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The first version of Wikipedia was a failure.
Jimmy Wales was a Web entrepreneur who had found modest success with an online content company called Bomis, primarily known for its adult search engine. (Unbelievably, there was a day where search engines were necessary to find adult content.) Wales had a lifelong interest in knowledge -- as a child, he pored over Brittanicas and World Book Encyclopedias -- and he funnelled some of the cash from his "Bomis Babes" into a far more ambitious enterprise: a comprehensive online encyclopedia, called Nupedia.
He hired his friend Larry Sanger as editor-in-chief of Nupedia. Wales and Sanger had met on a discussion forum, where they debated the philosophy of Ayn Rand (Wales was a fan, Sanger was not). The two men had something of the "odd couple" dynamic of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak: Wales was the hard-driving entrepreneur who majored in finance, and worked briefly at an options trading firm. Sanger was a doughy, balding academic who had a Ph.D. in Philosophy and played the violin.
Wales was largely hands-off: it was Sanger who made all the countless day-to-day decisions, including how Nupedia would be set up. Sanger's specialty was epistomology, the study of knowledge, and he came from the academic community, with its peer review systems and high standards of quality. As he designed the online encyclopedia, his challenge was to allow online collaboration in a way that still maintained overall quality.
Nupedia, he decided, would be written by volunteers. But unlike Wikipedia, which lets anyone create or edit an article, Nupedia would only accept volunteers who were scholars or subject-matter experts, greatly limiting the available pool of writers. Moreover, Nupedia had a seven-step review process before an article would be accepted. Each submission was reviewed by professional editors -- preferably with a Ph.D. -- before a page could be published.
This painstaking peer review process was meant to ensure that only facts made it through the filter: they were competing, after all, with esteemed reference sources like the Encyclopedia Britannica, legendary for their quality and attention to detail. The approval process was so tedious and slow, however, that in the three years of its existence, Nupedia only published 25 approved articles.
After a year, Sanger and Wales were frustrated with the lack of progress. When they learned about wikis -- online documents that anyone could create or edit -- they launched a wiki version of Nupedia, which they originally thought would simply help people create "rough drafts" for Nupedia. The Nupedia community of professional academics recoiled at the idea of collaborating with the masses: an encyclopedia that would let anyone submit content? Without a degree?
So Sanger created a separate domain, Wikipedia.com (the .org would come later), and sent out his now famous request to the Nupedia discussion list. "Humor me," he said. "Go there and add a little article. It will take all of five or ten minutes."122
While many of the Nupedia contributors refused to participate in the collaborative experiment, others did. It launched in January 2001, and within days, Wikipedia had published more articles than Nupedia. By the end of January, the site had 600 articles; by March, that number had doubled; in May, it doubled again. By the end of its first year, users had created over 20,000 encyclopedia entries. Thanks to its "radical collaboration," Wikipedia went into hypergrowth mode, while Nupedia was eventually shut down with its original 25 well-researched articles.
Sanger is, in my mind, the unsung hero of the Wikipedia story. Wales will likely be remembered as the founder of Wikipedia, but Sanger did all the heavy lifting, handling the countless political problems of managing an online community. (If you've never done it yourself, it's like childbirth: you can't imagine it unless you go through it.) Reflecting on the success of Wikipedia, Sanger observed:
Radical collaboration, in which (in principle) anyone can edit any part of anyone else's work, is one of the great innovations of the open source software movement. On Wikipedia, radical collaboration made it possible for work to move forward on all fronts at the same time, to avoid the big bottleneck that is the individual author, and to burnish articles on popular topics to a fine luster.123
In other words, this radical collaboration not only allowed more pages to be created, it allowed more people to work on them, for a longer period of time. Articles could be polished in public, rather than only publishing when perfect. It's difficult to appreciate now how utterly counterintuitive it is to allow rough drafts to be published in a definitive reference work like an encyclopedia. But Sanger says this "early collaboration" was also critical to Wikipedia's success:
We encouraged putting up their unfinished drafts -- as long as they were at least roughly correct -- with the idea that they can only improve if there are others collaborating. This is a classic principle of open source software. It helped get Wikipedia started and helped keep it moving. This is why so many original drafts of Wikipedia articles were basically garbage ... and also why it is surprising to the uninitiated that many articles have turned out very well indeed.124
The great irony of collaboration is that although geeks have created some of the most amazing global collaboration projects in history (Wikipedia, Linux, the Web), we are notoriously bad at collaborating in real life. Many of us are comfortable collaborating with strangers, as long as they reside safely behind a screen, accessible only in text format. Some of us not even that!
A computer by itself is powerful, but connected to other computers, it becomes far more powerful. The same is true of our minds: even more powerful when we connect with like minds. The technical term for this is network effect , where a technology becomes more useful as others adopt it. The classic example is the telephone: kind of useful if a few people own one, but incredibly useful if everyone owns one. In fact, with each successive person who buys a telephone, everyone's telephone becomes more useful.
Wikipedia is a classic example of the network effect: the more people collaborate on articles, the more articles get created, and the more people are attracted to write even more articles. When we look at the incredible scale that websites and mobile apps are now able to achieve, and how rapidly they are able to do so, it is because of the network effects that come from millions of people using them. Success breeds success.
With mind hacking, the more we consciously connect our minds with the minds of others, the more we achieve these powerful network effects. We amplify the power of our own minds. I believe this explains why certain moments in history are marked by a clustering of unusually great minds (Socrates, Aristotle and Plato in ancient Greece; or Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg in the 1920's and 1930's): the collective power of great minds can literally transform the world.
For the rest of us, it's not just a "nice to have," it is necessary to achieving our goals, to making our positive loops a reality. The good news is the personal rewards that come from collaboration -- from working with others, especially in person -- are enormous. Since collaboration can feel so unnatural for geeks, this chapter focuses on specific things you can do to build collaboration into your life, turbocharging your mind hacking efforts by plugging into the cloud.
Alienus Non Diutius
Steve Jobs wanted Pixar to have one set of bathrooms.
Flush with cash from Pixar's IPO in the late 1990's, Jobs set about designing a sprawling campus for his cutting-edge animation studio. He hired Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the architectural firm that designed many of the flagship Apple stores, and personally oversaw many of the details, with his legendary flair for micromanagement.125
The original design called for three buildings. The first building would contain the computer geeks, the second would contain the animators, and the third would contain everyone else: directors, editors, admin, and so forth. From his previous experience running Apple and NeXT, Jobs understood the value of collaboration. In order to make great movies, he needed the mixing of great minds. Separating teams by discipline was the wrong way to go; he wanted a building that had collaboration built in.
His idea was for all three buildings (geeks, arts, and admin) to be connected by an enormous central atrium. Then he looked for a way to force people to use it. First he moved all the mailboxes to the atrium, then the cafeteria and coffee bar. But that still wasn't enough: he wanted Pixar to have just one set of bathrooms, located off the atrium.
The idea was to create more great ideas. Jobs believed the forced mingling of people from different disciplines was the way to raise everyone's work to a higher level. Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, one of the great creative and technical geniuses of our time, described it like this: "Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology."126 Making directors and developers share the same bathroom was a crazy way to force collaboration.
As it turns out, it was a little too crazy. Some people would have to walk fifteen minutes to use the toilet, which may have resulted in employees having to make emergency trips to the janitor's sink. Personally, I don't want any co-workers nearby: my perfect workplace bathroom would be in a private underground bunker, several miles beneath the earth's crust.
You can imagine Jobs ranting like a lunatic, screaming about his centralized bathrooms, while some poor architect tried to get him to compromise. Eventually Jobs got his atrium, but he did have to concede to a few additional bathrooms, so those with weak bladders would not wet themselves at work.
The idea of a central collaborative space worked. In an industry where inconsistency is the norm -- some movies are hits, some are flops, and most are somewhere in between -- Pixar has churned out consistently excellent films, one after the other, to the delight of moviegoers and critics alike. The average Rotten Tomatoes score for all movies is about 50%; the average score for Pixar movies is 88% (and that number goes up to 93% if you leave out Cars 2).127
For many of us, we have to force ourselves to collaborate. While technology makes it easier than ever to isolate, lost in our screens even when we're sitting across the table from each other, technology also makes it easier than ever to connect. Joining discussion groups and online forums where we can collaborate with others who are trying to achieve the same goals is a good first step, but it's even more powerful to do it in person. Here are a few easy ways to build collaboration into your life.
Local meetups. There are other people near you, right now, trying to accomplish the same goals. Do a search for "entrepreneur networking" or "weight loss groups" or "local salmon farming classes" and unless you are living on the International Space Station, you'll find a group meeting near you. Be brave! Put it into your calendar and make the time to go. If I'm wrong and there is no group near you, start your own. The Web Innovator's Group started as an informal gathering of a dozen people in 1995, and is now one of the largest technology networking groups in Boston, drawing 1,000 magnificent minds together in a huge, sweaty hotel ballroom.
Shared workspaces. If you work from home, or by yourself, consider using a coworking office instead, where you can bump into knowledge workers from other industries, giving you fresh perspectives and new ideas. Shared workspaces are cropping up in every major city: they're comfortable, affordable, with unlimited coffee. I'm writing this from The Loft, a shared space for writers outside Boston started by my friend Heather Kelly. Writing around other writers means I get more quality writing accomplished here than anywhere else.
Lunches. Make it a habit to invite potential collaborators to lunch. Mix it up: ask different people with different backgrounds. I once worked with a group of IT admins who ate together, at the same burrito place, every day. They were like gang members, except their turf was Qdoba, with goatees instead of guns. They were also terrible IT admins; trying to get help with a support ticket was like trying to negotiate a Middle East peace accord. I often thought that if they had to eat lunch with people from other departments, they'd be better at their jobs. Meals let us connect with other minds in a pleasureable setting, because everyone loves to eat. Especially IT professionals.
We can't expect collaboration to come to us. As with Pixar, we have to design our lives so that collaboration can naturally happen. The ideas above are just meant to get you started, but if you keep your eyes open, you'll find other ways that collaborative opportunities will naturally present themselves. Take advantage of them.
Darla Anderson, an executive producer on Pixar blockbusters like Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 3 says, "Part of my job [as a producer] is to make sure everyone is smooshing together. If I don't see lots of smooshing, I get worried."128 Pixar has mastered the art of smooshing, and your mind hacking efforts will be greatly strengthened by adding more smoosh to your schedule.
At Pixar University, the company's in-house training and development division, a Latin crest hangs on the wall. Around a cartoon drawing of a three-eyed alien in a cap and gown reads the motto, "Alienus Non Diutius." Translated, it reads "Alone No Longer."
Me and My Homebrews
If you lived in Menlo Park, California, in the late 1970's, you may have seen the following advertisement pinned to a community bulletin board at your local library:
Are you building your own computer? If so, you might like to come to a gathering of people with like-minded interests. Exchange information, swap ideas, help work on a project, whatever.129
On the scale of world-changing historical documents, this does not seem quite as profound as the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence, neither of which end with the word "whatever." But what emerged from that simple advertisement may end up shaking up history in an even bigger way.
The Homebrew Computer Club was started in 1975 by Gordon French and Fred Moore, geeks ahead of their time. The first meeting was held, appropriately enough, in French's garage. At the first meeting, they breathlessly unveiled the new MITS Altair 8800 microcomputer, a build-it-yourself computer that kicked off the microcomputer revolution. "After my first meeting," Steve Wozniak later recalled, "I started designing the computer that would later be known as the Apple I. It was that inspiring."130
As the Homebrew Computer Club grew, it moved to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, but the real action would happen afterward, in the informal "swap meets" held in the parking lot of a local Safeway.131 It was mind-melding collaboration that rocked the nation: Adam Osborne (who founded Osborne Computer), Jerry Lawson (who created the first cartridge-based videogame system), and the legendary phone phreaker John Draper.
These were our founding geekfathers, all hanging out next to the Safeway, and it is impossible to overstate their importance to the digital revolution: out of this group came the earliest versions of the hardware, software, and operating systems that power our devices today. Even more significantly, this group was the kernel of what we now call Silicon Valley, and the prototype for its culture of openness and collaboration. And it all came out of that humble invitation to "exchange information, swap ideas, whatever."
Ideas are a funny thing: they're more powerful when they're shared. Thomas Jefferson recognized this when he said, "That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature."
The economist Paul Romer argues that this is because ideas, like telephones, have network effects: the more they're shared, the more useful they become. "When we share objects, we make them less valuable," he observes in Jonah Hill's Imagine: How Creativity Works. "You don't pay as much for a used car because it's already been used. But ideas don't work like that. We can share ideas without devaluing them. There is no inherent scarcity." Ideas are not only infinite, but the more we share them, the more valuable they become.
"That is why places that facilitate idea sharing tend to become more productive and innovative than those that don't," Romer continues. "Because when ideas are shared, the possibilities do not add up. They multiply."132 This explains why Silicon Valley is such a hotbed of innovation, with its culture of sharing ideas in Safeway parking lots. It explains why Boston, with over 100 colleges and universities, is a vast hub of innovation: to get great ideas, just add students, and shake.
My favorite example of the power of collaboration is Tel Aviv, which has one of the hottest technology startup scenes in the world. During a recent visit to Israel, I asked one of our Israeli clients how their relatively small country turns out so many great companies. He pointed out that in Israel, military service is mandatory for all young people. This means you are, in Pixar's words, "smooshed together" with people from different backgrounds and social classes, and forced to rapidly exchange information to solve problems: a college student could find herself leading a squadron into a simulated battle.
This situation not only kickstarts kids into maturing more quickly, it also helps them develop problem-solving skills based on rapid collaboration. You learn to depend on your team, to share information, and to help make your own ideas better -- all fantastic skills for starting a technology business.
Sharing ideas makes them better. "As long as there is spillover between minds," says author Steven Johnson in Where Ideas Come From, "useful innovations will be more likely to appear and spread. It's not that the network itself is smart; it's that the individuals get smarter because they're connected to the network."133
By collaborating, we give our ideas new ways to connect. Whether it's in a supermarket parking lot, a conference room, or an auditorium, when we meet like-minded minds, we can "exchange information, swap ideas, help work on a project," or indeed, "whatever."
Helping Others Helps Yourself
The next best decision I made, after the decision to get sober, was to call my friend Mike.
Mike was a recovering alcoholic, and I confess I was scared to call him. If I told no one I was getting sober, only my wife and I would know if I failed. But telling Mike was another story: now I had another person who knew my intention.
I'm not sure what I expected from Mike. Maybe a sympathetic ear, or a few words of encouragement. But Mike took the bull by the horns. "Good for you," he said. "There's a meeting tonight. Let's go."
Mike not only got me involved with twelve-step programs, but he was brutally honest that I needed to practice helping other people. His advice was all the more powerful because Mike spends a significant amount of his time helping other recovering alcoholics: speaking at halfway houses, rehab centers, and church basements across New England. He's like the Mother Teresa of alcoholics, if Mother Teresa had a crew cut and spoke with a Boston accent.
This form of collaboration -- helping each other get and stay sober -- is a tradition among recovering alcoholics. I could call Mike at any time of the day or night, and he would be there; what's more, he regularly reached out to me. I have a hard enough time answering text messages from my own mother, so the sacrifices that Mike makes to help others is incredibly inspiring, and gives you hope for the human race. And there are many others just like Mike, an anonymous underground of help and support.
Even if you're not trying to get free of addiction, helping other people is still a particularly powerful form of collaboration. When you help other people, you're also helping yourself. For example, when you teach something, you also deepen your own understanding, which is why I encouraged you to teach the concepts of mind hacking at the beginning of this book. Teaching makes us define and articulate a subject; even when you think you know it, you don't _really _know it until you've explained it to someone else.
Helping other people also makes you accountable. If you are helping someone else get sober, you are putting yourself in a position where you don't want to let the other person down. It strengthens your resolve to stay sober yourself, as you're now the role model! Without question, one of the best things about being a parent is that it has made me a better person. I strive to live a life that is worthy of being emulated, since I know my personal example is likely the biggest help I can give my children.
When you help other people, you also alter your self-concept. You slowly move from "a drunk who gets drunk" to "a recovering alcoholic who helps alcoholics to recover." With mind hacking, we're trying to change who we are, and nothing changes us more quickly than playing the part. If we're trying to stay sober, it's hugely beneficial to serve in a role where we have to stay sober.
These benefits come to you, no matter what you're trying to achieve with mind hacking. Look for opportunities to collaborate where you can actively help others. If you're trying to start a business, get involved with an entrepreneurial networking group. If you're trying to lose weight, try weight loss support groups like Weight Watchers. If you're trying to develop the next killer app, attend mobile developer meetups. And always with the spirit of service: not "what will I get out of this?" but "what can I give to this?"
When getting my MBA, one of my favorite classes was called "Leadership and Influence." In that class, I learned the powerful concept of reciprocity, the idea that if I do something nice for you, you will be favorably disposed to do something nice for me. This is why we write thank you notes, and why we feel awkward when someone gives us a holiday gift, and we don't have a gift in return. It's deeply embedded in our society, possibly even in our biology.
You know the "mystery box" in certain videogames, that will reward you with some mystery surprise? Maybe it's a powerup, or bonus coins, or even an extra life. Every time we help someone else, it's like dropping a mystery box that will later bring us some small unexpected reward. Occasionally it's a large reward, especially if it's in a hidden area, but rarely does the mystery box have a negative surprise, because the game designers know that would be demotivating. Helping people makes them want to help you.
Even though it's called mind hacking, we can't keep it all in our minds. We've got to collaborate, because helping others helps ourselves.
You're Soaking In It
The mind hacking program is open source because we want it to be collaborative. But radical collaboration, like the kind that fueled Wikipedia, is radically scary. If you think it was an easy decision to post this entire book online, months before Mind Hacking was available in stores, you'd be wrong. Traditional publishing wisdom says that this is crazy, but I credit my publisher for having the courage to try something new. ("Times were tough," my editor Jeremie likes to joke. "My father was a door-to-door Wikipedia salesman.")
Crowdsourcing the book, however, has made it so much better. (The first version, for example, was written using only vowels.) We've had thousands of people read Mind Hacking, and they've given us feedback ranging from typos and fact-checks to major structural changes. Like Allen Downey's programming textbook, this has let us quickly iterate and test new versions of the book, seeing where people get "stuck" and pulling the difficult material forward, like Downey's analogy of pull-out bleachers.
The takeaway: don't collaborate half-heartedly; strive for radical collaboration. Swallow your pride, take the attitude of a student, and just get yourself out there. Stretch yourself! You'll learn all kinds of surprising things when you connect with other people, like what you thought would be obvious often needs extra explanation.
For example, by far the most common question we've received from our test readers is, "Do you mind if I share Mind Hacking? I know someone who really needs to read this book."
So, for the record: YES! PLEASE SHARE THIS BOOK!
For heaven's sake, Collaborate!