Better Than New

Linux v. Wikipedia is About Teams v. Crowds by morepete
June 1, 2007, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Context for Innovation, Extreme Teams

By Pete Mortensen 

Jessi Hempel compares Linux to Wikipedia today, based on some thoughts from BoozAllen’s Nicholas Carr. His essential idea is that crowds are not great at invention, but they’re good at optimization. An interesting notion.

I absolutely agree that Carr is on the money about what crowds are good and bad at, but I wouldn’t go so far as to credit the genius of the individual for innovation, as Jessi does. Linux isn’t better than Wikipedia because Linus Torvalds personally signs off on every idea. Linux is great because a collaborative, high-performance team of people who really understand what excellence looks like are there to manage and refine input over time.

There’s a big difference between crowds and teams. Both can generate ideas or help shape ideas. But only the latter can identify what great looks like — the absolutely critical gut feel for a brilliant concept well-realized instead of a bad idea optimized up to mediocrity (see the Palm Foleo).

No person is an island. We need other people close to us with great sense to help us form ideas. I had a great demonstration of this at work on Wednesday. I’ve been sort of fumbling through my mind for something compelling to say about the digital shadow we leave behind on the Internet, but it took a co-worker to help me figure out what it was. The idea that came out is nothing like what I originally proposed. I can’t say the idea should be credited to either of us as individuals.

Look at the Macintosh development program. Nobody on that team had the idea of the graphical user interface. But they basically perfected it out of the gate. That was a situation where no single individual’s DNA dominates. You can say it was Steve Jobs, but it was also Bill Atkinson, Chris Espinosa, Andy Hertzfeld, Burrell Smith, Susan Kare and countless others. They were tightly connected and did things together they couldn’t possible do apart. And I don’t think it’s because crowds are good at optimization — there was a heck of a lot of invention going on there, too.

Talent is critical. Talent forged in a high-performance team is unstoppable.

Image via Schim-dt)