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The power of one (million) August 4, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Wikinomics.

One person can make a difference. –Overused cliche
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. –Another overused cliche

Collaboration. Co-creation. Crowdsourcing. These terms have become the buzzwords of a new way of thinking about production, articulated in Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.

The digital economy, says author Don Tapscott, has enabled businesses to work with the public to develop new products, come up with new ideas, and change the way that society works. There is wisdom in crowds; there is possibility in groups.

Before the mass adoption of the internet, geography was an inhibiting factor that truly prevented mass collaboration. Experts with great ideas lived in different towns, different states, different countries. The odds of stumbling upon someone who could take your thinking and advance it to a new level was unlikely. It is not surprising then, that the great inventions and discoveries before the 21st century are attributed to one man or one woman. Consider:

  • The printing press — Gutenberg
  • Gravity — Sir Isaac Newton
  • Penicillin — Fleming
  • Cotton Gin — Eli Whitney

Even groups responsible for invention did so through close associates, such as the Wright brothers, for example.

Today, that has all changed.

People from vast distances — and at their own time — can come together to solve problems and contribute to new inventions. One of the coolest examples that Tapscott offers in his book is the computer program, which is available for anyone to download, that runs calculations to help discover a cure for AIDS while your computer is idle. Or that within hours, people from all over London were able to compile a detailed account of the London subway bombings.

When working together, more things are possible. And the digital economy allows it.

How does this relate to public relations? Well, PR practitioners should realize that their companies customers may have valuable insight. Let them help communicate — because an Army of citizen marketers (as Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba point out) is stronger than a 15-person corporate communications shop.

While it may be true that one person can make a difference, it is also true that she will have a greater impact if she works with a million others to achieve her goals.



1. John Bell - August 5, 2007

What does this have to do with PR? That is the right question. As more companies try ways to engage directly with customers and/or influencers, should PR think more about what it means to activate these communities into advocacy? Does that change PR?

2. Savetheworldfree.ning.com - February 17, 2008

Tear in two a large sheet of paper, combine the two and do it again, repeat for a total of twenty, 20 tears then count the number of small bits of paper you have. over one million.

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