A Wiki Revolution in Innovation and Big Data

When Wikipedia began in 2001, it capitalized on the Internet Age’s collaborative potential. Wikipedia’s open-source approach to sharing and spreading data (encyclopedic content) has proven so successful, the prefix “wiki” has become a prevalent term in all things online. This is valuable not just for sharing information; it can be a catalyst for innovation.

Innovation consultant Rod Collins, of Optimity Advisors, has articulated a key facet of a new type of approach to fostering innovation and collaboration, what he calls “Wiki Management” (which is also the title of his 2013 book). Within Wiki Management is a new philosophy and practice that can drive incredible connectivity and collaborative work across multiple disciplines. Collins has defined how this can help organizations affect and harvest collaboration and data. 

“The wiki world is a hyper-connected global network where people can work directly and effectively with each other without having to go through a central organization,” said Collins. This includes “the ability to process the abundance of human intelligence distributed throughout their organizations.”

Collins argues for a replacement of command and control management with new “container-based” facilitation models for driving innovation in a hyper-connected world. Among other things, Collins articulates how Wiki Management exploits the “container” that fosters collaboration to improve work processes, output and impact. In this case, container refers to the development of technology spaces for content. As Collins describes it:


“Before the mid-1990s, writing the content of computer programs involved far more work than necessary because software specialists didn't have a practical way to share their methods. In early 1995, Ward Cunningham came up with an innovative solution for how programmers could share their common staples when he launched the WikiWikiWeb site. In creating the “wiki,” as it came to be known among its early aficionados, Cunningham constructed a container in which programmers could effectively self-organize their work. Open source leaders and Agile managers don't manage content—they manage the container. The container is the virtual or the physical space in which people work together.”

Overall, Wiki Management tackles three fundamental aspects of innovation: 1.) Accelerating Change; 2.) Increasing Complexity of Issues; and 3.) Ubiquitous Connectivity. Wiki Management describes how the power of networks is dramatically reshaping both the work we do and the way we work. It establishes keys to harnessing this, including (but not limited to):


Leveraging collective intelligence and effectively integrating diverse points of view;


Achieving a shared and actionable understanding of the key drivers of success, including the iterative measures and outcomes that drive the future;


Determining what’s important to delighting customers, and manage to this;


Developing and managing actionable measurements to hold people accountable, including to their peers; and


Transitioning leaders from the role of “boss” to that of facilitator.

As an example, Collins contrasts the development of the original online encyclopedia, Nupedia, with the open-source Wikipedia. He frames the staying power, currency and ubiquitous value of Wikipedia to make the case for why open source is more valuable. Nupedia started back in 2000, but the concept to create an online publication was impeded by its conventional seven-step, academician-oriented, hierarchical editorial review process that only produced 25 reference articles after the initial development year. So the founders abandoned the process, replaced it with the Wiki container process, and dubbed it Wikipedia, which enabled both contributions and edits at a far greater and sustainable rate from a mass of contributors.

“The meteoric growth of Wikipedia is well documented, and most of us have never heard of Nupedia. While the experts continue to debate the quality of the online encyclopedia, all of us are amazed that the world's largest and most widely used reference work continues to be built by a self-organized collaboration of the masses,” notes Collins.

Through this example, Collins affirms the need for opening eyes to new disruptive business models (versus simply improving performance on an old model) and particularly illustrates the value of the container.