Highlight reel (3:37):
In my lead-in talk for the Tufts Symposium on Innovation, I attempted to wake up the audience with a shocking tale of world domination.
Well, sort of.
We at the Awesome Foundation were surprised four years ago when our idea to give away money resonated as much with givers as with receivers. The very principles that directed our giving efforts turned out to be powerful facilitators for organizational growth.
Here are a few of them:Low Barriers to Entry
What began as a desire to allow anyone, anywhere with a good idea to more easily pull it off translated easily into anyone, anywhere with a desire to start a chapter of the Awesome Foundation to do the same. No permission required. No formal organization to set up. We think of it like a highly portable brand anyone can own and use, an idea framework to extend, a set of tools to deploy, an excuse to join up with friends and make a difference.Balanced Power Dynamics
A strict no-strings attached grant policy, a refusal to narrowly define what awesome is, and a lack of formal leadership or governance structure helps create an environment where work is driven by individual contributions, decisions are made locally, and anyone with a good idea doesn’t need permission to make it happen.Constant Experimentation
We fiddle with things. Since no one needs permission, projects just happen (vs. a frenzied vetting of every new suggestion). This lets the best ideas gain traction while the less than stellar initiatives starve. This environment of experimentation works well on a global level as well. Each chapter imagines its own future, launches its own events, and sets its own rules. Then we learn from each other and steal the best ideas. Distributed ownership plus collective learning can be a powerful combination.
Inc. Magazine reached out to discuss the Awesome Foundation. They were particularly interested in our iconoclastic approach to idea development and what lessons traditional businesses might learn from our approach. I'm particularly fond of our commitment to the "no strings attached" policy to supporting creators and their ideas.
Anyway, take a read!
I recently had an enormous amount of fun working with Jesse Thorn from The Sound of Young America radio program putting together a panel for this year's Public Media Conference. Truth be told, he did all the hard work. I mostly adjusted microphones and fetched sandwiches. I can, however, take credit for helping come up with the original idea...
Most entrenched broadcasters are so good at doing what they do, they would never consider alternatives. Unfortunately, their methods attract a lackluster online audience because the traditional short-head approach aims to mostly please most everyone. To make things worse, they manage to tote along the baggage of bloated cost structures, plodding time-to-market, and a complete detachment from audience involvement.
This might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for several highly creative individuals who have figured out how to do things differently. They are using low cost tools, rapid-fire release schedules, free internet distribution, and an army of enthusiastic followers. Their creative products look nothing like what hits the mainstream - and this is often what makes them so compelling.
Listen in while Jesse talks with 43folders.com writer and podcaster Merlin Mann, Homestar Runner creators Mike and Matt Chapman (aka The Bros. Chaps), and Jeff Olsen, creative director for adultswim.com about the Internet, creativity, and, well, stuff.
Download this TSOYA episode (mp3)
Designing Systems That Work
Decentralized peer production environments hold more promise in directing participatory systems towards collectively intelligent outcomes than the traditional approach of using centralized authority to drive individual behavior. The success of open source software development and wikis suggests that production environments based on autonomous individual action have the most potential for large-scale, enduring participation. These systems provide individual freedom and choice for interacting with resources and projects without any single authority dictating individual behavior or focus. It is precisely the individual's response to the freedom inherent in a decentralized system that triggers the desire to participate.
Words like “harness” or “leverage” used to describe value produced through individual participation signals a misguided perspective of centralized authority controlling participants. Seeing individuals as a ready resource to be wheedled and mined for value is, at best, a misunderstanding of how distributed production operates, and at worst, a setup to failure. Individually-motivated activity is the cornerstone of successful participatory environments, and presuming participation while undervaluing the individual causes contributions to evaporate. Cajoling effective production, dictating behavior, and exploiting contributions is inherently counter-productive to participatory environments. Empowering the individual creates beneficial outcomes and cultivates an environment where these contributions are most valuable. Since the best participatory environments exist to serve individuals and address their interests first and foremost, the heavy-handed, centralized actions or exploitation of participants corrupts an online collective environment irreparably. Ideally, participants develop a feeling of ownership over the environment, and providing such an atmosphere is indispensable to ensure the environment’s continuance.
Want more? Read the whole chapter Empowering Individuals Towards Collective Online Production, now freely available online.
Solving Problems Collectively
The widespread proliferation of online participatory systems such as wikis and blog networks helped popularize the idea of collective intelligence. Value that emerges from these systems shows that a whole system can appear more intelligent than any individual contribution. As these online participatory systems continue to broaden in application and increase in sophistication, they take on a more targeted and significant role as tools to accomplish focused, productive work. More specifically, online environments will be constructed to collectively solve complex and multifaceted problems. Imagine the possibility of adjusting aspects of an existing, productive online community in order to stimulate the ideal resolution of specific problems, much like a marketplace might be arranged over time to produce the most efficient and valuable transactions.
I am a contributing author for the book Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace. Today, it arrived on my doorstep and finally feels real. My chapter is entitled Empowering Individuals Towards Collective Online Production, and focuses on the paradoxical role of individual motivation in effective online collaboration. Works from several of my heroes appear in this compendium, including Yochai Benkler, Doug Engelbart, Pierre Levy, Thomas Malone, Howard Rheingold, and David Weinberger. I feel incredibly fortunate and remarkably unworthy sharing a book jacket with the likes of these folks, but there it is.
Was able to give Linux Insider / E-Commerce Times the scoop on VRM for their article VRM: Consumers Take Control. The article is a micro-intro to VRM from the perspective of a traditional business/tech news nutshell.
Here's my captured quips:
That can be a difficult concept to grasp -- especially when thinking in terms of business relationships or new killer Web 2.0 applications such Facebook admits Keith Hopper, who's on the Project VRM Steering Committee.
Applications facilitating electronic personal health records may come closest to this concept of any software category on the market today, Hopper told CRM Buyer. These can loosely be described as products that let patients use a single, unified electronic record when interacting with physicians and pharmacies.
A personal RFP, or request for proposal, is another example of a killer VRM app, Hopper said, describing that potential product as a vehicle for consumers to reach out to VRM-compliant vendors when looking to buy a certain product or service.
Published review from Innoversity Network.
"OVERCOMING INNOVATION BARRIERS
April 2002 The CEO Refresher - An article which provides a thorough look into the necessity of continuous innovation. Very often the barriers to innovation seem difficult to pin-point, but this article does a brilliant job in discussing the following barriers: focus on problemsolving, too much focus, innovation directed from without (external consultant and advisors) and finally the limits posed by being too focused on finding ONE solution."
Published review from ManyWorlds, Inc.
"OVERCOMING INNOVATION BARRIERS
The CEO Refresher by Keith Hopper; Karl Rexer , published on 05/07/02 , rated **** by our experts.
Even when companies understand the importance of innovation and make a genuine commitment to it, frequently they run into barriers to achieving success. The authors identify four of these: Overwhelming Problem; Over-Focusing; Advisor Agendas; and Solution Orientation. “Overwhelming Problems” refers to the tendency to open up to innovation only when jolted by a crisis rather than building in continuous innovation with a process such as ManyWorlds’ Innovation Network. “Over-Focusing” refers to innovation limited to a set number of decision areas and confined within groups such as marketing or R&D. “Advisor Agendas” discusses several ways in which outside advisors, though bringing a different perspective, tend to filter their innovation suggestions. “Solution Orientation” comes from limiting creative thinking within the context of a single, well defined problem which rules out two more creative approaches. Not as deep as some discussions of innovation, but worth a quick read."