Tag Archives: Anthony D. Williams

Maybe Some “Dictators” Are Wiser Than The Crowd – On The Limitations Of Open Source (Think Apple)

I’m a big fan of The Wisdom of Crowds, of Wikinomics, and Macrowikinomics.  I have read all three of these books (and presented synopses of them at the First Friday Book Synopsis), and lots of articles about related practices.

I am also a non-techie (a Luddite, or, if you prefer, an idiot).  I understand nothing about design, interface, user interface.  I’m just a guy who likes his iMac and his iPhone and, hopefully, after the second one comes out (I was told to wait for the second one by a brother who is a techie genius) an iPad.

Why do I like Apple so much?  Because an idiot like me can figure out learn to use the product very quickly.  It is easy to use.  Ease; simplicity…  these are the critical ingredients.

Here is an article that makes a case that I am “right” about Apple.  And maybe there are some realms where dictators really are wiser than the crowd.  It is written by a techie, someone who understands all this stuff.  The title says it all: Open User Interfaces Suck by Timothy B Lee.  Here are some key excerpts:

In short, if you want to create a company that builds great user interfaces, you should organize it like Apple does: as a hierarchy with a single guy who makes all the important decisions. User interfaces are simple enough that a single guy can thoroughly understand them, so bottom-up organization isn’t really necessary. Indeed, a single talented designer with dictatorial power will almost always design a simpler and more consistent user interface than a bottom-up process driven by consensus.

This strategy works best for products where the user interface is the most important feature. The iPod is a great example of this. From an engineering perspective, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about the iPod, and indeed many geeks sneered at it when it came out. What the geeks missed was that a portable music player is an extremely personal device whose customers are interacting with it constantly. Getting the UI right is much more important than improving the technical specs of adding features.

… In short, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the devices with the most elegant UIs come from a company with a top-down, almost cult-like, corporate culture.


Here’s a line from a former Apple employee, still a big, big fan (from here):

When working at Apple, you definitely feel like you’re a part of a group of people who will make a serious dent in the universe.

I’ll say this:  Apple made a serious dent in my universe.

Where Good Ideas Come From By Johnson; Doing Both By Sidhu – Two Great Choices for the December 3 First Friday Book Synopsis

This morning, with nearly 90 people present, we presented our synopses of Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership by Tim Irwin and Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.  It was a terrific morning!  (Handouts, with audio, will be available on our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com, in about two weeks).

And special thanks to Kelly Lane and The Association for Women in Communications and the Dallas Freelance Alliance for their sponsorship this morning.  Because of their sponsorship, we had five copies of each of the books to give away (we normally give away only one copy of each book).  So, a big thank you to Kelly and both of these organizations.

Next month, December 3, we will present synopsis of these two books:

Doing Both:  How Cisco Captures Today’s Profit and Drives Tomorrow’s Growth by Inder Sidhu, with guest presenter Cathy Groos (Karl Krayer will be out of town).

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson, which I will present.  I have already done a quick take of this book – it is profound!

I hope you will mark your calendar, and plan to join us on December 3.





The Coming Wave of “Knowledge Worker Day-laborers” (“Where will the jobs be?”, continued)

One who works by the day…

Tomorrow morning at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I present my synopsis of Macrowikinomics:  Rebooting Business and the World by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.  It is a terrific book.  But as I read about the “dark side” of the wikinomics economy, a phrase came to mind that I have not been able to escape.  So – here’s my prediction:

We are becoming a nation, and world, filled with “knowledge worker day-laborers.”

You know what a day-laborer is.  It is a person who shows up at a site where others gather, hoping to be hired for the day.  Traditionally, this is a phrase describing physical laborers, expecially farm laborers.  They show up, early in the morning, on the right street corner, hoping to be hired for the day.

Well, the book Macrowikinomics describes all sorts of ways that companies are using more than just “their employees,” and all sorts of ways that individuals are collaborating on short term projects.  This is all well and good.  But…where will the actual jobs be?  Or, to put it differently, how will people feel secure, confident that they will have work to do for the next day, week, month, decade…?

Conisder these thoughts, from the book:

(re. the “joblessness” of the younger adults, throughout the developed world) – This is a problem of epic proportions…  There is a real danger that the largest, most highly educated cohort of young people in history could become “the lost generation.”


The trend for many companies is clear:  if we can do more with fewer, we will…  talent can be inside and outside of firms… Aren’t wikinomics business models the death knell for jobs?

The Big Scares (my observations)
• are we becoming  a world of (internet connected and enabled, computer terminal) “day-laborers” – always looking for the next job/assignment/project… with little or no security and continuity?  (in other words – how will people make a living in this brave, new, scary world?)
• Think about this:  IBM – from 399,000 to 100,000 by 2017 (projected cuts in actual employees – their planned “HR transformation program”).

Think about that last item – IBM intends to cut nearly 75% of its jobs, and maybe “hire” many of the same people back on an “as needed basis” for specific tasks/jobs.  “The trend for many companies is clear:  if we can do more with fewer, we will….”

Yes, the wikinomics world is an exciting world of collaboration and multiple breakthroughs.  And the book tries to paint an optimistic picture.  The book says: “We think that there is a stronger case to be made that wikinomics principles help bolster fledgling enterprises by supercharging their innovative capabilities and that small enterprises in turn are the most reliable job creators.”

But I can’t help but think that what we really face is a not-so-brave, not-so-secure world of “Knowledge worker day-laborers,” hanging around their virtual street corners each morning looking for work for the day, facing a very uncertain future.

“This is a problem of epic proportions.”

Keep Learning – It’s Your Only Job Security (Macrowikinomics reinforces this ever-more-true truth)

Yesterday you graduated and you were set for life – only needing to “keep up” a bit with ongoing developments in your chosen field.  Today when you graduate you’re set for, say, fifteen minutes.  If you took a technical course in the first year of your studies, half of what you learned may be obsolete by your fourth year…  What counts more is your capacity to learn lifelong, to think, research, find information, analyze, synthesize, contextualize, and critically evaluate; to apply research to solving problems, to collaborate and communicate.  This is particularly important for students and employees who compete in a global economy…  given networked business models, knowledge workers face competition in real time.  Workers and managers must learn, adapt, and perform like never before.
Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World

{Peter Drucker said it first:
“The only job security is found in your own ability to keep learning!”}

{And Peter Senge:
“Through learning, we re-create ourselves.”}

Really Good News About Alzheimer’s – And Confirmation Of The Promise Of Wikinomics

First, the news, reported in Rare Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s by Gina Kolata in the New York Times.

In 2003, a group of scientists and executives from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the drug and medical-imaging industries, universities and nonprofit groups joined in a project that experts say had no precedent: a collaborative effort to find the biological markers that show the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the human brain.

I’m sure you’ve heard the news about this project.  The researchers have discovered a spinal fluid test that is seemingly very accurate in predicting the onset of Alzheimer’s.  The article describes how it was made possible by the mass and generous of information.  And in the arena of science and research, this meant individuals and companies had to get beyond their own desire for credit and profit to make this available to all.  In other words, this was a genuine and true systemic/process breakthrough, enabled by the technology that makes such information sharing possible.

How successful was it?

And the collaboration is already serving as a model for similar efforts against Parkinson’s disease. A $40 million project to look for biomarkers for Parkinson’s, sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, plans to enroll 600 study subjects in the United States and Europe.
The work on Alzheimer’s “is the precedent,” said Holly Barkhymer, a spokeswoman for the foundation. “We’re really excited.”
Companies as well as academic researchers are using the data. There have been more than 3,200 downloads of the entire massive data set and almost a million downloads of the data sets containing images from brain scans.
And Dr. Buckholtz says he is pleasantly surprised by the way things are turning out.
“We weren’t sure, frankly, how it would work out having data available to everyone,” he said. “But we felt that the good that could come out of it was overwhelming. And that’s what’s happened.”

Now, let’s think about it.

Though this work on Alzheimer’s “is the precedent,” in fact other arenas have already made great use of this new collaborative approach.  We could start with Wikipedia, but the best description of this is found in the book Wikinomics.

So, what is the biggest benefit of this technological era?  I presented my synopsis of Wikinomics:  How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams back in May, 2007.  A.G. Laffey, CEO, Proctor & Gamble, in a “front of the dust jacket” blurb, stated why the book and its ideas are so important:

“No company today, no matter how large or how global, can innovate fast enough or big enough by itself…  Wikinomics reveals the next historic step – the art and science of mass collaboration where companies open up to the world.  It is an important book.”

Here’s a little from the book:

Call them the “weapons of mass collaboration.”  New low-cost collaborative infrastructures – from free Internet telephony to open source software to global outsourcing platforms – allow thousands upon thousands of individuals and small producers to cocreate products, access markets, and delight customers in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past.  This is giving rise to new collaborative capabilities and business models that will empower the prepared firm and destroy those that fail to adjust.

Peer production is a very social activity.  All one needs is a computer, a network connection, and a bright spark of initiative and creativity to join in the economy.

These changes are ushering us toward a world where knowledge, power, and productive capability will be more dispersed than at any time in our history – a world where value creation will be fast, fluid, and persistently disruptive.  A world where only the connected will survive.  A power shift is underway, and a tough new business rule is emerging:  Harness the new collaboration or perish.  Those who fail to grasp this will find themselves ever more isolated – cut off from the networks that are sharing, adapting, and updating knowledge to create value.

The lesson is clear, and simple:  no one knows as much as every one.  No one company, university, research unit, knows as much as all companies, individuals, research units.  Unless you can hire every professional and amateur scientist in the world, then for breakthroughs to be found at the fastest speed, this is the new model.  Throw your data out there.  Get any one and every one to start thinking about the problem, and looking for solutions.

This may be a bad model for “profit,” (the article hinted at that), but it sure does sound promising for people frightened about Alzheimer’s.  And, I suspect, and hope, this is only the beginning.

We Really Don’t Want to Change, says James Surowiecki

The Wisdom of Surowiecki

The Wisdom of Surowiecki

The subject matter is the health care debate.  But the underlying premise is about a much, much bigger issue.

That issue:  everyone’s opposition to change.  The author of the article is James Surowiecki, and his book The Wisdom of Crowds was one of the most memorable books I ever read.  He is thoughtful, thorough, and provocative.  Any company or organization that wants to understand how to pull and pool the wisdom from your people — your workers, your colleagues, your customers, your entire “tribe” — should read The Wisdom of Crowds.  (To take the next step, also check out Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams).

But in this article in the New Yorker, Status-Quo Anxiety, Surowiecki reminds us just how difficult it is to implement change.  Here are a couple of key quotes:
• the public’s skittishness about overhauling the system also reflects something else: the deep-seated psychological biases that make people resistant to change.
• when we think about change we focus more on what we might lose rather than on what we might get.

He argues that we are intensely protective of the status quo; we love it, we cherish it, we protect it, we overvalue it.  Even a culture that wants to change rallies to protect the status quo when change begins to look actually possible.


This is the message about change from Surowiecki, and it does not matter if the change is in the corporate world or in public policy.

I’ve posted before about the constant need to change.  You might want to read my post, (The Woes of MySpace)  The Future is Utterly Predictable – it is a Future of Constant Innovation.  But Surowiecki reminds us just how hard it is build and sustain a culture of constant innovation.

Read the article by Surowiecki.  Don’t think about the subject matter of the article (alone) – think about its implications for business, for innovation.  It is enlightening.

And think about all the ways that you are resistant to change.  I promise you, it is a long list.  It is for me.


• You can order my synopses of both The Wisdom of Crowds and Wikinomics, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.