Julius Caesar left us with one of the most famous Latin phrases – Veni, Vidi, Vici – when he used those three words to tell the Roman Senate of his victory in the Battle of Zela: “I came, I saw, and I conquered.” In today’s world, it sometimes seems like all we keep hearing from technological enthusiasts is “wiki, wiki, wiki.”
If you’re not paying attention yet, you probably will in future. Wiki is the Hawaiian-language word for fast. You can look that up – or refresh your memory about Julius Caesar – on Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia that gets its name from its use of wiki software, which allows millions of people to collaborate, quickly and effectively, to craft its entries. You’ll also find out there that wiki most commonly these days refers to a collaborative website that can be directly edited by anyone with access to it.
Caesar, Wikipedia and wikis would seem far removed from your world, but in fact their spirits are increasingly conquering our workplaces, and governments won’t be aloof. In Wikinomics, Toronto-based technology guru Don Tapscott collaborated with a London, England-based colleague, Anthony Williams, to alert us to how people are collaborating across offices, departments, and continents in the new “wiki workplace.”
“Billions of connected individuals can now actively participate in innovation, wealth creation, and social development in ways we once only dreamed of. And when the masses of people collaborate they collectively can advance the arts, culture, science, education, government, and the economy in surprising but ultimately profitable ways,” they note.
Their focus is on business, but some of it clearly applies to government, as they note. The first pathway is through expanded peer production. Take an example that may seem far from government but isn’t: Rob McEwen, CEO of Goldcorp, frustrated with his employees’ inability to strike gold on his Red Lake, Ontario site, put every scrap of information he had about it on the internet and invited outsiders to help him find the elusive ore. Now mining is normally about as secretive with its information as government, yet his challenge – and the prize money he offered with it – drew some iconoclast outside experts who used the information better than his in-house functional experts.
That doesn’t mean you invite the world to ferret through your database of social security numbers. But it does mean that in certain situations there is a step beyond inviting help from conventional consultants that we have yet to fully understand. Think about Procter & Gamble, which now throws out research challenges to outsiders and invites solutions from wherever they might come. “Today, companies that make their boundaries porous to external ideas and human capital outperform companies that rely solely on their internal resources and capabilities,” the authors state. The same might be true of government.
But the biggest impact is likely to be felt within the workplace, bringing together a number of trends. Hierarchy and autocracy have been under assault for a few years now. Work is increasingly being organized horizontally. Silos are acknowledged to need breaking down, and even where they still stand, in traditional public service organizations, people are drilling holes in the walls to let light in and workarounds are being used to network outside the silo. Knowledge management is vital. And the Net Generation, which grew up with file sharing and instant messaging, are taking their place in our workplaces.
“Working together and sharing their knowledge across organizational boundaries – in much the same way as they swap songs and videos over the internet – will be perfectly normal for tomorrow’s workforce,” Tapscott and Williams advise.
We’ll see it in teaming, they say, which will increasingly become self-organized. If you can produce an encyclopaedia with a minimum of organization, there has to be a lot more that can be done in such decentralized fashion. We’ll see it in decision-making, where the wisdom of crowds is taking hold in companies and might spread to government: if you want to figure out how many people might utilize your new service or ask for your new brochure, an office vote may be the best way of deciding. And we’ll see it in wikis, as people share and test their ideas or swap knowledge through simple web-based collaborative software.
Forget: Veni, Vidi, Vici. Think: Wiki, Wiki, Wiki.