“Fireside chats with Charlie” is what we called our Friday afternoon Social Entrepreneurship lectures with Charles Leadbeater. I was unaware at the time that Charlie was council to Tony Blair, a writer for the Financial Times, and ranked by Accenture, a management consultancy, as one of the top management thinkers in the world. What struck me about this utterly understated man was that, unlike most other lecturers, he spent the entire 3.5 hour lecture periods asking questions. While he was “leading” the class, he barely spoke.
It came as no surprise that before printing his newest book, “We Think,” Charlie posted it online in a Wiki format for everyone to view, edit, and correct. In the four months the book has been online, the eleven draft chapters were downloaded, on average, 35 times a day. He received 91 emails from people with detailed comments and suggestions and about 150 comments were posted on the site. As a rough estimate, by the time the book is formally published in the summer of 2007 the rough draft will have been downloaded about 12,000 times.
In a profession where individual creativity and ownership have dominated for centuries, it is incredible to see an entirely collaborative writing process. As a close friend of Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, Charlie has been a leader in pushing collaborative creation and “user-led design.” “We Think,” the book, has turned traditional writing on its head and further affirmed TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year” selection as “YOU.” In his reflection on his publishing “experiment” and the feedback he’s received Charlie states, “It is a much better book as a result of this process and I now cannot imagine writing a book in another way.”
While sitting through my final lectures of the week, I hardly realized that we were another part of Charile’s collaboration experiment. We found it interesting that our lecturer spoke less than any individual in the class, but I now understand that his aim was for the content to come from within the class, not from the front of it.
You can find out more about “We Think” and post your own comments here.