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Conversations on the Future of Business: Power of Networks with Don Tapscott

I was already having a pretty good morning, as far as Wednesday mornings go. Hanging out in the Chase Club at MetLife stadium, coffee and breakfast pastry in hand. Then welcomed to the stage was Don Tapscott – author, visionary, futurist, “the man” – and things quickly went from good to extraordinary. Don is one of the world’s leading authorities on media, innovation, technology, and the social and economic implications these bring. He did not disappoint. The topic was the Power of Networks, one of five “Conversations on the Future of Business” profiled by SAP. What struck me was not only his take on the concept of global solution networks, but how he applied it to millennial drive, politics, world protest, poverty, and intrinsic behavior. He let us recognize the opportunity to make the world run better; a notion symmetric with SAP’s own mantra.

Don pronounced that the Industrial Age is coming to its logical conclusion. We’ve bypassed the age of scale and industrialization of long ago. We exceled beyond simple access to the written word and evolved to a life where we all became publishers. The printing press to the Internet. So, fast forward to the age of networked intelligence: Social Web, Mobility, Big Data, the Industrial Internet, and Cloud are the key developments that make up the technological revolution.  “The world only needs five computers” now didn’t seem like
such a far off prediction. 

So who are the leaders of this new technological revolution? The first generation of digital natives – deemed by Tapscott as the “Net Generation.” These kids (literally KIDS) are not the slackers those who simply fear what they don’t understand would call them. These are very productive members of this new society; students who teach their teachers how to use computers. Kids who generate 6-7 figures at 13 years old. These kids we laugh about when hearing that email is already almost obsolete. It’s only used to maybe “send a formal thank you note to your friend’s parents.” And if the news is worth having, it will come to them. 

A comic was shown (see attached) depicting a baby crib with an old school monitor affixed to the rungs. Years ago this cartoon would instigate a roar of laughter in the crowd. Now it really isn’t so far-fetched. Now the question is – why doesn’t that poor baby have an iPhone??   

Tapscott then used another depiction of true power of networks at work. Obama used Wikinomics (invented by Don Tapscott himself) as one of many diverse platforms used to propagandize his 2008 campaign. 

The next examples really humanize the power of networks. The first referenced the Arab Spring: the revolutionary wave of demonstration and protest in the Arab world starting late 2010. Social media was used as a desperate tool for self-defense for the kids succumbed to this violence; and used not as a “means for hooking up online” as it is so passively deemed as common in America. A
graphic revealed how protests in the world have grown exponentially year over year, and he shed light on the tools for innovation we have at our disposal that could possibly fix the world.

Another example that struck me was the story about a girl in a village, detached from what we consider to be civilized, no running water and living off her goat’s milk. Yes, this woman had in her possession a cell phone – with access to a browser that she could use to research goat’s milk!

Then there is the idea of relinquishing control and promoting trust with the outside world. There is a story told of a 50 year old mining company discovering gold by publishing geological data outside of the organization and asking the external network to help them. They went outside the boundaries, and this accompanied by economic crisis = a burning platform for change. This exemplified Tapscott’s “ideagoras” – which refers to an open market for uniquely qualified minds.


Tapscott closes by painting another picture that really resonates. It is of a nature study; one that will serve as a prelude to his newest work. Bees travel is swarms, birds travel in flocks. Well flocking starlings – several hundreds of them –  move as one. This is known as murmurations. He has long studied the effects of collaboration, openness, and sharing. His interest is in murmurations as a whole and the preconceived notion of consciousness.

I think Mr. Tapscott may be on to something. I trust him when he says “a smaller networked world our kids will inherit will be a better one.”

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