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Don Tapscott photographed at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, 2007. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Don Tapscott photographed at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, 2007. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Leadership advice

Tapscott: How technology is changing your career Add to ...

You talked about how knowledge can become obsolete even before you graduate from a course. The skill of collaboration doesn’t get obsolete; you even stress in your books it is becoming more important in an online world. Can you talk about how our business world is being shaped by collaboration?

When I am talking about collaboration, it’s not in the traditional sense – a bunch of nice people getting together in a room and having an interesting discussion, or referring to teamwork. I am talking about a very different kind of collaboration enabled by the Internet that can occur even on an astronomical scale.

The old organization model was a hierarchy. It divided the world into the governed and governors. Your goal was to move up the hierarchy and get more people reporting to you. This model of work was bureaucratic. It stifled innovation. Organizational politics were a huge impediment to getting things done. We hoarded knowledge, as knowledge was a source of power.

Hierarchies aren’t going to go away, and overall they are a good mechanism for enabling us to organize and structure work. But they are changing fundamentally because of a number of factors.

One factor is that we have a new generation coming into work that, rather than being a passive recipient of television, has grown up interacting and collaborating. My research shows they much more naturally want to share knowledge because that’s what they have done throughout their childhood. For them, work, learning, having fun and collaboration are all the same thing.

When I was a kid watching TV – as the baby boomers did for 24 hours a week – we were only doing one of those things: Having fun, entertaining ourselves. So kids today are bringing a new approach into the work force. And they have it right: Work and learning are the same thing today; it’s called knowledge work. Increasingly, we learn through work – through collaborative structures at work. And work should be fun in the sense of meaningful and enjoyable.

Secondly, we have new collaborative technology platforms for work: social networks; wikis; blogs; ideation tools like Digistorm and Jam; new project modules; collaborative deliberation tools; and new knowledge management tools. Together, those are creating nothing less than a new operating system for the 21st-century corporation.

So we have a demographic kick and a generation push. But there is also a demand pull coming from the new business environment. It’s a much more real-time environment.

The pace of innovation was glacial when I was a kid. We lived in Orillia, Ont., and the seven of us would get in the family station wagon every year to go to the CNE to see this year’s innovation. Wow! An avocado-coloured refrigerator with an ice cube maker!

Now, the pace of innovation has sped up dramatically. We also have a global economy – an economy that is very volatile and unpredictable. Companies need to be agile and changing constantly.

So put all that together and collaboration is an idea whose time has come. This is leading to a profound change in how we orchestrate capability to innovate, to create goods and services. It’s a global collaborative platform. It’s leading to a change in the architecture of the corporation, where talent can be outside.

One example is something I have called idea agoras. These are open markets, agoras, for uniquely qualified minds. So Procter & Gamble might be looking for a molecule to help with some purpose. There are now thousands of chemists the company can turn to outside of the corporation. A grad student in Taipei might come up with the needed molecule and P&G pays them a few hundred thousand dollars for doing that.

This is a very challenging environment for someone thinking about a career. It’s a lot more complicated, and there are many more uncertainties. It means you need to ensure you are reinventing your knowledge base lifelong so you have the capabilities and skills that will constantly be in demand.

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