Charles Leadbeater on Jimmy Wales in “We Think: Why Massive Creativity is the Next Big Thing". Thank Charles for his open draft online.
…Listening to Jimmy Wales spin his tale of Wikipedia’s birth and growth I imagined was like listening to Henry Ford on the eve of his launching his moving assembly line at Highland Park in 1913. Until Ford came along car production had been an odd-ball activity.The US produced 7,000 cars a year,mainly from small workshops owned by rich people and they were then sold to other rich people.No one had dared think cars could be for the masses.They could not see how that might be done. But for most of that decade, Ford a renegade outsider and his team of engineers, had been experimenting with a fundamentally different approach to production,with the aim of creating a product for a mass market of mid-Western farmers.A bit like the encyclopaedias of today, the car workshops of 1913 used only skilled craftsmen to make bespoke products. Ford wanted to use a rag-bag army of barely literate workers to achieve the task.To most of the rest of the car industry it must have sounded crazy.Yet most of the ingredients of Ford’s mass production system were already around to be borrowed: the moving line came from the meat packing industry; the interchangeable parts came from the machine tool industry; the scheduling skills came from railroads. Ford’s genius was to understand how they could be brought together. Ford created a new way to see organisations: how to mobilise resources on a mass scale, to make standardised products for mass markets and in the process bring about far reaching social and economic changes.What Ford did for the industrial economy Jimmy Wales is doing for the knowledge economy. And like Ford he is doing it by borrowing ideas from many different sources.None of the organisational ingredients that make up Wikipedia are in themselves new: peer review comes from academia and science; the wiki was a tool developed elsewhere on the net; the encyclopedia is a well established form; the way Wikipedia settles disputes borrows from other, older communities; the barefoot philosophy of amateurs doing jobs previously reserved for professionals was pioneered by social entrepreneurs. What is new is the way that Wales and Wikipedia has put it all together. Even now most people cannot see how the mass of people could become participants in innovation rather than merely consumers. Yet just as Ford transformed the way we made products, so Wales and others of his ilk are transforming the way we create ideas, together.