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Graduating P.H.D. and Masters students head towards Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto on Friday, June 15, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)
Graduating P.H.D. and Masters students head towards Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto on Friday, June 15, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail)

Don Tapscott

Seven imperatives for successful business revolutionaries Add to ...

The following is an excerpt from the convocation speech given by Don Tapscott to the 2012 class of INSEAD, a graduate business school with campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
Don Tapscott writes about innovation, media, and the economic and social impact of technology and advises business and government leaders around the world. He is adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.

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Your generation is being called upon to bring about some important and even historic changes in business, government and society. In fact I’m convinced we’re on the threshold of nothing less than a new era in human civilization.

Over the last year you’ve had the front row seats on today’s unprecedented business and societal upheaval. And now you’re moving back onto the stage.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that each of you work for an NGO or become a candidate for the leader of the world or something like that. Rather, each of you will have a role to play in this historic transformation whether you are an entrepreneur, consultant, business executive, educator, researcher, public sector manager, politician, social innovator or parent. Change will happen in every home, community, business, school, organization and every nook and cranny of society. It’s an opportunity for each of you – if you will it.

What does this mean concretely? Let me give you some very unconventional wisdom. Seven shibboleths to be challenged. Call it the Seven Imperatives for Highly Successful Business Revolutionaries.

1. Don’t aspire to be a good manager. As Peter Drucker said years ago, stable times require excellence and good management. As we transition to a new age, our organizations need more; they need leadership. Don’t manage the status quo. Lead the change. Think of yourself primarily as a leader rather than just a manager. Don’t simply seek to make improvements in your organization. In the past tinkering could do the trick. These times require deep innovation and transformation.

2. Don’t accept any assumptions about the status quo. If “it’s always been this way” it may be time for a review. For example, don’t accept hierarchies: Think networks. Understand that talent can now be both inside and exterior to your enterprise. Whether running a bank, manufacturer or newspaper, the uniquely qualified minds to accomplish anything may be outside your boundaries: and organizations that harness peer collaboration and new business models will be those that succeed. Never use the term “my people” to refer to those you manage. Always emphasize teamwork and knowledge sharing, rather than hierarchy.

If you’re on the public sector, don’t deliver good government. Rather this is a time when we can reinvent the business of government and the nature of democracy for a new era. Open up your government and create a platform for others to innovate public value. And lead us to a second era of democracy where we can all be involved.

3. Don’t be expedient. Rather always do the right thing. Build integrity into the DNA of your business. Figure out how to make your firm a sustainability leader, as green businesses will be lower cost, perform better and have better trust and market success. Get your organization to join the “Green Exchange” – the wonderful initiative launched by Nike to share intellectual property on sustainable business practices. And when someone proposes a dicey or questionable initiative ask yourself “What’s the right thing to do?”

If your organization is facing a public relations crisis, don’t hunker down and circle the wagons. Take a page from J&J during the Tylenol crisis. Transparency is your friend, perhaps even radical transparency, as it builds trust. And sunlight is the best disinfectant.

In fact I’d even say, Don’t focus on creating shareholder value. If you work for and eventually lead a company, understand that companies have multiple stakeholders including employees, customers, business partners and the communities within which they operate. If the financial crisis tells us anything it’s that we live in an interconnected world. In an age where everything and everyone is linked through networks of glass and air, no one – no business, organization, government agency, country – is an island. We need to do right by all our stakeholders and that’s how you create value for shareholders. And one thing is for sure – no organization can succeed in a world that is failing.

4. Don’t have work-life balance – at least in the sense of trying to escape from work so you can have a life. Work should be fun – so make work enjoyable and satisfying for everyone – among other reasons because it pays off. For your generation, work, learning and having fun will be the same thing.

During a one-day session with the management of a Fortune 20 company, I brought in a panel of new employees. One executive asked them “what could we do to make our company more attractive to your generation.” Without missing a beat one new employee replied “the first thing we should do is make this place more fun. It’s just not fun to work here.” Around the room the body language was not good. “Fun? What is she talking about?” You see, my generation has this view that work is work and fun is fun. “There’s a period of the day when you work and then you go home and you have a martini or something.” Your generation has it right – work should be integrated with learning and it should be enjoyable. You can be the generation to put the Dilbert cartoons out of business and in doing so transform the nature of work.

5. Don’t stop being a student. Take the time to develop a strategy for being informed as a citizen. Knowledge is exploding so you need to commit yourself to a plan for lifelong learning. When I left graduate school I figured I was set for life. Notwithstanding your great INSEAD degree, today you’re set for about 15 minutes. You’ll need to reinvent your knowledge-base multiple times. And as you leave here, it’s not only what you know that counts – it’s your ability to think, solve problems, research and collaborate that matters.

Your generation also has some new challenges about keeping informed in a word where the old ways of doing so (old media) are collapsing. Yes the web is a great platform for learning. But don’t wait for the news to find you. As much as I love Twitter you can’t be informed in 140 character tweets. So click on that Twitter URL and read it. Don’t just scan: Spend time every day reading articles – from beginning to end. Read points of view that you don’t agree with. We need to avoid ending up in self-reinforcing echo chambers where we only hear our own point of view. And make a point of trying to remember things – we can’t count on Google for everything and the process of remembering is tied into the process of creating meaning.

6. Don’t just be a student of the world. Take action. Figure out how you can affect this transformation outside of work. Even though it doesn’t directly contribute to your immediate prosperity, make a deep commitment to your community, to politics, to an advocacy group. Get organized to bring about change. Doing so will enrich you and teach your children well about the responsibilities we each have to help those less fortunate and to improve the state of the world. You are the first ever global generation, so bring your legitimate aspirations and hope for the future to the table. Join in with millions of others from around the world to make this an age of promise fulfilled.

7. This may be the toughest one – Happiness. Of course we all want it. But when it comes to your own life goals, don’t seek happiness per se. With a little luck, happiness will come to you and deservedly so. But from my experience happiness is best seen as a bi-product of living a meaningful and purposeful life. Especially today. In the decades ahead you will see staggering changes in the world, changes that are unimaginable today. You will be happier and more fulfilled if you participate fully in these transformations rather than being an observer or recipient. View happiness as one result of living a good life and doing the right thing.

Don Tapscott’s latest book is Macrowikinomics. Follow him on Twitter: @dtapscott.

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