How Fast is Bottom-Up Coming Up? What Does Obama's Internet-Powered Election Mean for How Business is Managed?

12/13/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

This week, I attended Don Tapscott's book launch for Grown Up Digital. Don's latest is a follow-up to his two prior best-sellers, Wikinomics and Growing Up Digital.

Don didn't disappoint. He outlined two key trends that are changing the way businesses are organized: Internet-based, bottom-up collaboration; and demographics. Don focused on the Net Generation's entry into the workforce and their use of the Internet as a communication and self-organization platform.

I loved the talk, but wondered: "How long will it take for traditional business people to really start changing their organizational structures, social norms, and expectations to account for the reality of the Net Gen?" Will this change occur over the next 12-24 months? Will it take a few years? Or will it take a decade or longer? Will it wait for the Net Gen to take on more senior management roles and force business to redesign around Net Gen models of communication and collaboration?

I don't know for sure, but I think the shift to "bottom-up" is going to happen a whole lot faster than most business people imagine.

When I talk to people about Rypple's goal of re-inventing performance management and professional development as a bottom-up, collaborative, and self-organizing process that integrates work with learning... light-bulbs go off. People get it, which is great.

But, I wonder... how long until the early majority start to get it and change how they do business?

Up until last week, I didn't think the mainstream population took this stuff very seriously. Sure, people heard about Linux software being built in a open source fashion, but... hey, that was just a bunch of tech stuff, right? There have been dozens of stories about corporate wiki-style innovation. But these were just gimmicks and experiments, right? And while everyone (not under a rock) got YouTubes emailed and chatted about (and maybe joined) Facebook, most people were cynical when they heard how things are "different" with this generation.

But, last week, the power of bottom-up collaboration got a huge, undeniable, impossible-to-ignore proof-point for everyone in the world. It will be very hard to write off bottom-up as yet another over-hyped trend.

This week Barack Obama was elected president. Yes, he was a great orator. Yes, he benefited from a huge dissatisfaction with Bush, fear of the economy and desire for change. But, what is really notable is Obama's use of technology to massively engage people through self-organization. It's ironic that the election of the hierarchically top executive in the land, and the ultimate Commander-in-Chief, would be the public harbinger of the power of a new style of collaborative, bottom-up organization.

As Mark Ambinder noted in June in the Atlantic,

"Obama has truly set himself apart by his campaign's use of the Internet to organize support. No other candidate in this or any other election has ever built a support network like Obama's. The campaign's 8,000 Web-based affinity groups, 750,000 active volunteers, and 1,276,000 donors have provided him with an enormous financial and organizational advantage in the Democratic primary."

Don thinks (and I agree) that this self-organization is not going to stop with the election.

As he writes:

"In the old style of politics, election day marked the end of typical citizens' involvement. They would take down their lawn signs and then passively watch the President run the country for four years.

But young adults won't be satisfied with politics as practiced by their moms and dads, and this will be one of the biggest challenges facing Obama. This age group will be exceptionally demanding. They will want to be involved in the act of governing-by debating contributing ideas before decisions are made. They will want an ongoing dialogue with their elected officials, and they know the technology exists to easily make this happen. They will also insist on integrity from elected officials; if politicians say one thing and do another, young Americans will use their digital tools to find out, and spread the news.

This election marks the birth of a political juggernaut that will dominate and transform politics in America. By 2015, children of the baby boomers will constitute one-third of the voting public. They have at their fingertips the Internet- most powerful tool ever for informing, organizing and mobilizing. And as we've seen, they know how to use it."

I think Obama's improbable election will be the final "evidence" point that convinces the business world that they need to understand the change that is coming to their way.

I'm going to be speaking at the Talent 2.0 conference on the 19th. Peter Cheese, the head of Accenture's HCM practice and Tammy Johns, Senior Vice President of Global Workforce Strategy for Manpower will be on a panel as well. Hopefully, we'll have some good conversations about this topic down in Orlando.