Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Inside the Mind Of… Don Tapscott

Last updated on June 14th, 2023 at 10:51 am

Don Tapscott is the CEO of Tapscott Group, a company that focuses on business strategy in a technologically evolving market. He is also the Vice Chair of Spencer Trask Collaborative Innovations, which invests in emerging companies in communications, information technology, and life sciences.

Don has written several books including Paradigm Shift (1992), The Digital Economy (1996), Growing Up Digital (1998), Digital Capital (2000), The Naked Corporation (2002), and Grown Up Digital (2008).

He co-authored Macrowikinomic: New Solutions for a Connected Planet (2010) with Anthony D. Williams, nominated by Financial Times for Best Book, and recognized by the 2012 Tibeca Disruptive Innovation Awards. His TED Talk for TEDGlobal in Edinburg, Four Principles for the Open World, has been views more than 800,000 times.

Tapscott’s latest book, entitled Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World is co-authored by his son Alex Tapscott. They tout it as the first book about Blockchain to explain why it will fundamentally change what we can achieve online, how we do it, and who can participate.

In 2017, Don and Alex co-founded the Blockchain Research Institute whose seventy-plus projects investigate Blockchain strategy, use-cases, and implementation challenges.  

Tapscott is Chancellor of Trent University, and Adjunct Professor at University of Toronto’s Joseph L Rotman School of Management. He was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015.

How would you best describe your job?

My career has always been about understanding the relationship between digital technology, business and society. Right now, my job is focused on helping leaders in government and business understand the implications of Blockchain technology. That was the goal when Alex Tapscott and I co-authored Blockchain Revolution, but in many ways, we’ve found the book created just as many questions as it did answers. So, we co-founded the Blockchain Research Institute to answer some of those big questions about how we can apply Blockchain to improve business, government and society in general.

On LinkedIn in July, 2015, you spoke of the attributes needed to be a modern manager. So what differentiates a good manager/leader from a great manager/leader?

The key is to understand the difference between command-and-control leadership of the past, and the more collaborative leadership needed today. Leadership is not necessarily embodied in a single individual the way it once was. It needs to be networked, and it needs space to grow and develop organically. That sort of leadership is far more flexible and responsive, which is what we need in the 21st century.

I would say a good manager is an engineer, whereas a great manager is a gardener. An engineer dictates how an organization must look from top to bottom. A gardener builds an environment where every aspect of the organization can thrive. A gardener curates, but doesn’t dictate. That’s the kind of leadership needed in the modern world.

How are Millennials changing the business world?

A few years ago I wrote two books, Growing Up Digital and Grown Up Digital, which explored Millennials as the first generation raised entirely in the digital era. The conclusion was that no generation has been better equipped to tackle the challenges of their era. Now that Millennials have really entered the workforce, I think it’s clear my optimism was well-placed. They’re not the lazy, entitled generation so many people made them out to be.

As consumers and workers, Millennials tend to look for businesses and organizations that reflect certain values. They want to extract meaning, and really see the impact of their work. Companies are being held to a higher standard, simply because they’re marketing to a generation of scrutinizers. I think the evidence has shown that these can all be good things, if businesses embrace them.

What are the 4Ps of marketing, and why are they changing?

The 4Ps of marketing are “Product, Place, Price and Promotion.” This was the foundational paradigm of marketing in the industrial era. It’s also all wrong for the modern age.

“Product” described the thing your business is selling, but that doesn’t cut it anymore. Consumers aren’t just looking to buy products; they’re looking to pay for experiences. That’s a crucial distinction.

“Place” describes the physical location, and for many businesses that is still relevant in providing a certain experience for customers. But the digital economy has turned ‘place’ into ‘anyplace,’ and that has huge repercussions in the way we sell things.

“Price” is as simple as it sounds, but even that is changing. Consumers are increasingly looking to new price discovery mechanisms, rather than just price. Simply allowing a business to set a price for something has gone by the wayside, and consumers are now looking for new ways to find the true value in a product.

Finally, there’s “Promotion,” which has fundamentally changed with the arrival of social media. Promotion is unidirectional, but what businesses need now is ‘engagement.’ It’s not enough to simply see your brand, they need to feel connected with it, and the best way to do that is by engaging with it.

What is ‘radical openness’ and why should a company utilize it?

“Radical openness” is a new philosophy calling for more sharing, transparency and collaboration both within and between organizations.

In one way, radical transparency is a means of making sure your organization is operating at its very best. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and complete exposure offers a real incentive to do away with aspects of your company that either don’t add value or don’t demonstrate values.

Radical openness is also means leveraging the innovation and productivity of individuals outside of your firm. This is about foregoing vertical integration, and building a business model that takes advantage of our vastly interconnected society.

There are obviously risks involved in being so wildly open with your intellectual property, but in general it enables companies to benefit from the mass collaboration of the digital age.


What are people most typically confused about in terms of Blockchain, and what should they be paying most attention to?

Well, I think the very first problem we run into is that people have trouble separating the “Blockchain” from the “bitcoin.” More precisely, Blockchain gets dragged into the argument about the speculative value of bitcoin. There are much larger implications here, and we need to consider all of those.

Blockchain is the technology behind bitcoin. It’s a distributed ledger that allows you to establish trust without the need for big intermediaries. This represents nothing less than the second era of the internet, and there isn’t an industry or area of society that I believe won’t be affected by it.


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Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than a hundred publications globally, over the course of twenty years. More about him can be found at