The Participation Revolution: How to Ride the Waves of Change in a Terrifyingly Turbulent World

The Participation Revolution: How to Ride the Waves of Change in a Terrifyingly Turbulent World

by Neil Gibb


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It can at times feel like everything is falling apart. And there is a reason for this. It really is. We can either see this as an end or a beginning. In this uplifting and essential guide to a bewildering future, Neil Gibb claims that we are witnessing the birth of a new world, in which passive consumers are being replaced by active participants. We are at one of those rare points in human history, he argues, when a whole way of thinking is on the turn, just as it was in the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Those who catch the swell early are the ones who prosper. Those who don’t get it will be left behind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785630552
Publisher: Eye Books
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,243,206
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Neil Gibb is a consultant, writer, speaker and social advocate who has worked for over 20 years with companies large and small, helping them apply new thinking and technology to improve their businesses. His clients have ranged from Shell, Barclays, the European Space Agency and the Nationwide Building Society to dozens of small tech firms, including currently a cryptocurrency and AI start-up and a data analytics company.

Along the way he has published two crime novels, trained as a Jungian therapist and played a small but crucial role in the development of Viagra.

A decade in the writing, and based on research and experience across five continents, The Participation Revolution is his first non-fiction book and is being used to develop a module on digital innovation at Cambridge Business School.

Read an Excerpt


When things fall apart

"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf"

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Galileo Galilei was a clever lad. He is often referred to as the founding father of modern physics, of modern astronomy, of the scientific method, and of science itself. Einstein was one of his many fans.

Galileo was a geek, an engineer, a 16th-century hipster, and he could code. He was a pivotal figure in the great social and economic transformation that we now call the Renaissance. He was the inventor of one of the breakthrough technologies that enabled the discovery of the New World. He also played a pretty mean lute.

So influential was Galileo that, like Madonna and Prince, he was known simply by his first name.

But Galileo spent the latter part of his life under house arrest, having been very lucky to escape being executed in one of the many excruciating ways favoured by the inquisitions of the time.

The reason for this is worth remembering as we seek to navigate our way through a period of societal transformation very similar in scale and magnitude to the Renaissance.

Galileo said something that challenged the fundamental beliefs of the time – that the Sun, not Earth, was at the centre of the universe.

Like all great insights, it seems crazy with hindsight that people could be so resistant to something that now seems so obvious. It was a distinction that, once accepted, triggered one of the greatest periods of intellectual growth that mankind has ever experienced, critical to the development of navigation systems that allowed the New World to be discovered, and leading to a new system of logic, on which a whole new society and economy was built.

But it was something that, at the time, a lot of people just didn't want to hear – because people really don't like their beliefs to be challenged, even when all the signs are there that they are no longer working.

We are in the middle of a great transformation – a revolution that is blowing to bits beliefs, certainties, social systems and economic models that many of us had thought, and many still think, to be immutable and sacrosanct.

Now if that sounds a little dramatic, just take a look around. Political systems are breaking down, economic models are malfunctioning, opinion polls are no longer working, markets have become irrational, and once solid industries are being shaken apart. Everywhere, someone or something is disrupting, challenging and fundamentally changing how things are done.

At the same time, a social revolution is under way. Social media is dramatically reshaping the way we communicate, build relationships, and behave. Social conventions are being questioned and redrawn. Immigration and the movement of people on a scale never experienced before are putting cultures under huge pressure. National identities are being challenged, and individual certainties rocked to the core.

Across the globe, a cultural war has broken out – between progressives and conservatives, multi-culturalists and nationalists, atheists and those with faith, vegans and meat-eaters. It doesn't matter what the issue is, someone is shouting at someone.

Fear, anger, and conflict have become contagious.

When Pope Francis said, at a ceremony in Italy commemorating the centenary of First World War, that "perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction," he put words to what a lot of people were feeling.

It can at times feel like everything is falling apart.

And there is a reason for this.

Because it is.

Disruption is the future calling

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only"

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

On 11 March 1811, a small group of people started to congregate on the main street in Arnold, a leafy suburb on the edge of Nottingham in England. It was a cold, damp day, but the group grew quickly. A rebellious energy coursed through their ranks. They were not agitators by disposition. They were skilled workers from the local textile industry. But they were very angry.

The city's manufacturing companies were introducing radical new technologies and working practices that were disrupting their jobs and livelihoods beyond recognition. Skilled jobs were being lost to automation. Salaried jobs were being replaced with zero-hour contracts. Wages were falling, jobs were disappearing, people were being laid off. At the same time, local business owners were getting extremely rich.

On top of this, there was the shock of a new leader of what was then the world's most powerful nation – George IV, King of the United Kingdom. Whereas his predecessor, George III, had been a liberal, thoughtful man, popular with the people, George IV was brash, impulsive, and divisive. In the month since his inauguration, he had installed a bunch of his cronies in positions of power, subverting the normal mechanisms of government and making a series of seemingly alarming decisions.

It was just all too much. The small group was going to march on the city and mount a protest.

By the time it reached the city centre, its ranks had swollen into a huge indignant crowd. There were placards and angry speeches. A small faction broke away and marched on the factories in the Lace Market, breaking in and causing havoc.

The spontaneous uprising was contagious. Within a few days, much bigger protests had broken out in industrial cities across the country. Momentum grew. It was an insurgency that triggered mounting civil disorder – the largest protests the country had ever seen.

More than 200 years later, we call this group "Luddites", a movement that has become associated with resistance to change, people who are seen as being attached to old and outdated ways.

But at the time, that isn't what they were about. As far as the Luddites were concerned, they were fighting against a society that seemed to be falling apart, they were fighting against chaos and collapse. Because what they couldn't see was the future.

The words "change" and "transformation" are often used interchangeably, but they mean very different things. Change is an orderly process: it is linear, predicable, and manageable. Transformation is a disruptive process: it is non-linear, challenging, and often quite traumatic.

Whereas the process of change is orderly, the process of transformation is highly disruptive. What is more, the greater the transformation, the greater the disruption leading up to it.

This is what the Luddites were experiencing.

Societal transformation has three distinct stages that bleed into one another, often with a great deal of turbulence as we move from one to the next.

It starts with an "enabling phase", a period that is triggered by the rapid emergence of some radical new technology that enables things to be done totally differently. In the Industrial Revolution, this technology was the steam engine and blast furnace, which enabled the mechanisation that the Luddites were protesting against.

And it ends with a "transformative phase", marked by the establishment of a new social, economic, and political paradigm – literally, a whole new set of rules, structures, systems, and social values. It was in this latter stage of the Industrial Revolution that the majority of the key social, political, and economic systems we have come to take for granted today were put in place: the Western democratic system, the abolition of slavery, the creation of the stock market, the corporation, running water, electric lighting, modern medicine, to name just a few.

In between these beginning and final phases is a difficult, uncomfortable, and increasingly unstable period of transition – the "disruptive phase" – a turbulent and, for many people, traumatic phase, in which the old paradigm breaks down while the new one emerges. It is a period that when looked back on makes a great deal of sense, but at the time can just seem like everything is falling apart – and, of course, that is because everything is.

It was this increasingly disruptive and unsettling transitional phase that the Luddites were caught up in.

And it is the increasingly disruptive and unsettling transitional phase we are in now.


The great transformation

"Revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense ... that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately"

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Seventeen years after Sergey Brin and Larry Page first launched Google in their friend Susan Wojcicki's garage in Menlo Park, California, HBO released the second season of Silicon Valley, its fictional comedy parodying the thriving industry that had grown out of those early garage start-ups. In the third episode, Gareth Belson – CEO of a company that has more than a few parallels with the one that Brin and Page had created – rather grandiosely likened Silicon Valley to Europe in the Renaissance. It was said for comic effect, but like all great jokes, it was pretty close to the truth.

When John Watt and George White launched their start-up on the east side of the City of London in 1600, there were a lot of parallels with Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. The area around London docks had become a rabbit warren of little workshops, full of groups of twenty-something men hacking businesses together. Most of their meetings were done in the new hip coffee shops that were springing up around the area. And the whole thing was being financed by a network of private equity and venture capitalists. It was a hothouse of innovation, energy, and ambition.

Europe was in the throes of a massive transformation, driven by the emergence of two radical new enabling technologies: the movable type printing press had wrested control of the publishing and dissemination of information from the Roman Catholic Church, triggering an explosion of radical thinking and new ideas – it was the blogging platform of the early 1600s. And the development of precision systems meant that ships were suddenly able to venture way out beyond the horizon into "the New World", an innovation that was the era's GPS.

Buccaneering merchants were the high-tech entrepreneurs of the day, setting up high-risk but potentially super-high-return ventures to send ships into the New World and bring back exotic spices, materials and other goods.

Watt and White's vision was to create a supply line from Southeast Asia, a part of the world then known as the East Indies. Since branding wasn't yet a thing, they simply called their start-up "the East India Company".

The East India Company was the Amazon of the Renaissance, a business based on state-of-the-art logistics that quickly expanded way beyond its original remit. Very soon it was controlling the supply of goods from the whole of Asia.

Over the next 200 years, it grew and grew and grew. By 1780, the East India Company controlled more than half the world's trade. It was so influential that the founding fathers of the United States used its corporate flag as a template for The Stars and Stripes.

Then came the Industrial Revolution. The enabling phase of the Industrial Revolution empowered the East India Company in the same way the dot-com boom initially empowered incumbent businesses that had financial clout and infrastructure. But as the enabling phase gave way to disruption, the East India Company started to struggle. Like many corporations today, its growth started to stagnate and its profits declined. New start-ups with wild new ways of doing things came at it from all angles.

And by the time disruption gave way to transformation, the East India Company was no more. A mighty organisation that had controlled more than half the world's trade had become a footnote in history. To put that into context, it's like 90 percent of the current top 500 companies on the New York, Tokyo and London stock exchanges ceasing to exist in 20 years' time.

This might seem like a crazy notion, but that is what transformation looks like.

When things start to fall apart, there are two ways we can relate to them: as the end of something or the beginning of something.

There is a lot being written about the system that is breaking down, ideas and theories about what needs to happen to fix it. People are getting angrier, trying to resist. There is a lot of effort being put into shoring it up and trying to stop it falling apart.

History tells us, though, that resistance is futile. That is what the Luddites and the East India Company show us.

So this book isn't about any of that. It isn't about the rights and wrongs of what is happening, whose fault it is, or what could and should be done to fix it. It is about transformation and how to transform, how to step into the future, how to thrive in the rapidly emerging new economic order. It isn't for those who want to hang on to the world as it was – it is for those who want to learn how to flourish in the world as it is becoming.

In short, the book is a manifesto for those who really are out to change the world – to create the political parties of tomorrow, the social systems, the new businesses, new jobs, new fuels and, perhaps most importantly, the new societies.

It is also a framework for the transformation of existing businesses and enterprises to thrive in the new economic order; how to pivot, realign and genuinely innovate.

And, lastly, for anyone who might be interested, it shows how to be a billionaire ... in three easy moves.


Creative destruction

"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction"

Pablo Picasso

In 1942 the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter popularised the concept of "creative destruction", describing it as the "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionises the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one." Schumpeter's point is that every act of creation, and every act of groundbreaking innovation, however good and useful they are, is also an act of destruction, in that it supplants something. Thus the automobile destroyed demand for the horse-drawn carriage, digital photography for film, Netflix for video stores, and the iPhone for a whole host of things.

Creative destruction tends to a maximum in periods of societal transformation such as the present one. Everything is up for grabs, and everything is at risk. In the next 10 to 20 years the chances are that 70 percent of current jobs will most likely no longer exist. Whereas the industrial revolution replaced skilled manual labour, digitisation and increasingly intelligent algorithms are replacing middle management and white collar jobs. Industries like banking, oil and gas, law, accountancy, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, education and logistics will be turned on their heads. Many, many of today's large corporations will simply cease to be.

What the Luddites showed is that resistance is futile, but that doesn't make what happened to them any less traumatic. We become attached to things, especially professions, business models and institutions that have been with us all our lives. The reason large incumbent corporations and industries so often fail in times of structural change is because there is a collective unconscious belief that the underlying fundamentals of their businesses are immutable. But as the fall of the once all-powerful East India Company shows, when the social and economic paradigm tips, things change fast. The people and companies that will thrive in the new economic order are those who are able to act early.

Because of this, I have worked hard to stay objective. I have chosen some case studies and examples that may not sit well with how you want the world to be – in some cases they don't with mine, either. But I include them, as they illustrate emerging phenomena most clearly. The point of doing this is not to celebrate them but to give us choice. Denial is perhaps our most dangerous human characteristic, especially when things suddenly change. It works to protect us in the short term from unpalatable truths, but often opens us up to huge downstream risk.

My view is that by distinguishing how things work, independently of whether we like how they are being applied or not, we give ourselves the opportunity to take the insight, and apply it in ways that make the world work in a way that we want. And that, really, is my goal here. To provide the means to be on the front foot, to surf change, to shape the future, not just to survive, but to thrive in the rapidly emerging new social and economic order.


Excerpted from "The Participation Revolution"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Neil Gibb.
Excerpted by permission of Eye Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

I Introduction

When things fall apart 15

Disruption is the future calling 18

The great transformation 22

Creative destruction 26

How to use this book 29

The emergence of a new paradigm 31

That thing we seek 34

The rise of social economics 38

The participation revolution 49

Connected 61

Strategic shifts 71

The process of transformation 72

Architecture 74

II Case stories

1 We are united! 77

2 The power of fans 86

3 How to be a billionaire in three easy moves: part 1 91

4 How to be a billionaire in three easy moves: part 2 99

5 Generation Why 108

6 Vision and blindness 116

7 Why we do what we do 124

8 In the club 132

9 The deadly serious game 146

10 How to be a billionaire in three easy moves: part 3 155

11 A higher calling 162

12 It ain't what you do, it's the why that you do it 173

13 The pursuit of happiness 181

14 Together 187

15 Home 194

III How it works

Framework 205

1 Create a cause 207

A new kind of leadership 208

Bank to the future 213

The non-linear business model 217

2 Mobilise a movement 220

Weapons of mass participation 221

The art of transformation 224

Analytics and performance metrics 228

3 Build a community 231

Together 232

That thing we seek 236

Social economics 243

IV Into action

A call to action 249

Manifesto 252

An open-source tool kit 253

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