The Wikified Firm
| Peter Klein |
Openness is surely the prevailing fetish of our times. In the tell-all memoir, in the airiness and transparency of modern architecture, in the porousness of national borders and, lately, in the flashier theories of business, the overwhelming appeal of openness is nearly a closed question.
Thus opens Daniel Akst’s review of Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams’s Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything from the Saturday W$J. It’s actually a pretty good review considering the book’s underlying flakiness. “Firms that cultivate nimble, trust-based relationships with external collaborators are positioned to form vibrant business ecosystems,” write Tapscott and Williams. “For individuals and small producers, this may be the birth of a new era, perhaps even a golden one, on par with the Italian renaissance or the rise of Athenian democracy.” Notes Akst: “Somehow it seems a little premature for Botticelli to roll over and tell Demosthenes the news.”
The basic problem with Wikinomics, and others in this genre, is the failure to take a balanced, comparative approach to the effect of technology on transaction costs. Of course, information technology has the potential to lower the costs of transacting between firms. But it can also lower the costs of organizing activities within firms (through improved communication, better monitoring, more effective coordination, and so on). The net effect on firm size and vertical integration is ambiguous. (See more discussion here.)
Does anyone else think that “wiki” and its derivatives should be added to the banished words list?
Update: Tapscott published an op-ed on Viacom’s tiff with YouTube in Monday’s WSJ.