20 big ideas for 2012

December 16, 2011

The views expressed are his own.

What will happen in 2012? In the spirit of the aphorism “The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved,” let me suggest 20 transformations (which Reuters will publish in four groups of five). We need to make progress on these issues now to prevent next year from being a complete disaster.

These ideas are based on the research I did with Anthony D. Williams to write our recent book which comes out in January 2012 as a new edition entitled Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet.

All 20 are based on the idea that the industrial age has finally run out of gas and we need to rebuild most of our institutions for a new age of networked intelligence and a new set of principles – collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependence and integrity. These big ideas will be the focus of much of my writing next year.

1. Make the transformations required to avoid the 20-year slump

There is growing concern that the global economic crisis is not over, but may be just beginning. How do we avoid a prolonged period of slump and its effects – stagnation, unrest and even calamity? Evidence suggests that this is not a normal business cycle but rather a secular change — that the industrial economy and many of its institutions have finally run out of gas. A fundamental transformation is required — from old models of financial services to media, our energy grid, transportation systems and institutions for global cooperation and problem solving.

At the same time the contours of a new kind of civilization are becoming clear. Society has at its disposal the most powerful platform ever for bringing together the people, skills and knowledge we need to ensure growth, social development and a just and sustainable world. Because of the digital revolution, the old industrial models are being turned on their head and new possibilities abound. From education and science and to new approaches to citizen engagement and democracy, sparkling new initiatives are underway to rebuild the world anew.

We need new models that leaders of business, government and civil society can embrace. Rather than tinkering we need to transform our economy and society.

2. Radical openness

WikiLeaks continues to release classified government, and soon corporate information. Clearly not all government information should be public. And government employees as a rule should not violate their confidentiality agreements. But this forced transparency is just the tip of the iceberg. Increasingly all organizations operate in a hyper-transparent world. Today customers can use the Internet to help evaluate the true worth of products and services. Employees share formerly secret information about corporate strategy, management and challenges. To collaborate effectively, companies share intimate knowledge with one another. And in a world of instant communications, whistleblowers, inquisitive media, and Google, citizens and communities routinely put firms under the microscope.

So if a corporation is going to be naked – and it really has no choice in the matter – it had better be buff.  And when it comes to corrupt governments, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Organizations need to embrace transparency for trust, innovation, better performance and success.

3. Pulling the plug: making communication a right in the Digital Age

Throughout the Arab Spring, rulers attempted to shut off access to the web and digital tools. During the London riots of 2011 government leaders discussed the wisdom of pulling the plug on communications tools and leaders elsewhere including in the United States have openly discussed the Idea of an Internet “Off Switch.” The experience suggests these to be counterproductive: When governments shut down the Net, uninvolved people are affected, angered and become involved. Moreover, when people have their tools of communication taken away, such as Twitter and Facebook, they have no choice but to come into the street and communicate. So this has had the effect of stimulating the mass action in the street. And as the Internet becomes the foundation for wealth creation, education, health care, supply chains, commerce and all other facets of society, shutting it down has the effect of creating a digital general strike and economic paralysis.

Are there cases where it is legitimate and effective to pull the plug? Is communication a right in the digital age? What new models of free speech are required for the digital age?

4. Take action to prevent a worldwide youth explosion

Today’s youth were told that if they graduated, worked hard, and stayed out of trouble, they would have a prosperous and fulfilling life. But that’s not happening. Around the world, youth unemployment is far higher than the national average. Young people are disillusioned, and their high unemployment raises the specter of a new youth radicalization. In the ‘60s, youth radicalization was based on causes such as opposing the Vietnam war. Today’s radicalization is deeply rooted in personal broken hopes, mistreatment, and injustice. Moreover, today’s frustrated youth have at their fingertips the most powerful tool ever for finding out what’s going on, informing others and organizing collective responses. How can we engage youth in finding new solutions and in doing so avoid a generational conflict that could make the 1960s look tame?

5. Shift to new models of global problem-solving

The inability of the G8 and G20 to address the global economic crisis; the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization; and the Copenhagen and Cancun conferences on climate change show that formal international systems for cooperation are failing in achieving world goals of economic growth, climate protection, poverty eradication, conflict avoidance, human security and behavior based on shared values. Conversely many of the positive developments happening around the world, such as the struggles for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, are not being made because of our global systems for cooperation but rather through new networks of citizens, civil society organizations and other stakeholders uniting around a common cause.

It was a network of governments, private companies, civil society organizations, and individual citizens – the new four pillars of society – that organized to solve the crisis in Haiti. Rather than building more massive global bureaucracies it makes sense to embrace more agile, networked structures enabled by global networks for new kinds of collaboration.

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