On our way towards "Open Economy"

by Didier Marlier on Saturday January 23rd, 2010

For those of us, old enough to remember the 70’s, Alvin Toffler was then sharing his  views that a “third wave[1]” (following the ones of agriculture and industry) was about to submerge humanity. This wave was not to be (as many mistakenly remember) an era of services but the advent of the knowledge and information economy. Toffler is still around (now aged 82), continues to write books and, strangely enough, his website[2] is a surprising vestige of the past economy (all dedicated to the guru’s cult, when he will appear, his books, his quotes, his interviews but little generosity, nothing free…)

For years, many of us struggled with what we knew to be a sharp insight from the famous futurologist but unsure of its impact and how it would affect us. Would the third wave be merely just another tide or the real Tsunami its inventor promised? The jury is still out but I strongly believe that the phenomenon we call “Open Source”, “Open Collaboration”, “Open Network”, “Open You-name-it” Economy is the concrete manifestation of Mr. Toffler’s prediction.

Both with a highly geared group of fifteen Brazilian CEO’s (at the invitation of Brazil’s Fundação Dom Cabral[3]) and with an informal community of researchers, geeks, artists, musicians, academics and business people, (gathered with the help of Gerd Leonhard[4]) we have started to try and structure our reflections on how to prepare for that maelstrom and understand its likely impact on business, and more specifically, on the way we prepare our organizations for that future, how we need to transform them and which of our assumptions about leadership will have to radically evolve.

The starting point is as follows: the “Open Source” phenomenon which started with the software industry, greatly enabled by the internet and the web, has already largely moved into totally different areas (science with open innovation, medicine with the open researches on new threatening viruses, consumer goods, with P&G or LEGO as well as in NGO’s[5].) We believe that it will fundamentally transform the economy, particularly fragile these days as well as business ethics, badly damaged by the crisis and the rather shocking behaviours from those who seem to have a very short memory…

The image which I found best helping define the state of this transition comes from a recent post[6], (Umair Haque him again!): Think of an M. “On one side is the old high ground of the industrial era capitalism; on the other, the new high(er) ground of next-generation capitalism.” So who would we find on the left side? Companies whose belief system is still about “go it alone”, competition and dominance, “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine remains mine”, economies of scale, short term shareholder value etc. I bet many names come to mind, including in the supposedly advanced “high tech” business world. In the middle are companies whose intuition tells them that the economy is changing. LEGO would be one, Google probably another with some great intuitions (make no evil and many of its truly open source initiatives) and set backs (bowing down to Chinese censorship for so long or the utter user disrespect demonstrated through the catastrophic launch of Nexus). On the right may sit organizations such as Wikipedia and we believe that there is a business model to be invented (new capitalism) that will see many traditional firms migrate towards that new “Open Economy”.

The next posts of this blog will be dedicated to sharing with you our thinking and progress on that “Open Network Economy” in terms of its values, logic, as well as strategy, organizational and leadership impact (I liked the term once coined by a Nokia executive “Open Source Leadership”).

I would like to invite you to join our reflection, share examples and sources of knowledge you have. Let us make this an “Open Exercise”. It is less about preparing an individual competitive advantage than exploring ways to make the pie bigger. One of the key features of the “Open Economy” is Interdependency. One of its key values is Generosity! Let us explore and learn together. It is less about guessing an ever more complex future than preparing ourselves and our organizations for it.

On my way to a fascinating meeting in Brazil, generously hosted by Cisco, where we will work with Roland Kupers from London (a Shell executive and specialist of the translation of Complex Adaptive Systems theory to leadership) then to Ludwigshaven in Germany precisely to talk about change with executives from around the world.

Have a great week

Didier


[1] A. & H. Toffler The Third Wave

[2] http://www.alvintoffler.net/

[3] www.fdc.org.br

[4] www.mediafuturist.com

[5] See for example Cameron Sinclair on www.TED.com 2006

[6] http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2010/01/google_china_and_the_new_high.html

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