From The Industrial Age To The Networked Age

Posted by

You must read Macrowikinomics.

There is a new best-selling business book, both physical and virtual, titled Macrowikinomics – Rebooting Business and the World (Portfolio). Written by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, the book (a follow-up to the massively successful 2008 book, Wikinomics – How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything) looks at the bigger picture of how this new digital age is not only affecting business but also culture, government and society.

It’s a big assertion, but something that Tapscott has been pushing us to realize for a long time.

"My first book about the Internet was in 1981, but I’m convinced that this is really happening now," Tapscott laughs with dry sarcasm from his Toronto home before getting serious about our current state of affairs. "The industrial economy has finally run out of gas. That’s what’s really happening right now. This isn’t just a recession or the aftermath of a financial meltdown. Many of the institutions of the industrial society have served us well for centuries, but they are unable to take us forward. They are stalled in various stages of atrophy and, at the same time, the Internet is a new communications medium that has finally come of age. Just like the printing press before it, the Internet is taking us from one period in history to another."

The Internet is changing everything.

While Tapscott may be best known as an author, consultant and speaker (he is chairman of business strategy at nGenera Insight), he is also an adjunct professor of management at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, and leverages both the corporate and education worlds to not just postulate about the future, but to engage in deep research and in-depth studies to formulate his unique perspective. While Wikinomics looks at how the Internet is changing corporations, Macrowikinomics shifts gears to look at how the Internet continues to push on and change the world.

"It’s from the corporation to every institution in society and the economy, as a whole," Tapscott continues. "Wikinomics was about how the Internet changed the deep structure and architecture of the corporation and the way that we orchestrate capabilities to innovate, create goods and services, and to compete. With Macrowikinomics, it turns out that the technology genie is not just revolutionizing the firm, but it’s changing science, the media, newspapers, our entertainment systems and our approaches to health care. It’s moving us from an Industrial Age model of government to something new, and it’s changing democracy. It’s changing our systems for global problem solving, and it’s even affecting core infrastructure capabilities like our electricity and energy and transportation systems. This is now a pervasive communications revolution that is affecting everything. It’s helping us achieve or build public value and to achieve social justice in society. This is a time of great change."

And with this great change does come a sense of "I told you so."

Tapscott has been writing about these changes since the eighties. In 1997, I read his book, Digital Economy – Promise and Peril In the Age of Networked Intelligence, which was one of the first books to look at how the Internet would change business and society. It made perfect sense back then. It makes the same perfect sense today. I asked Tapscott if he ever just shrugs his shoulders and says, "I told you so … over a decade ago!"

"You have to restrain yourself, really. I do," he laughs. "Digital Economy was 15 years ago and it holds up very well. It basically describes what is happening today. When I was writing the chapters for Macrowikinomics, I went back to Digital Economy and I was pushing myself to write something that would be new. Sure, I have been talking about this for 30 years, and the big idea that we’re moving beyond the Industrial Age to this new Networked Age is nothing new. It has been around. It’s not just me. Guys like Alvin Toffler wrote about this in The Third Wave (1980). These are ideas in waiting. Their time had not come. They were waiting for the new Web and mobility. They were waiting for a new generation of digital natives – for whom all of this is like the air. They are the first generation to come of age in the digital age. They were waiting for the social revolution of online social networks like Facebook, Twitter and so on, and they were waiting for some big changes to the global economy that would set-up this kind of transformation. They were also waiting for a convulsive shock to the system – that’s what’s happening now. This crisis that we’re in has created a burning platform within institutions that are starting to realize that they will not be going back to the way it was. This is a turning point, and tinkering isn’t enough… there needs to be some fundamental changes to how we do things. This is big."

This is big. Bigger than we think.

It doesn’t sound like we’re going to need another decade to figure out just how big Tapscott thinks this is. By reading Macrowikinomics, it’s abundantly clear that the change is now.

The question is more about how hard these institutions are going to suffer by refusing to adopt these changes vs. those that are currently reinventing their operating models to adjust to this tectonic shift?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

*You can also listen to my entire conversation with Don Tapscott, right here: SPOS #225 – The World Of Macrowikinomics With Don Tapscott.


  1. Wow, that is one book i definitely have to get. It’s almost depressing how one wakes up from a dreamscape to look at the real world and have to go ‘bugger’ when you realise how ignorant you are of most of it.
    Hopefully this will put be on the right track.

  2. It’s wonderful to read this but I then remember some of the conversations I have with prospective clients who simply want a better landing page or think a better search ranking will magically turn their business around and I suddenly see the sides of the road filled with raccoons. This may be now but there is much work to do.
    Another book for the must buy list.

  3. It’s consistent and frustrating human nature, isn’t it? We do this time and time again. I love it when people think this is all so new. The Internet has been commercialized for 15 years. Maybe longer.

  4. Presently there are large companies scrambling to implement new strategies. There is of course the trade-off: Abandon vertical bygone methods in exchange for fresh open source ideas.

  5. It’s amazing to look back on how the default methods of media communication have changed over such a short time period. Newspaper – Radio – TV took several decades to advance from one to the next.
    The Internet was adopted as the primary source of information and method of communication in a matter of years. Now that the Internet has spun off in to several different types of channels for information distribution and communication (websites, email, social media, etc) each of those in turn has been adopted very quickly in comparison to the others. In some cases, a mere matter of months.
    It’s astounding how fast the world is adopting new communication channels, and as others have pointed out, it’s equally astounding how some are not recognizing this fundamental shift in how it will affect their own world. Some businesses view everything else that’s online as a simple extension of their website, and this is only going to hurt them in the long run.
    In some of the worst cases, it’d be like trying to convince the dinosaurs to not go extinct.

  6. If you listen to the audio version (which is my full conversation with Don), Don gets pretty dire about organizations and their ability to not even evolve, but to radically change… and quickly.
    You said: “In some of the worst cases, it’d be like trying to convince the dinosaurs to not go extinct.” I say: “amen.”

  7. Cool. HBR Ideacast featured Don last week also.
    Funny, a couple days ago I wrote a couple rants about how social media force businesses towards a more agile business model and how the concept and structure of corporation must adapt.
    One things is clear, optimizing work within and between silos is not adaptation.
    I argue that the Internet did NOT changed “the deep structure and architecture of the corporation”.
    Interconnectivity, humanization of service and a human life-cycle approach to business WILL change the deep structure and architecture of the corporation.
    Corporations are made by the consumers.

  8. Mitch, that was an amazing and inspiring podcast interview with Don Tapscott.
    It’s hard not to be cynical in the face of such passion and pronouncements of social revolution. Perhaps the reason that some roll their eyes when they hear this is because it’s the first time that people can perceive the change so early on.
    The agrarian and industrial revolutions happened over a long period of time. Communication didn’t exist to enable people to hear or understand the extent to which their world was changing.
    Now, not only are we aware, but are accelerating it with the very tools that drive it.
    This aged hippie hopes that this new communication revolution will build public value and achieve social justice. That is what drive my passion for social media.

  9. This is like Godin’s thinking that you discussed after AOM but much further reaching and peppered with the message of evolve now or die! Simply astounding how much industrial age work is still happening out there.

  10. I keep waiting for these collaborative tools to change our corporations but, sadly, corporate life is still stuck in the 1840s: traditional hierarchy, performance reviews and factory assembly-line management techniques applied to increasingly educated workers.
    I’m still waiting.
    In the meantime, I’ll read this book and know that I am not crazy for asking the questions that I do.

Comments are closed.