20 big ideas for 2012, continued

December 19, 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; the first can be found here). 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.

6. The Arab seasons: Getting beyond wiki revolutions to democratic, secular governments

In Egypt and Tunisia we saw a revolution in how to foment revolutions.  Now we need to reinvent how to build democracies. Enabled by social media, anti-government leadership in these two countries came from the people themselves rather than a traditional vanguard. Tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter radically lowered the cost and effort of collaboration and undermined state censorship. Now leaders are beginning to use the same tools to help build functional democracies. “Social networks, Twitter and texting were critical to the revolution,” said Yassine Brahim, Tunisia’s new minister of infrastructure and transport, last year at Davos. “We are going to leverage social media to build a horizontal democracy rather than a vertical democracy.” We must ensure that the wiki revolutions result in just societies, and not be taken over by the old regime or other regressive forces.

7. As the Old Media collapse, improve how We inform ourselves as societies

Traditional media such as newspapers and magazines continue to decline, in turn eroding the traditional ways we inform ourselves.  Meanwhile there is an information explosion being caused by new media:  Between the beginning of history and the year 2003, five exabytes of information were recorded.  Today five exabytes of information are recorded every 24 hours. There are new dangers of information overload, balkanization, and the fragmentation and credibility of online content.  Yet with the explosion of “the third screen” — mobile devices — there are vast new opportunities to inform people in the farthest reaches of the developing world.

There are new emerging models for societies to be informed.  How can we avoid a world where people only receive the information they agree with – isolating us into self-reinforcing echo chambers of content? How do we ensure quality, good judgment, investigative reporting, and balance? New thinking suggests each of us can become a media citizen where we manage out media diet to be appropriately informed. What can business, government and the media industry do to develop media citizenry?

8. Ending the government debt crisis: New models for cheaper, better government

The concept of “Reinventing Government” has been around for two decades.  But its time has come.  The sovereign debt crisis in Europe and the spiraling debt in America and other Western countries call for more than tinkering. Coupled with citizen resistance to increased taxes, there is an emerging crisis where the basic funding for government operations is threatened globally.   There is now a new medium of communications that only changes the way we innovate and create goods and services – it can change the way societies create public value.

Governments can become a stronger part of the social ecosystem that binds individuals, communities, and businesses—not by absorbing new responsibilities or building additional layers of bureaucracy, but through  willingness to open up formerly closed processes and data to broader input and innovation.

Governments can become a platform for the creation of services and for social innovation. It provides resources, sets rules and mediates disputes, but allows citizens, non-profits and the private sector to share in the heavy lifting.  This is leading to a change in the division of labor in society about how public value is created, and holds the promise of solving the debt crisis.

9. New models of regulation: The citizen regulator

The financial meltdown illustrated how the speed, interdependency and complexity of the new realities make traditional centralized rulemaking and enforcement increasingly ineffective. There are too many innovations, products, relationships and activities to effectively oversee and regulate. After years of chronic underfunding many regulatory agencies are ill-equipped to pick up the slack of the past, let alone confront novel challenges for which they have neither the resources nor the expertise.

If the traditional approach is inadequate, what can supplement it? Effective regulation is more likely to stem from efforts that increase transparency and public participation. Rather than simply regulating, governments can drive transparency and civic engagement in industries from financial services to energy – not as a substitute for better regulation but as a complement to traditional command and control systems.

But do individuals and civil society organizations have the capacity to help regulatory bodies develop more effective systems of monitoring and enforcement? Do connected citizen regulators really have the power to change behavior of corporations and other institutions? What needs to change to make this a reality? What are the implications for traditional regulatory approaches?

10. Kick-start job creation through entrepreneurship

The “jobless recovery” is an oxymoron.  There is no recovery unless it is inclusive.  Unemployment levels around the world are brutally high, particularly for young people.  We urgently need to create more jobs, and we know that eighty percent of new jobs come from companies that are less than five years old. The good news: every day it’s increasingly easy to start a business. The internet provides young companies with unprecedented access to the resources and promotional tools once associated only with larger and older corporations.  And start-ups have the advantage of not being saddled with bureaucracy and other legacy costs.

To create jobs governments should adopt fresh policies to encourage entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs also need more than just money – they need encouragement in the form of a supportive environment, access to resources, talent, innovations, and customers.  We need to break the entrepreneurship logjam.


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