29th Nov 2011

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Wikipedia is a massive global phenomenon. It is an extraordinarily impressive enterprise, which could never have been predicted. Wikipedia functions as a result of the shared belief of thousands of people. It is not for profit – it is fueled by inspiration not money. A unique idea was born, was shared, was copied and became espoused by many. And these thousands of people all started to work in the service of this idea, for free.

Wikipedia was launched in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. The concept was unique – a free encyclopedia with an open-content editing policy. Today it is the largest and most popular general reference work on the internet, the fifth most visited website in the world, the largest encyclopedia ever assembled, and it serves 454 million different people in the world monthly. Yet Wikipedia has fewer than 100 paid staff worldwide, but an estimated 100,000 regularly active contributors – it is predominantly served by unpaid, voluntary ‘editors’.

How?

The multiplier effect. Wikipedia is a perfect example of the multiplier affect in a pure form – it is not motivated by profit and it shows the what can be achieved on a global scale.

Consciously and unconsciously we mirror, mimic, and imitate one another, as a means of building rapport, showing admiration, and learning. This starts in early childhood, with the child often mirroring the parent – we’ve all encountered the cherub-like four year old, with big innocent eyes and pudgy cheeks, who unexpectedly sprinkles his or her outbursts with words that are unfit for print here. This is how we learn. By copying our parents.

As we progress to adulthood the emulation of others continues. Lovers mirror each other as an unconscious compliment, and mentees copy their mentors, seeing in them a standard of appropriate and effective conduct.

As a newly appointed leader, effectively capitalising on the multiplier effect is hugely beneficial and can be a key factor in accelerating the performance of a team. By definition, every leader has followers. If you can inspire one person to follow your lead, and this one person then inspires another to do the same, and so on, the resulting effect is potentially extremely powerful as a tool for change, and for success.

The author Nicholson Baker wrote a great piece for the New Yorker a few years ago in which he explained his Wikipedia dependency, and how he like the thousands of others, got sucked in to feverishly editing, saving and reviewing entries. This is the crux of it, the power of the multiplier effect.

When a leader’s standards and vision are naturally adopted and championed by many within a company, the result is an almost limitless possibility for development and performance acceleration.

Hilda Goold

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