Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales talks about leadership at the Washington Post. Wikipedia is an example of the internet at it’s best. From the contribution of volunteers, and small infrastructure technological infrastructure, Wikipedia has become the first source of information on the internet. And while it’s the bane of educators everywhere, it is of astonishing breath and accuracy. Wikipedia’s magic is in its volunteers: It pools the knowledge of anonymous experts, and consensus leads to both factually correct information defended by the majority, the incorporation of divergent points of view.
For all their anarchy, bottom-up groups still need guidance, and Wales has been described as a new type of leader, the opposite of the command control style used by government, the military, and business. His secret is the same studied neutrality that wikipedia used to sort truth. Rather than making hard decisions, the Wales style is to inspire volunteers and keep everyone aware of Wikipedia’s strategic goals. People who work for free, outside of the market system, still need to be rewarded for their efforts, and exciting ideas are the currency of tomorrow. Just contributing to the sum total of human knowledge, to the Library of Alexandria for the 21st century, is enough to bring together billions of human-hours, in a great endeavor.