The 5 habits of highly innovative groups

I heard a great quote the other day from Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, talking about how to create the right environment for mass collaboration (thanks to Charlie Leadbeater for introducing me to it). I’m paraphrasing but it goes something like this. Wikipedia’s success down to 5 constituent components:

1. one part anarchy (anything goes)
2. one part democracy (people can vote on a disagreement)
3. one part aristocracy (people who have been around for a long time get listened to)
4. one part meritocracy (the best ideas win out) and
5. one part monarchy (on rare occassions the buck has to stop somewhere).

I think these 5 components could be a useful starting point for looking at collaborative innovation more widely and the trick is to enable them all and to make them habitual. What do you think are the components that are most frequently missing? I would probably say 1 and 4.


  1. I like the quote but it’s a bit complicated! I suspect that the 5 parts are unequal and that anarchy/chaos and monarchy are the most important. Innivation is a turbulent process and it needs strong, visionary champions.

  2. Absence of fear, willingness to take risks. From experience the view of a Council to risk and innovation will be significantely differenct to that of a broadcaster.
    For a broadcaster it is relatively easy to accept the risks of innovation they are used to and accept that the majority of projects will fail.

  3. Absolutely. Fail quick and cheap, so say P&G who we are working with. Henry Chesbrough spoke at Nesta yesterday and talked about open innovation being more a game of poker than chess – more on this later. But the approach should be lots of small experiments that can scale if successful, rather than putting all your eggs into one basket.

  4. Thanks Brendan – my experience of most organisation mirrors yours exactly (i.e. built on 3 & 5), however I think the point Jimmy is trying to make is that many people incorrectly assume (or hope) that wikipedia is entirely bottom-up, with order arising from the chaos (anarchy) without other more traditional components, however they do play a crucial role in more collaborative organisations or environments as well. Regards, Roland

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