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A wiki is a collaborative software that allows others to come to a web destination to create, enhance or collaborate on existing software such as a website or forum. Howard “Ward” Cunningham is the pioneering programmer who developed the wiki. In 1994, a drawing programme called Hypercard caught his interest. Hypercard allowed anyone to link pages to each other. Like others in those embryonic days of the Internet, Cunningham tinkered with any new software. He thought it would be useful to use it to show how ideas moved through his company. Hypercard was originally developed under the assumption that you would only link to other pages that already existed. Cunningham made it possible to type the name of a page you wanted to link to, and if that page didn’t already exist, his programme would create it for you. Why was this so important? If someone inputted data of any kind on the internet and wanted to link to other data that no one had created, inputted or discovered, Cunningham’s programme left a record that there was a demand for that data. This meant anyone who could use the software could contribute, collaborate and push the boundaries. Contributors did not need permission to add, alter, delete or publish.
How is this useful to your leadership and your organisation and what the heck has it got to do with IKEA? This Thursday Thought Connects some dots. If you like these posts, sign up to our newsletter where you can win books featured on The Innovation Show and courses on Innovation and Transformation.
From Expertise to Collective — From Nupedia to Wikipedia
When Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanders conceived an online encyclopedia in the early 1990s, they did what most of us would do. They built on existing concepts and existing mental models. The founders recognised that people were increasingly willing to contribute their knowledge and expertise and the contribution to a global New Encyclopedia or Nupedia was appealing.
Wales and Sanders planned a structured, rigorous, and linear seven-step publishing process. They approached experts, academics, PhDs and scholars and assigned them entries to write. Once complete, another group of experts reviewed the content. At the penultimate stage, they solicited professional editors to polish the articles and finally an administrator gave a stamp of approval. It was a slow, assembly-line approach full of bottlenecks and delays. In the first year, they spent more than $250,000 and had only 12 completed articles to show for it.
In a desperate last-ditch attempt to save Nupedia, Wales and Sanger created a wiki, you guessed it, called Wikipedia. Neither had high expectations when they invited participants on the wiki. Sanger emailed Nupedia collaborators about this alternative way of working, saying: “Humour me. Go there and add a little article. It will take all of five or ten minutes.” In a matter of days, the wiki had more articles than Nupedia. An engaged community of random internet contributors with no specific credentials, from diverse backgrounds contributed whatever information they knew on a wide range of topics. Some contributed knowledge, others their editing and review skills.
Let’s pause for a moment. Yes, Wikipedia is not perfect, and it is post moderated, but there are important advantages. Wikipedia is our greatest example of how the power of an engaged crowd can create value and redefine entire industries. Think for a moment about Nupedia, the linear assembly-line process was slow. Is this like your organisation? Does your strategy follow an assembly line approach? Is it developed with consultants and experts? Or perhaps co-created with the leadership team? Next, they send the orders down the line to various managers. The managers then tell their people what to do. As the message passes down the assembly line, energy wanes and those at the end of the line are barely engaged. In addition, there are often told what to do, but rarely why to do it.
Meanwhile, the business environment moves at breakneck speed. Perhaps a nimble startup or a “Wiki organisation” has already implemented your strategy and maybe even surpassed it. They may have even discovered it didn’t work and pivoted to the new requirements of your customers. General Stanley McChrystal is responsible for reinventing outdated processes in the U.S. military. He said, “The world has outpaced us. In the time it took us to move a play from creation to approval, the battlefield for which the plan had been devised would have changed. By the time it had been implemented, the plan — however ingenious in its initial design — was often irrelevant.”
Executing in large organisations is often like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time you are only halfway through, you need to start all over again. Why? Perhaps your strategy is outdated, flawed, or you may just create a new one just to show you are busy.
Next we explore a potential solution, but first let’s explain the IKEA effect and then we will link it all together.
The IKEA Effect and Wiki (The WIKEA Organisation)
The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias that makes us place higher value on things we helped to create more favourably than those that are pre-assembled. The IKEA effect builds on “effort justification”, which showed that the more effort someone put into something, the more someone will value it. (The effect completely disappears when the task is done poorly or left incomplete. Ahem, which happens a lot with IKEA furniture and perhaps even more so with strategy execution.
If we like things more when we are involved and have contributed in some way, we value them more; we feel engaged, empowered and we tap into our natural creative instincts. Organisations are under intense pressure to deliver monthly or quarterly results, so investment in employee satisfaction and engagement seems like a luxury. Sometimes, however, we need to take a small step back to take a giant leap forward. There are many supporting studies that show that engaged workplaces are good for the bottom line. For example, this gallup poll revealed how organisations with engaged teams show 21% greater profitability. That is all great, but I truly believe engaged employees are becoming vital to the survival of organisations.
Whereas the speed of change took place slower in the past, today it happens at breakneck speed. Organisations, industries and economies are toppling under various forces of disruption from technology to globalisation. We had the great pleasure to welcome Amy Edmondson as a guest on Innovation Show 189 . On that episode Amy said, “If we don’t have everybody employed as sensors, everybody present to be alert to what’s going on, then we’re in trouble.”
People will not be present and alert if they do not care. A wiki has a core social operation: I care. Wikipedia works because the people who create and edit pages care enough to do so. Putting people who care in charge, rather than anointing experts or authorities, saved Wikipedia. It also works the other way, show your people you care, involve them and they might just save your organisation.
Vive Le Wiki Organisation!
THANKS FOR READING
On this week’s innovation show we feature Dan Toma, author of The Corporate Startup.
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The world is transforming. There is now more pressure on established companies to innovate. The challenge most companies face is how to develop new products for new markets, while managing their core business at the same time. The principles and practices outlined in this book provide companies with a blueprint of how to manage innovation while they execute on their core business. The Corporate Startup provides frameworks, visualizations, templates, tools and methods that can easily develop new products and business models.
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