Don’t Keep Fighting the Last Battle

I ran across an interesting quote from Will Wilkinson in an article he wrote about wikileaks:

The basic question is not whether we think Julian Assange is a terrorist or a hero. The basic question certainly is not whether we think exposing the chatter of the diplomatic corps helps or hinders their efforts, and whether this is a good or bad thing. To continue to focus on these questions is to miss the forest for the texture of the bark on a single elm. If we take the inevitability of future large leaks for granted, then I think the debate must eventually centre on the things that will determine the supply of leakers and leaks.

For our purposes here, I’m not too interested in whether or not wikileaks is a good thing. The thing that strikes me about that quote, and the broader point that he is making in that post, is that the reaction of governments to wikileaks is almost identical to the most common reaction of incumbents to disruptive innovation: they invest all of their time and energy in fighting a battle that is already irrelevant.

The technology to share documents widely is here now – if something happens to Julian Assange, or if the wikileaks site is shut down by denial of service attacks, that capability remains. Trying to shut down this instance of whistleblowing is like the record companies suing twenty people that have shared files (or 100 or whatever). It doesn’t address the fundamental issue.

When you face a disruptive innovation, the worst thing you can do is try to fight to make sure that the world goes back to the way it used to be. It never does. Overall, this can be either good or bad (see the fights between internet pessimists and optimists, for example).

The thing that you have to do is figure out how to respond to the change. How can you compete in the new landscape?

This is a very difficult question to answer. However, you have to address it – otherwise you’ll keep arming yourself for the last battle, instead of the next one.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Don’t Keep Fighting the Last Battle

  1. Tim, you’ve touched on a topic which has been popping into and out of my mind for a number of days, now. Thanks for saving me a post!

    You are exactly right on this one. Even if Assange is processed into Soylent Green, it does nothing to stem the issue of such “confidential” documents being leaked in the future. When the suits took down Naptser, they created a void for torrent sites like Pirate Bay. When Pirate Bay was neutered, other sites stepped in to take its place.

    Reactionary politics have their place, but the lack of proactivity – in government AND in business – is sad. All the posturing and fiery rhetoric does is distract from the sheer inability of our elected officials to actually lead.

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