Don Tapscott on Ted talk (Four Principles for the Open World) puts forth a positive picture, arguing that the arc of history is towards openness. A few centuries ago, Guttenberg’s printing press gave man the access to recorded knowledge which paved the way for the creation of corporations, emergence of science and university and eventually the industrial revolution. No wonder that Martin Luther called the printing press “God’s highest act of grace” . The Internet has taken it to a new plane – from recorded knowledge to shared intelligence, accelerating the march towards openness. So here below are the 4 principles according to Tapscott and  a few thoughts on what it could mean to the professional services industry.

Principle #1 – Collaboration: The internet has gone from being a platform for content to becoming a platform for computation. This has ushered in tremendous energies for collaboration. The key factors driving such collaboration are:

  1. First generation digital natives entering the workforce (Stated simply, if you are above 35, you are either a digital immigrant or an aspirant to become one)
  2. The new global economic environment that is altering the boundaries of engagement. Virtual workflows that extend beyond national boundaries are the new reality.
  3. The new paradigm on talent. Tapscott gives the example of a neigbour who after failing to strike gold with his geologist’s research data finally published all these data on the internet and invited the global network to help him find gold in exchange for a reward of half a million dollars. He did find gold that drove up his fortunes ten fold. Most interestingly, the best ideas came not from geologists, but a variety of domains – engineers, software analysts etc.

The question for the professional services entrepreneurs is whether they are taking advantage of this availability of global talent.

Principle #2 – Transparency: In the march to openness, institutions are being stripped naked. In such a situation, trust becomes critical and trust is built on core values, particularly high standards of integrity.
The professional services industry is increasingly forced to push traditional borders and stretch out of comfort zones. Shared core values become the foundation on which new globally spread relationships are incubated and grown. With such a sure foundation, shared networked intelligence is no longer the preserve of multinational corporations.

Principle #3 – Sharing: This refers to the giving away of assets, a letting go of Intellectual Property and therefore very counter intuitive to the protectionist and preservationist ideas. The Pharma industry is about to fall off the ‘Patents cliff” and stands to lose up to 30% revenues in the short term.
The Accounting and Professional Services industry can watch out for  protective and closed approaches that can backfire in a world that is making rapid progress towards openness.

Principle #4 – Empowerment: When knowledge and particularly intelligence is distributed, it results in the distribution of power. The last decade has witnessed social uprisings and upheavals based on this principle. Arab spring, Tunisian revolution etc bear witness to this.
While such social revolutions may not directly be relevant to professional services especially  in developed economies, empowerment from shared intelligence surely contributes to small and medium enterprises in unprecedented ways. The two major opportunities faced by the Professional Accounting Services industry today are Cloud accounting and globalisation of workforces.

Tapscott says that it is no longer accurate to call our times the information age, but rather it is an age of network intelligence. Are we recognizing the opportunity presented and improving the professional services model to take full advantage of the growing network intelligence ?