For the second in what might be a series of documenting #fail, I’d like to answer the question “whatever happened to the Star Wars Management Guide?”
Almost a year ago, I pondered the idea of having a broad community of geeks, engineers, MBAs and anyone else to collectively write a business book based on lessons learned from Star Wars? I tweeted the idea and was immediately presented with enough response to outline multiple chapters based on lines from the movies. In the comments on the relative blog post, there were even more suggestions fleshed out. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm from a very broad group of people.
Recognizing that multiple authors would need to be involved, it became clear in the discussions on Twitter and on the blog that this effort would need to have a leader that could coordinate the writing activity. Perhaps learning already from the shaky start of the Black Swan Society, I recognized the need to make the goals clear, including the expectation for how to participate. A format was proposed for how to write a chapter. A sample chapter was created. A wiki was set up (it’s since been taken down) to allow people to author and easily share in a way that would be easily edited. In short, looking again at the Hierarchy of Organizational Social Media Needs, we had a goal that was shared and we had governance. When it came time to have a kickoff meeting, we had very little turnout on the phone; when it came to authoring content, no one did. There are some very important failures that explain why.
#fail.1: There wasn’t a community
The goal was very clear: we were to write a book, each of us taking on a chapter that we were interested in.
The governance was fairly appropriate, but not perfect: I arbitrarily chose a wiki platform because I thought it would be more usable. It became clear that it wouldn’t be. I debated with a few people about switching to Microsoft Word and I would handle the organizing of the book myself, because I wanted to futher lower the barriers to participation, but I committed to the wiki as a result of such debates because others argued convincingly that the wiki was an appropriate authoring tool.
The community just wasn’t there to really own this. Pulling a bit from Jono Bacon (@jonobacon) and The Art of Community, there were only weak elements of belonging for participants in this effort. There was little governance about who gets to participate or author — it was made open so that anyone could participate. The problem with having no selection criteria is that the contribution of better writers, more committed participants, etc… it was never clear how that would be exposed to the group, how that contribution could be celebrated and valued, how social capital could be built and leveraged. Even with an idea that people really like, if it never becomes clear how you’ll be recognized for your part in it, let alone how you might grow from the experience, you’re going to lose interest in participating — especially when there’s no one really cheering you on, which is the next failure.
#fail.2: Spokes are Important; Hubs Must Keep Spokes Connected
I should have taken a role as a leader to help people collaborate with each other, hold the vision high enough for others to see it, reduce the the barriers to participation, coordinate the effort, etc. I was supposed to manage the community effort. I didn’t appreciate the time and level of effort necessary to coordinate with others. I didn’t identify and work with others to act as a hub team to make sure the effort could actually sustain. I didn’t do enough organization and planning up front. Like with Black Swan Society (and I’m sure many other “open” efforts), I acted on momentum rather than taking a pause early on and asking myself, first, am I ready to scale my involvement?
There were at least fifteen people, all with paying freelance work and day jobs, all willing (at least initially, textually) to set aside time, effort and energy to participate. The nitty gritty of it is that fifteen people might’ve been the right amount for one good chapter with a bit of overkill. My gut tells me now that we needed 6-to-10 people for each chapter we wanted to write. This would be a full-time effort for one person to act as editor and coordinate the project, and I never had that kind of time (and painfully, I never had that level of dedication).
What I Learned
Even with energy, momentum, shared goals and easy patterns to follow, community efforts don’t just magically adopt some Starfish Effect. To create something as a community, there needs to be a dedicated top-down effort that works in concert with the grassroots/bottom-up community contribution. When you ask people to volunteer and subscribe to what your community effort offers, it needs to be very clear to people what they stand to gain from the experience, and how their contribution will be celebrated.
Unlike the Black Swan Society, which just kind withered and remains stagnant because of a lack of attention, I pretty much pullled the plug on this effort by taking down the Wiki (since there was nothing on it but the sample chapter I wrote. I learned that didn’t want to waste more of anyone’s time if it wasn’t designed to be successful from the start.