PETER DRUCKER FORUM 2013: “Complexity – Looking at the world though different lenses” by Don Tapscott

tapscott cover


Don Tapscott (CA) was told by his second grade teacher that he would never graduate from high school. Nowadays Don is one of the world’s leading authorities on innovation, media, and the economic and social impact of technology. In 2011 Thinkers50 named Don as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers. He has authored or co-authored 14 widely read books including Paradigm Shift, The Digital Economy, Growing Up Digital, Digital Capital, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything and Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet. His work continues as a the Chairman of Moxie Insight, a member of World Economic Forum, Chancellor of Trent University, Adjunct Professor of Management for the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Martin Prosperity Institute Fellow.



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In his talk on “Applying Complexity Thinking to Solving Global Problems“ he now raises the question: how do we solve the problems in the world? Complexity is at the heart of this.


The talk began with a brief introduction to complexity theory and by taking a look at the old world paradigm versus the new world paradigm. Big changes have occurred in the way we think about the world and how we do things nowadays One example of this is that in the old world, the past was critical to our understanding. How can this be applied to global problem solving and governance? Nowadays models such as Snowden’s Cynefin Model give us a framework to look at and understand the complexity of the world. In this new world we need a « safe fail » which will allow us to attempt to solve the world’s problems.


Our traditional model for solving the world’s problems came from 1944 and is based on the creation and cooperation of institutions and nation states such as the UN, World Bank. IMF, G20 or G8. These institutions are based on the belief that only states are allowed a vote and each organization has a traditional hierarchical bureaucracy. Within these structures there are a finite number of players that need to be involved within a predefined order where  solutions come from the top and can be imposed by great leaders who act on behalf of passive citizens. We therefore need to ask if these are still relevant today and possibly update this model.Nation states will not disappear yet they are increasingly insufficient as a measure in today’s world.


The internet has given 1 billion people the opportunity to cooperate which has given rise to a new generation which has grown up not watching TV but collaborating on a global scale.People can now participate in many different networks at a very low or non-existent transaction and collaboration cost and vertically integrated organizations are not as powerful and as relevant as they were in the past.



Back in 1937, the recently deceased Ronald Coase asked why firms exist. Today there is a new division of labor and an evolution of global dimension networks. What are the characteristics?


1.   Diverse stakeholders.

2.   Addressing a global problem

3.   Exploits a digital revolution

4.   self-organized governance


These characteristics lead to a Taxonomy of Global Solution Networks.Such networks include new knowledge networks (e.g. Wikipedia), operational and delivery networks (tweeting has become useful in a disaster), new policy networks, advocacy networks (, watchdog networks (Sunlight Foundation), Platforms (SoJo), Global Standard Networks, Governance Networks (ICANN governs the internet), networked institutions (which have even become little United Nations) & Diasporas ( 


150 years ago most of us were farmers and the world was a logical world to understand. With the advent of the printing press by Gutenberg the world began to change. The internet is doing the same thing. The printing press gave us access to the written word, now the internet allows us all to write.


 This is not an information age, but an age of collaboration.


The future is not to be predicted but to be achieved through a new dynamic paradigm including self-organizing, emergent and sometimes resilient networks involving millions of stakeholders These networks embrace, active participation, uncertainty and constantly changing conditions, and they show great promise for solving global problems and governing an volatile and complex planet in the future.



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