutions to earthquake rescue teams, this book has it all.

Check it out on Amazon.

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