New motive power for enterprises

As new motive powers come along, enterprises have always been quick to adapt and profit from their advantages. During the Middle Ages, plows were pulled and mills were turned by oxen or horses. When canals were dug, we continued to rely on animal motive power to pull the cargo-laden barges. Water wheels near rivers and windmills provided alternatives to beasts of burden in some locations. Then came steam power which revolutionized transportation and industrial production. Heavier loads could now be moved faster and non-stop. Railroads became possible while steam ships replaced 3 masted schooners on the open seas. When petroleum could be refined into high octane fuel, airplanes became feasible. Jet, diesel, propane, gasoline and electric engines together power every industrialized mechanism.

Most are looking for replacement motive power from biofuels, hydrogen,wind and solar power to keep cars on the road and planes in the air. They assume we will continue to maintain the industrial models of production, transportation and lifestyle. It's inconceivable that customers and the bottom rung of hierarchies could provide a new motive power. Eight recent books suggest otherwise:

  • Wikinomics - How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything / Don Tapscott
  • Outside Innovation - How Your Customers Will Co-design Your Company's Future / Patricia Seybold
  • Better Together: Restoring the American Community / Robert D. Putnam
  • The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations / James Surowiecki
  • Here Comes Everybody: the power of organizing without organizations / Clay Shirky
  • The Age of Engage: Reinventing Marketing for Today’s Connected, Collaborative and Hyper-Interactive Culture / Denise Shiffman
  • Groundswell : winning in a world transformed by social technologies / Charlene Li, Josh Bernoff.
  • Crowdsourcing : why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business / Jeff Howe

These prophetic voices challenge us to harness this new energy or fall behind those enterprises which run on "groundswell power". It's unlikely this new motive power can be retrofitted into current production, education and service systems. This new energy source fuels different kinds of labor, activities and results. It not only makes it easier to get things done. It changes what to get done and what good it does.


  1. Thanks so much for gathering this impressive list of essentials.

  2. You're welcome Michael. I just finished reading the book "e-preneuring" which fleshes out more about harnessing this new motive power. I'll add a blog post about the book soon.