As an internet strategist, I am very near to Turkish Futurists. Last week, I had a meeting with them and Ufuk Tarhan told me that being good and ethical will shape the community in the future. Today I wrote an article in Harvard Biz and see that online community are also on the same point. And I remember the presentation of the founder of wikipedia, Jimmy Wales who also metioned it on his speech…
I now, probably sure about that being good and ethical is the most important commerce rule in the new world which also shaped by internet…
Can an Online Community Shape a Strategy?
We are reaching the end of the first stage of our work supporting Wikimedia’s strategy development process (check out the progress at http://strategy.wikimedia.org) and I hit my first soul-searching moment. The catalyst? An email from Wikimedia strategy project manager Eugene Kim a couple of weeks back sharing his thoughts on how to think and act in a wiki way.
He shared three principles:
1. Act first, think later
2. Be human
3. Fail early and often
In all candor, the email was a critique of our “traditional” working style – and I’d hazard to guess the working style of most managers and strategy consultants. We weren’t getting the active partnership of the community that we wanted early on. My team was getting frustrated that no one was editing or discussing our wiki pages. Our first reaction: critique the technology (“maybe wikis don’t work for strategy”) and the community (“maybe they aren’t interested”).
However on reflection, I realized we were:
1. Thinking at the expense of acting (engaging) with the community
2. Trying to perfect the “imperfect-able”
3. Scared of having someone in the community find mistakes or disagree with our conclusions
I’ll admit- we really struggled to find our footing in this open process. As “professionals”, we see our job as delivering a high quality product that compels clients (shows we are worth the money) to action. This approach isn’t always as collaborative as we’d like it to be, really. I hadn’t really thought that though until we entered the wiki world, where collaboration isn’t something that happens after the work is done. It is part of the work and that requires the work to happen in a transparent way, so people can really engage.
Once we got over ourselves, we started to experiment with Eugene’s principles. I jumped on the Wiki on a Friday afternoon and wrote the top line summary of the strategic issues – online for all to see. No endless editing and revision. It turned out well, though not perfect. Here are two pieces of feedback from the community:
“This is exactly the planning page and also the planning talk page we will need in the coming months. I will look at it closely.” Art Unbound
“Can you imagine any business, small or large, any NGO, any University, any Government, doing strategic planning, without having “where the enabling money is coming from” as a top issue. They would be regarded as very amateurish. Have a Funding Strategy is of very high importance, and should be raised from the present ridiculous low point in the ESP list.”–Richardb
I am particularly pleased by Richardb’s comment (and I don’t mind being called an amateur!). The whole point of a strategy process is to figure out priorities for how to spend scarce resources of time and money. It is on these most difficult questions that we are most likely to follow the “traditional” way, thinking that the decisions are too important to get “wrong”. In the design of the process, even the Wikimedia Foundation board and project team struggled about whether to put the strategy synthesis role out in the community. It seemed like a pretty big trust fall. They hesitantly did so, but with strong guidance over the make up of that task force.
Is this the right direction? We need to wait and see whether the direction setting that this task force does is compelling and aligns with the sensibilities of the various stakeholders. Who is more likely to assimilate the wide range of data, values and viewpoints required to develop a good strategy: a small group of managers and strategists (with their homogeneous pedigrees) or a motley crew who can see issues from a myriad of viewpoints and aren’t afraid to speak their mind?