The spirit of collaboration is touching all of our lives
TheGlobeandMail.com – commentary/debate
Jun. 07 2013. Don Tapscott
Eds Note: Don Tapscott will be installed Friday as Chancellor of Trent University. The following is a condensed version of his installment speech to the graduating classes of business and nursing.
I came to Trent because I wanted a personalized and interactive learning experience and even back then Trent seemed to provide that. And it was a good choice. At Trent I wasn’t just a passive recipient of knowledge, but rather a co-creator of my own intellectual capacity.
It’s not widely known, but the Trent model of collaborative learning is in stark contrast to the models of the past. The industrial age was an era of standardization and scale – where something at the top pushed down standard units to passive recipients. Mass production. Mass media. Mass marketing. Mass education. Manufacturers, or journalists, or TV producers or teachers pushed out standardized products, publications, shows or lectures to audiences that were inert.
When it came to the university, learning was focused on the educator. The approach was the one-way lecture, one-size fits all, and students were isolated in the learning process.
This is all changing. The Trent model is important because today’s young students have grown up immersed in interactive media and communicating, rather being inert and isolated viewers of television like their boomer parents. As a result, they learn better through collaboration than being passive recipients.
Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.
Graduates in Business Administration will be successful through collaborative approaches rather than traditional command-and-control hierarchies. Proctor and Gamble now gets 60 per cent of its innovations by finding the uniquely qualified minds for discovery outside the walls the company. Companies turn their customers into producers or “prosumers” like Threadless – a clothing company where the customers design the clothes. The Chinese motorcycle industry is made of dozens of small companies who work together – with no overall motorcycle company pulling the strings. This is now 40 per cent of the world’s motorcycle production.
Some graduates will become entrepreneurs or join small companies, where collaboration opens a world of new possibilities. Small companies can now have all the capabilities of large companies without all the liabilities – legacy cultures, systems and processes. Because of the Internet, talent can now be outside a company’s boundaries and customers inside. More and more society will create wealth through networks of collaborators rather than industrial age behemoths (a word I learned by the way studying sociology at Trent.)
In addition to getting their great innovations from networking with talent outside their boundaries, big companies benefit from entrepreneurship too, as many are acquiring brilliant small companies with great innovations rather than relying solely on their research and development departments. As the new saying goes, M&A is the new R&D.
If you’re graduating in nursing, your working life will be one of collaboration, as nursing has changed from being an occupation to a full profession in its own right – and health care itself is being transformed. Nurses are now truly at the heart of patient care. As nurses you will be working in interdisciplinary, collaborative teams that involve doctors, social workers, research clinicians, therapists, educators, administrators and the patients themselves. These teams design and execute a complete wellness program for a patient in the context of their whole life.
Collaborating with patients is something new. In the industrial model of health care – as with media, production, education and everything else – clinicians delivered care to passive recipients. (“I’m a clinician. I have knowledge. You’re a patient you don’t. I deliver health care to you.”) I remember after I graduated from Trent, asking our family doctor a question during a diagnosis. He answered to me that he was the doctor and he would do the questioning. How things have changed since then!
Today, patients are informed like never before. Moms are checking their kid’s symptoms on the Mayo Clinic’s website. Millions of people with various disorders are learning from each other in platforms such as PatientsLikeMe.com. As an example, 20 per cent of all North Americans with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) are learning from each other’s experience there. And clinicians and medical researchers are huge beneficiaries.
In fact, health research is changing too. The pharmaceutical companies this year are losing a quarter of their revenue due to something called the patent cliff – where many blockbuster drugs are losing their patent protection. They have no choice but to reinvent their industry, by sharing clinical trial data. Imagine how sharing medical research data in a commons could do to transform not just the industry but lead to breakthroughs in human health.
It’s no revelation that our society has many problems. Youth unemployment everywhere is high. Many of the institutions of the industrial age that have served us well for decades – from old models of the corporation, media, government, the financial services industry and science – seem paralyzed and unable to move forward. Leaders of institutions everywhere have lost trust. The global economy is stalled and the world is deeply divided, too unequal, unstable and unsustainable.
The new generation will need to turn this situation around – find new solutions for our connected world – and everyone will have a role to play. You will need to participate in change in your workplace, community, country and in causes you join and as a global citizen. And you will need to teach your children well.
Don Tapscott is president and CEO of The Tapscott Group. He can be followed on Twitter @dtapscott
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