We-Think by Charles Leadbeater: mass collaboration and innovation
7th March 2008, 10:48 am by Matt Rhodes I’ve just finished reading We-Think by Charles Leadbeater, which argues that society is no longer based on mass consumption, but on mass innovative production; a society where people can share and collaborate on ideas and inventions. For Leadbeater, ideas only take life, become productive and can be fully developed when they are shared. Leadbeater sees such mass collaboration as something that has existed in human society for many years. A good example that he cites, which has parallels with today’s discussions about open source software is engine design in 18th century Cornwall. The initial engine for use in the tin mines, from Watt and Boulton, was heavily patented and mine owners couldn’t adapt it or build their own version for their particular mine. It was copied and law suits ensued. Then Trevithick came along. He built an engine that he didn’t patent and that he encouraged people to adapt and improve. This became the standard and Trevithick now even has a town named after him in Cornwall. For Leadbeater, and for us at FreshNetworks, the development of online tools and the rise of Web2.0 just offers more ways for more people to be involved in such mass cocreation. Leadbeater cites the example of the launch of Halo 2 and their viral ‘game’ www.ilovebees.com. This website flickered on the screen at the end of the Halo 2 cinema adverts and this launched a mass online collaboration involving 600,000 people working together to solve the mystery of Margaret the bee keeper – you can follow what happened on this blog. The climax of the game involved 1,000 public phones across the globe being called at 15 second intervals. A five word code was given to the person who answered the first phone and then the same code had to be given back every time a public phone was called. This mass of people worked together to solve the problem, locate the phones and use online technologies to share and collaborate. When those 1,000 phones were called, not a single mistake was made. For us at FreshNetworks, this combination of the benefits that can come from mass innovation with the ability of people to organise themselves on the web and using new online technologies offers real possibilities. Given some input and guidance, the right mix of people, guidance or support and the right conditions mass innovation can be powerful. We see brands using it to develop products, services or marketing messages and not-forprofits using it to refine their offer and develop their policy and position. For true We-Think, Leadbeater names five criteria that are necessary and these match how we design and manage online communities at FreshNetworks – without all five of these you cannot get true collaboration or the benefits that can be derived from such communities (be it insight, innovation or advocacy).
1. A core of participants who are active and help to shape the community – for us any community needs to be seeded with active participants to create an active environment for others to join. 2. A mix of people who contribute to the community – the right mix of people who may bring different experiences or different views on issues; a mix of experts and amateurs, or a mix of customers and clients. 3. People need to connect – this is either by a shared issue or concern that they are addressing or because they share other interests. A good online community is set up to allow people to connect easily, to identify and share commonality. 4. Some structured collaboration – communities have a purpose and a set of structured and planned exercises or activities can help to maintain interest and give reasons for people to collaborate. 5. The ability to create something – as a group, as sub-groups or independently. I any community a huge variety of items will be created by different people at different times. The key is to bring these things together meaningfully. For us the pivotal role to all of these elements in an online community is a community manager. A role that enforces the rules, encourages participation and ensures the most is made of all contributors and all contributions. More on community management another time, though…
This article is a summary of the book We- think, which argues that society is no longer based on mass consumption, but on mass innovative production; a society where people can share and collaborate on ideas and inventions.
A book review on We-Think by Charles Leadbeater. It presents five criteria that are necessary for mass innovation.