Here are the opening paragraphs to a terrific NPR Morning Edition story this morning:
Between bursts of action, American troops abroad face long stretches of waiting. And when Army Sergeant Bob Persch was shipping out to Eastern Afghanistan a couple of years ago, he discussed an idea with his commander.
Sergeant BOB PERSCH (U.S. Army): I’ve wanted to learn how to play the guitar for the majority of my life that I can remember, and we had talked about getting a couple of guitars once we got in theater, buy them off of soldiers that were leaving, going back home. And he would play, and I would learn.
INSKEEP: That was the idea, but they couldn’t find any guitars. So Sergeant Persch had another idea.
Sgt. PERSCH: I had a copy of the Acoustic Guitar magazine that I had picked up at a PX somewhere between, you know, Alabama and Afghanistan. I did like a general-form email, and I sent to everybody in that magazine that had anything to do with guitars. I sent probably about 120 emails out that night.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One of those emails went to Robin Weber at Guitar Gallery in White House, Tennessee.
(Read the rest of the story, or listen to the audio, here).
This story brings four elements together:
1) The very simple human needs of the troops. They have time on their hands, why not learn the guitar?!
2) The power of one’s person’s dream — Army Sergeant Bob Persch made it happen!
3) The generosity of a lot of folks. Robin Weber of Guitar Gallery started the ball rolling, but others have donated, money and instruments, and now they are sending about one guitar a week to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
4) The amazing tools of the wikinomics era – e-mails, leading to connections, leading to a web site, (http://www.guitars4troops.com) to keep the guitar donations flowing.
I’m a big fan of The Wisdom of Crowds, of Wikinomics, and Macrowikinomics. I have read all three of these books (and presented synopses of them at the First Friday Book Synopsis), and lots of articles about related practices.
I am also a non-techie (a Luddite, or, if you prefer, an idiot). I understand nothing about design, interface, user interface. I’m just a guy who likes his iMac and his iPhone and, hopefully, after the second one comes out (I was told to wait for the second one by a brother who is a techie genius) an iPad.
Why do I like Apple so much? Because an idiot like me can figure out learn to use the product very quickly. It is easy to use. Ease; simplicity… these are the critical ingredients.
Here is an article that makes a case that I am “right” about Apple. And maybe there are some realms where dictators really are wiser than the crowd. It is written by a techie, someone who understands all this stuff. The title says it all: Open User Interfaces Suck by Timothy B Lee. Here are some key excerpts:
In short, if you want to create a company that builds great user interfaces, you should organize it like Apple does: as a hierarchy with a single guy who makes all the important decisions. User interfaces are simple enough that a single guy can thoroughly understand them, so bottom-up organization isn’t really necessary. Indeed, a single talented designer with dictatorial power will almost always design a simpler and more consistent user interface than a bottom-up process driven by consensus.
This strategy works best for products where the user interface is the most important feature. The iPod is a great example of this. From an engineering perspective, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about the iPod, and indeed many geeks sneered at it when it came out. What the geeks missed was that a portable music player is an extremely personal device whose customers are interacting with it constantly. Getting the UI right is much more important than improving the technical specs of adding features.
… In short, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the devices with the most elegant UIs come from a company with a top-down, almost cult-like, corporate culture.
Here’s a line from a former Apple employee, still a big, big fan (from here):
When working at Apple, you definitely feel like you’re a part of a group of people who will make a serious dent in the universe.
I’ll say this: Apple made a serious dent in my universe.
In Wikinomics, the opening story of the book is a story about a man who bought a practically defunct mining organization, and with wikinomics, turned his “useless’ investment into a multi-billion dollar “gold mine.”
In Macrowikinomics, the opening story is a story about a 7-year-old girl who was rescued from the rubble in Haiti with a text message and a rapidly mobilized wiki to help find survivors. Here’s a quote from the book:
Soon hundreds of volunteers around the world were using Ushahadi-Haiti to translate, categorize, and geo-locate urgent life-and-death text messages in real-time. Many of the volunteers spent weeks on end on their laptops in a dimly lit school basement in Boston that Meier (Patrick Meier, director of the Kenyan born mapping organization Ushahidi) converted into a makeshift situation room. Although located some 1640 miles from the scene, volunteer crisis mappers used Skype to relay critical information about the location of potential survivors to search-and-rescue teams on the ground in Port-au-Prince… As a result of their dedication, Ushahidi’s crisis mappers found themselves center stage in an urgent effort to save lives during one of the largest relief operations in history.
This everyone-as-informant mapping heralds some pretty profound changes as the wiki world revolutionizes the work of humanitarians, journalists, and soldiers who provide aid and assistance in some of the most unforgiving circumstances imaginable.
This Friday, I will present my synopsis of Macrowikinomics. I think you can see that this book helps move the idea of wikinomics from the arena of pure profit to its use and usefulness in much greater causes. If you will be near Dallas this Friday, come join us for our 7:00 am gathering. (My colleague Karl Krayer will also present a synopsis of Derailed). Click here to register.
Collaboration is the buzzword of this new millennium. For some of us, it’s a superior way of working; for almost all of us, it’s inevitable.
I’ve just finished reading The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp. (I’m presenting a synopsis of this book at Take Your Brain to Lunch, this week in Dallas). It is a good book. Not as good as her earlier book, The Creative Habit – one of my all-time favorite books. But still, a good book. And it is an absolutely wonderful collection of stories.
She tells, throughout the book, of her collaborations with dancers, company directors, and artists from Frank Sinatra to Billy Joel to Mikhail Baryshnikov… But there are plenty of non-dance stories sprinkled through the book. Her premise is simple, and concurs with the overall wisdom from books such as The Wisdom of Crowds and Wikinomics. Here it is:
We are greater than me.
And, as fads and approaches and changes come and go, and get refined, and are jettisoned, there is a deep need to focus on the wisdom and the efforts of us over the wisdom and effort of me. In other words, collaboration is not a fad – it is a lasting necessity.
Here are a couple of quotes:
We are a culture that consumes and discards in almost one motion. Just think of the bright ideas for more efficient and humane ways of working that have come and gone in the last few decades…
Reality’s tutorials can be harsh. You can run your life “my way,” struggling alone, or “our way,” struggling to make a group effort work.
Here’s a simple question, asked in different ways:
Do you play well with others?
Are you a good, effective, team player?
Do you collaborate well?
If the answer is no, it’s time to learn! Collaboration is the name of the new game in town, and those who don’t learn to do this well will get left behind.
When I am tired – zoned out – I play Rush Hour on my iPhone. (Dan Weston got me on to it). It is the perfect mindless game, just enough to get me to fall asleep. I don’t know who developed it for the Apple app store, but it is one of many thousands upon thousands of workers who works for “free” for Apple. Apple may be the text-book example of Wikinomics at work.
“No company today, no matter how large or how global, can innovate fast enough or big enough by itself… Wikinomics reveals the next historic step – the art and science of mass collaboration where companies open up to the world. It is an important book.”
And here are a few key quotes from Wikinomics:
In the past, collaboration was mostly small scale… Never before, however, have individuals had the power or opportunity to link up in loose networks of peers to produce goods and services in a very tangible and ongoing way.
Call them the “weapons of mass collaboration.” New low-cost collaborative infrastructures – from free Internet telephony to open source software to global outsourcing platforms – allow thousands upon thousands of individuals and small producers to cocreate products, access markets, and delight customers in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past. This is giving rise to new collaborative capabilities and business models that will empower the prepared firm and destroy those that fail to adjust.
Peer production is a very social activity. All one needs is a computer, a network connection, and a bright spark of initiative and creativity to join in the economy.
These changes are ushering us toward a world where knowledge, power, and productive capability will be more dispersed than at any time in our history – a world where value creation will be fast, fluid, and persistently disruptive. A world where only the connected will survive. A power shift is underway, and a tough new business rule is emerging: Harness the new collaboration or perish. Those who fail to grasp this will find themselves ever more isolated – cut off from the networks that are sharing, adapting, and updating knowledge to create value.
And understanding this brave new world may be the real genius of Steve Jobs. (OK – there are probably a dozen “this is the real genius” possibilities for Steve Jobs).
In the latest Business Week comes this article: Apple’s Endless Expanding App Universe: In 2008, Steve Jobs said, ‘Let there be apps.’ Now a cosmos full of companies and developers is bound by the laws of Apple—for better and worse by Peter Burrows.
Here are a few excerpts:
What Apple has come to resemble is an endlessly expanding cosmos.
Apple’s neatest trick is that this platform would expand even if Apple were sitting still (it’s not). Forget Apple’s 34,000 salaried employees. More than 125,000 developers now work to make apps for Apple products. Apple pays them nothing. They sign contracts agreeing to Apple’s rigorous terms in the hope that users will buy their apps or view ads on them. In the hope, really, of becoming another little planet orbiting Apple’s sun—with the truly lucky ones landing a spot in the company’s TV spots.
Working together has never been more important. And this is much more than the old days of connections, referrals, generalized reciprocity. This is actual working–together. Relying on each other for one’s own next money making endeavor. It is Wikinomics at work. And, I have a hunch, we ain’t seen nothing yet!
Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics (my synopsis available at our companion web site, 15businessbooks.com) wrote a summary for Business Week of the key themes that emerged from this year’sWorld Economic Forum at Davos: Top 10 Themes from 2010 Davos. I like this summary paragraph:
Among top concerns at the World Economic Forum: fix the global economy, sort out executive pay, create sustainability, and enhance collaboration.
Here is an overview of his ten points, with just a couple of comments. Read the full article here. (It is definitely worth reading!)
The World Economic Forum has wrapped up and the small, Swiss town of Davos has been returned to the skiers. Here are my top 10 themes from the five-day event.
1. The state of the world is not good.
2. Everywhere new collaborative models are emerging to solve global problems.
3. Rethinking the financial services industry’s role in society.
4. Executive pay, especially for bankers, needs fixing.
5. Sustainability’s time has come. Business is moving from talk to action.
As one executive put it: “It’s no longer about the green economy; it’s about the economy.” Sustainability is the central issue many businesses face.
6. The world needs better governments.
7. It turns out that the Internet does change everything.
8. Girls, women, and gender: A sea change is underway.
9. We need new measures of progress.
There is growing agreement that gross domestic product and gross national product are flawed tools for measuring the health of a country, and that we should instead emphasize the idea of gross national well-being or something similar.
10. A new big idea: The Global Commons.