We Think

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We Think: the power of mass creativity. Charles Leadbeater. Profile, 2007

URL = http://www.wethinkthebook.net/home.aspx

Online version of the book in progress, to be published by Profile.

The full draft is at http://www.wethinkthebook.net/cms/site/docs/charles%20full%20draft.pdf


Charles Leadbeater: "We-Think: the power of mass creativity is about what the rise of the likes of Wikipedia and Youtube, Linux and Craigslist means for the way we organise ourselves, not just in digital businesses but in schools and hospitals, cities and mainstream corporations. My argument is that these new forms of mass, creative collaboration announce the arrival of a society in which participation will be the key organising idea rather than consumption and work. People want to be players not just spectators, part of the action, not on the sidelines." (http://www.wethinkthebook.net/home.aspx)


A More extensive presentation for The Times of London:

"The guiding ethos of this new culture is participation. The point of the industrial-era economy was mass production for mass consumption — the formula created by Henry Ford. We were workers by day and consumers in the evenings or at weekends. In the world of We-Think the point is to be a player in the action, a voice in the conversation — not to consume but to participate.

In the We-Think economy people don’t just want services and goods delivered to them. They also want tools so that they can take part and places in which to play, share, debate with others.

Traditionally, workers can be instructed, organised in a division of labour. Participants will not be led and organised in this way: the dominant ethos of the We-Think economy is democratic and egalitarian. These vast communities of participation are led by antiheroic, slight leaders — the likes of Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Linus Torvalds of Linux. Such people are the antithesis of the charismatic, harddriving chief executive in the Jack Welch mould.

These collaboratives change the way in which people come up with new ideas. Innovation and creativity were once elite activities undertaken by special people — writers, designers, architects, inventors — in special places — garrets, studies, laboratories. The ideas they dreamt up would flow down pipelines to passive consumers. Now innovation and creativity are becoming mass activities, dispersed across society. Largely self-organising collaborations can unravel the human genome, create a vast encyclopaedia and a complex computer operating system. This is innovation by the masses, not just for the masses.

My book We-Think is an effort to understand this new culture; where these new ways of organising ourselves have come from and where they might lead. They started in the geeky swampland — in open-source software, blogging and computer gaming. But they are so powerful that increasingly they will become the mainstream by challenging traditional organisations to open up. They could change not just the ways in which the media, software and entertainment work but how we organise education, healthcare, cities and, indeed, the political system." (http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,20411-2400772,00.html)

Pat Kane:

"Leadbeater raises some useful questions. No one could object to sprawling processes of "mass innovation" creating public encyclopedias and seed banks for developing countries, turning cities into giant learning spaces and citizens into journalists. Leadbeater's mantra "we are what we share" could conceivably become "an economy's motive force", particularly if consumerism begins to hit the limits of ecological sustainability hard. A vision of living as an active, creative player-with-others has inspired this particular reviewer for many years.

But, as he reminds us, some areas – such as care services – won't be affected by We-Think: "you cannot change a wet nappy with a text message". Nor harvest food, nor extract minerals, nor generate energy. Although the participatory structure of the web was founded by a singular mix of values ("the academic, the hippie, the peasant and the geek"), there's no guarantee that happy ethos will guide all behaviour within its halls.

Are we ready for open-source biology, for example – a process of mass innovation based on our "sharing" of the genomic code? Do we want pro-ams in their garages fooling around with viruses and proteins, or accredited professionals? There are under-theorised questions of governance and control (and, maybe more importantly, self-control) in web culture. Leadbeater is right to alert us to them.

We-Think concludes, correctly, that the message about the developed world that web culture delivers – trust, collaboration and shared goods, in pursuit of better ideas, based on solid evidence – is much more attractive than the "Coke and carbines" that too much of the planet has been used to from the West. He holds out the tantalising prospect that these soft, pliable new tools from the master might be more enthusiastically grasped and applied by developing countries than by our own. If that happens, then the daily banality of the web may herald the most exciting of historical processes. There's more than YouTube, Facebook and viagra spam to come down those wires yet." (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/here-comes-everybody-by-clay-shirky-wethink-by-charles-leadbeater-798702.html)

More Information

  1. 4-minute video at http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=qiP79vYsfbo&eurl=http://www.usnowfilm.com/clips?view=yours