Big Sharing Is the Future

2015-02-05-PaulJohnson.pngAuthor Paul Johnson is Partner at Collaboration Quests and Founder at Uncommon Union.

You've heard the lament of Neil deGrasse Tyson: Big science is under attack. Less is spent on NASA, we abandoned the Texas super collider ceding sub-atomic physics to CERN and, everywhere, there is less appreciation of science. And despite so much of what we use on a daily basis -- computers, mobile phones, etc. -- a large portion of our country still believes humans coexisted with dinosaurs.

I like Tyson. I am here, however, to tell you that Big Science did not build the computer or Apollo rocket. Big Sharing did.

The technology beside you and in the cloud is the product of large-scale collaborations. Our shared culture is not scientific, never has been, probably never will be. Big science, big government, big business and big universities spent big budgets for decades researching and developing. The resulting big ideas enabled the microcomputer, Internet and mobile industries.

Not that long ago, many speculated the Internet, a product of so much academic and public sector design, might never be commercialized. To this day, the notion that tech startups need to strategize about "monetizing" their business suggests profitability is a late add. This roundabout route drove some of the greatest economic growth in history.

Exceptional returns were propelled by varied historical contributions: professors were interested in sharing research, defense planners wanted distributed networks in the case of a nuclear strike and businesses pushed to develop new commercial applications. The bits add up to the Internet we know and live. Their cross purposes allowed us to shape new industries.

Yet, despite the obvious benefits of big-thinking partnerships, rhetoric favors the small. Proponents of too-big-to-fail businesses praise small government. Those who would expand government rail against the abuses of monopolies -- but is exclusive bigness really in everyone's interest? Isn't asymmetric scale the real danger? A massive private sector and a tiny public sector is as dangerous as the opposite. Furthermore, the economics of scale have changed. As productivity gains drive a "jobless recovery," it follows that big organizations are more efficient than ever before.

This is not to say that centralization or consolidation do not pose risks. They do. Today's high-tech renaissance of scale, however, can and should answer for these problems. The question is not scale itself. In fact, in the age of the "World Wide Web," scale is inevitable. We need to consider transparency, accountability, access, value and privacy rather than who should be big. In fact, for genuine sharing, symmetric scale is the best safeguard against abuse.

As we are rapidly moving to a planetary system, we have the potential to unleash the benefits of unprecedented collaboration. We need our businesses, entrepreneurs, governments and artists to think big again. Recapturing the ethos of big sharing will produce the most enduring and valuable infrastructure, just as it has done in the past. We must, at the same time, overcome old prejudices and update the idea of "bigness" itself.

Scale and sharing is what epitomizes our present. Let's embrace it.