Every startup starts with the legend of its founder, and Joel Zamel has got a pretty cool one.
It begins with his dad, Gary Zamel, a self-made serial entrepreneur out of Australia who parlayed a mining engineering degree from the University of New South Wales into a handful of mining technology start-ups. In addition to all the companies he's begun, Gary went on to become a strategic investor in an additional array of companies in the field--the startup guy who's become an enabler of others. To that end, Gary founded an innovation center at UNSW, meaning this guy's got a sense of legacy to his work.
Well, Gary's son Joel grew up in a household where getting an idea and starting an entire company around it is as natural as it gets. So, big surprise, son follows father to UNSW and gets a degree in mining engineering, working in gold and coal mines during his schooling to build up his practical experience and put something aside for his own endeavors. But then Joel jumps script and heads over to Israel to complement his hard-science degree with a graduate one in counter-terrorism from an elite Israeli school (where better to learn CT?). About halfway through the school year Joel heads to Europe to participate in one of those Leaders of Tomorrow youth gatherings that brings together future elites from around the world for a long stretch of collective brainstorming. And that's when the idea of Wikistrat comes to him.
Back in Israel and using only the money he set aside from his mining days, Joel brings over a schoolmate and friend, Dan Green, who complements Joel's strategic brain with one more focused on technology. Joel sets himself up as CEO and makes Dan the Chief Technology Officer, and then, working with Joel's connections across Israel's community of strategic thinkers, security experts and intell analysts, they put together the Wikistrat technology platform, which they thereupon test out with real-world Israeli strategists.
That leads Joel and Dan to start marketing the platform to various potential clients in the realms of government, military, intell and financial/insurance groups, which is great. But what these guys really want to do is to create a 21st-century web-based consultancy that employs all the collaborative power of Web 2.0 platforms and links it to the Millennial Generation (or Gen Y) hunger for more peer-to-peer interactions as opposed to the usual delivery of wisdom from on high or, in many instances, from the black box of the consultancy.
Flash forward another half year and Joel and Dan are sitting in a hotel restaurant outside of JFK Airport on Long Island with me, discussing how to make that dream a reality.
Understand that we're not trying to push any generation out the door. We're just trying to build something that we think will be an essential enabler of strategic thinking and thinkers in this age of globalization's rapid advance. We see an entire universe of emerging countries, governments, militaries, intelligence agencies, companies, colleges and universities, and so on that are in desperate need of online platforms for their would-be strategic thinkers to reach out and network with others, developing themselves in turn. Most, if not all of those emerging countries feature young populations, or what we in the West refer to as Millennials/Gen Ys/Net Gens.
This is an age group that have grown up in a very different world, one defined by Facebook, YouTube, iPhones, Twitter and Wikipedia.
They have come to expect unprecedented level of connectivity, the kind of connectivity they now utilize on a daily basis for everything: social networking, education, entertainment, gambling, shopping and communication. And this generation demands the same tools when they go to work.
As the intell and policy-making communities recruit them, these youngsters have a stubborn expectation for collaborative tools that slow-to-adapt organizations (whether it's the intell agencies in the gov sector or research divisions in the corporate world) have been unable to deliver. The generational shift of Web 2.0 is still taking effect as internal bureaucracies struggle to keep pace with the demands of newly recruited, graduate analysts.
And so it is to be expected that the next generation of strategic planning tools would be developed and pushed from the echo boomers themselves. Wikistrat is just that: a young start-up out of Israel (founders Joel Zamel and Daniel Green are both in their 20s), pushing a system and a methodology for strategic analysis, planning and war-gaming.
As far as analysis goes, Wikistrat argues that the young analysts of today need more than Microsoft Word if they are expected to "connect the dots" and face tomorrow's security challenges. Rather than working "in silos," what is required is an environment of collaboration where analysts can manage the information overload, and exploit the wisdom of the crowd. The platform and methodology these two are pushing enables the interdisciplinary deconstruction of geopolitical issues and trends in a structured yet flexible manner, to aid strategists in thinking through problems in a systematic fashion.
And that's what I've been preaching across my trilogy of books, all those articles and op-eds, and here in the blog: there are ways to systematically think about the future, and if you want to be a grand strategist, that ability is your baseline muscle mass. It's what allows you to come upon any "unexpected" event with aplomb, because you've been waiting on and imagining this event for years.
Wikistrat take this concept of systematically thinking about the future one step further into the realm of strategic planning, proposing the concept of "Collaborative Competition." This approach enables strategists to map out the full spectrum of alternatives, promoting a "free-market like environment" in which strategic policy options are able to compete on their merits. This integrated network of evolving strategies, on a wiki platform, provides a dynamic framework for exploring and engineering the future--collaboratively with analysts and strategists from across the globe.
The Wikistrat methodology then adds a layer of risk-management, enabling the injection of vertical shocks and alternative futures, to stress-test strategies developed on the system. Premium subscribers are able to propose such scenarios, brainstorm the implications of potential geopolitical risks, and learn “how to do grand strategy” from world-leading strategists.
As Wikistrat launches their analysis and consulting services at the end of 2010, we'll challenge the existing cadre of old-school analysis services and truly innovate in this field. We'll offer a new approach via our collaborative system, automated work-flow, next-gen philosophy, interdisciplinary methodology, and a client delivery mechanism that is distinctly different from all others. Gone are the days of receiving a static report in a binder that must be consumed as is. Wikistrat’s rich-in-content, inter-linked format allows readers to consume analysis in a meaningful way.
So now you understand the natural fit here between Joel and Dan and myself. These guys grew up on my material (Joel claims to have read all my books and watched every online video of the brief) and believe it's a natural vessel for their ambitious goals.
So yeah, we couldn't be more excited about this venture.
I can see all sorts of things coming out of this:
- Some event happens, like the recent presidential election crisis in Honduras, and Wikistrat gives activists a place to congregate intellectually online, generating a blizzard of scenario analysis, upon which they can debate and even vote their preferences. With any luck, the brainstorming could serve as a catalyst for real outcome solutions.
- Say some second-tier city in China is going through a huge, master plan generation that will transform the lives of 20 million citizens--seemingly overnight. Why not fence off a chunk of the Wikistrat universe for citizens to engage the plan, penning their own scenarios for how they want this subway line to snake through their neighborhood or where they think the soccer stadium should go versus the school versus the planned golf course versus the string of parks designed to run through the city's core--whatever. Give people a chance to provide their own feedback and explore the contours of the plan, making it somewhat their own and avoiding a lot of social anger down the road when tone-deaf planners get it all wrong.
- Doing the same with development aid programs in some country, or perhaps that government's preference for market-entry strategies by foreign firms.
- Making Wikistrat a part of your international relations department curriculum. Maybe you're an emerging market university with limited means and you want your students to engage the world through strategic thinking that puts them in direct contact--even some conflict--with strategic thinkers the world over.
- And so on and so on.
I really think the list of possibilities here is endless. We want Wikistrat to be the go-to place when events and trends and plans drive people to seek out the possible consequences, before things get out of hand. That can be a fast- or slow-moving event/process, but the key is the ability to systematically explore the alternatives, because that's what makes people confident enough to engage in tough decision-making versus putting it off or avoiding the responsibility of making the call.
We think this globalizing world is going to need to bulk up on such talent and thinking pronto, and we think Wikistrat can be a key enabler at a good price, but especially one that speaks to your country's or company's future--meaning to your emerging workforce.
Enough for now. This conversation is just beginning.
Check out the sample "CoreGap Bulletin" post above, and again, let us know what you think.