The theme of this year's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos (Jan. 22-27) is "Collaborative Innovation." Important developments in information technology, demographics, business, and society are enabling new paradigms in collaboration in the global economy and leading to profound changes in every institution.
Companies, governments, educational institutions, and others can now orchestrate capability, innovate, and create value for their stakeholders in new ways. Collaborative innovation may hold the solution to many of the vexing problems facing our shrinking planet.
As a Davos fellow, I'm looking forward to discussing a number of issues at this year's events. Below are some of the big issues I'm anxious to explore:
1. Collaborative Democracy
Democracy is in trouble in many countries. Most citizens are passive observers of government, becoming engaged only at time of elections. Is the current model inappropriate for the global "Net Generation" that has grown up collaborating and interacting and participating in social communities? What new models are emerging to engage citizens?
2. The Wikiversity—Collaboration, Learning, Pedagogy, and the Schools
The current model of educational pedagogy hasn't changed for centuries. Based on the lecture, it is one-way, one-size-fits-all, teacher-focused and isolated. The student is a recipient, not a creator of knowledge. For a new generation of young people who have grown up interacting online rather than watching TV (as their parents did), this model is no longer appropriate. A new model is emerging—one that is interactive, customized, student-focused, and collaborative. Schools, colleges, and corporate learning programs that can change along these lines will experience breakthroughs in learning.
3. Collaborative Marketing—Consumers of the World Unite
Collaborative buying communities, predictive markets, new exchanges, and market-extending technologies are shifting power to consumers, with enormous implications. What are leading companies doing in response? Every business school graduate and marketing manager has learned the four P's of marketing—product, price, place, and promotion. The paradigm was one of control—simple and in one direction: Companies marketed to customers. Businesses created products, defined their features and benefits, and set prices. Companies selected places to sell products and services and promoted aggressively through advertising, public relations, direct mail, and other in-your-face programs. They controlled the message. Is marketing changing fundamentally?
4. Changing the Weather—Mass Collaboration and Climate Change
Mark Twain famously said about the weather "Everyone's talking about it but no one's doing anything about it." That's changing. We're in the early days of something unprecedented. Thanks to Web 2.0, the entire world is beginning to collaborate—for the first time ever—around a single idea: changing the weather. For the first time, we have one affordable, global, multimedia, many-to-many communications system, and one issue on which there is growing consensus. Climate change is quickly becoming a nonpartisan issue and citizens, businesses, and governments each have a stake in the outcome. Indeed, the global consensus emerging on climate change is that solving the crisis will require leadership from every country and every sector in society. The killer application for mass collaboration may be saving planet earth—literally.
5. Collaborative Science—When Great Minds Collide
Just as the Enlightenment ushered in a new organizational model of knowledge creation, the technological and demographic forces turning the Web into a massive collaborative workspace are helping transform the realm of science into an increasingly open and collaborative endeavor. In just about every discipline, plummeting computing and collaboration costs are encouraging the formation of large-scale research networks.
Collaboration in collecting data, verifying discoveries, and testing hypotheses is not only speeding things up; it's improving the veracity of scientific knowledge itself as a much greater proportion of the scientific community engages in the peer-review process. Projects such as MIT's OpenWetWare are already doing this and showing the way forward for a new era of collaborative science.
6. Global Civil Society—Power to the People
People outside the boundaries of traditional institutions have at their fingertips the most powerful tool ever for organizing collective action. But the so-called "smart mobs" and "wise crowds" of the past are being superseded by movements for social change on an unprecedented scale. This is not simply occurring within nation-states, where the third pillar of society (after corporations and governments)—the civil society—has historically addressed the needs of communities not met by the market or government. Increasingly, "the people" are organizing across borders and exerting their power and influence on the global scene.
7. Mass Collaboration and Evil
Past technological paradigms—the printing press, broadcast media, and the centralized model of the computer—were hierarchical, immutable, and centralized. As such, they carried the values of their powerful owners. By contrast, Web 2.0 is interactive, enriched with services, and control is distributed. As such it possesses an awesome neutrality—reflecting what is good and bad in society. Religious fundamentalists, terrorists, hackers, and criminal networks have harnessed the power of mass collaboration to promote hate and commit heinous acts. The key to global security and freedom may lie in harnessing this same power.
8. The Net Generation Grows Up
The largest generation ever—ages 13 to 29—thinks differently due to its exposure to interactive media. They have grown up bathed in digital bits and do not fear technology. As they enter the workforce and marketplace, they are a huge force for transformation in every institution. But are we ready? How are they different? What do companies, governments, educational institutions need to do to embrace them?
9. Radical Transparency
Transparency is a new force that can be harnessed for innovation, growth, and success. More than compliance with regulators, new research shows companies that share pertinent information about themselves with stakeholders can perform better, build trust, and develop sustainable business models. Employees of open enterprises have greater trust in one another and their employers—resulting in lower costs, improved quality, better innovation, and loyalty. Transparency is critical to business partnerships—lowering transaction costs between companies and enabling collaborative commerce. Transparency with customers builds trusting relationships. But how do you win in this new world?
10. The Digital Conglomerates
Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN), eBay (EBAY), Yahoo! (YHOO), and even Microsoft (MSFT) represent a new business species—the digital conglomerate (DC)—expansionist business engines that challenge industry incumbents from automotive to telecoms. In seeking to respond, traditional companies face hurdles ranging from legacy offerings and technologies to creaky cultures and embedded business models. Some seek anti-competitive regulatory protections such as the elimination of Net neutrality, but likely winners will be more adaptive: Digital conglomerates present both threats and opportunities to incumbent players. Strategies for exploiting the opportunities include partnerships, acquisitions, and adoption (or at least mimicking) of DC business practices.