‘Listen To The Young’

23 Jun,2013 12:40 IST

‘Listen To The Young’

Business strategy guru Don Tapscott forecasts the end of the industrial model and urges companies to embrace digital technology

Chitra Narayanan


TAPSCOTT Believes in pushing the envelope. His next book is an app called the Don Tapscott App

The phrases that we use so casually today — digital economy, digital divide — were poularised by Canadian business strategy guru Don Tapscott. In the 2007 best-seller Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Tapscott and his co-author Anthony D. Williams outlined five principles for businesses that included concepts such as Openness, Interdependency and Sharing. On a recent trip to India, at the invitation of the Institute of Competitiveness, the author of classics such as The Naked Corporation, Growing Up Digital and Digital Capital elaborated on his ideology and the way forward for Indian businesses. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What’s the influence power of the digital economy? How big is it?
In The Digital Economy (1995), I argued that the digital economy is not separate. It is THE economy. The economy is becoming a digital economy... the digital revolution is changing every single aspect of business and of economic life.

But there is still a digital divide...
The digital divide was the chapter of my 1997 book, Growing Up Digital. We first called it the Access Gap, then the Net Divide, and then Digital Divide. Back then we said there was a danger that we would have a world of digital haves and have-nots, the doers and do-nots, and people who can communicate with the rest of world and people who cannot.

Since 1997,  1.5 billion have come on to the Internet, and that is not because of cheap laptops, but because of mobility. I met a 14-year-old goatherd in Kenya and she was married, pregnant with her second child, didn’t have water, electricity, but she had a mobile device that could give her access to the Internet. I am sure this causes great dissonance to her. Yet, I think there is nothing more important for India, for businesses, governments (and) civil societies, than to have access to communication. Less than 10 per cent have this access currently. So this is a big challenge.

Isn’t there a mismatch — you don’t have food but have Internet access?
It’s not a zero-sum game. If you have access to the Internet, you are likely to have access to food, education and maybe even organised healthcare. So, it’s not about should we invest in the Internet versus jobs, or versus education or versus clean water. The Internet enables all of these. It’s a very critical national priority. Businesses need to get involved in that. It’s about creating new markets.

How can the Internet be used for competitive advantage by businesses?
I talk about five principles around which companies need to reinvent themselves. One is through Collaboration. It’s about firms opening their boundaries, finding uniquely qualified minds that exist outside. The great example is Goldcorp — it’s the opening story in Wikinomics. This is a gold mining company that couldn’t figure out where the gold was, so it held a contest on the Internet. It gave away half a million in prizes and found $3.5 billion worth of gold.

The second principle, Openness, is about transparency. It’s about companies becoming naked. If you are going to be naked, you need to be buff — meaning you need to have good values and the best products. But transparency is also a powerful force to grow. It drops collaboration costs and improves supply chains.

Third is Sharing — and that’s not about communication or information. Sharing is about leasing or releasing your assets. IBM gave away software assets worth millions, and Linux happened, creating tens of billions of dollars of additional revenues for IBM as it changed the whole dynamics in the computer industry.

The fourth is Interdependency — everything is connected. A business cannot succeed by itself. You need business, government and civil society to work in new ways in multi-stakeholder networks. And the Internet can help bring them all together.

The last principle is Integrity — about being honest, abiding by your commitments. Integrity and transparency are related in a complicated way as transparency is evidence of integrity. Transparency combined with integrity is the basis of trust. 

These five principles are now going to be the basis of an award each in India, to be given away by the Institute of Competitiveness.

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