Innovator Interview

Jimmy Wales

2013 ICBA National Convention and Techworld

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales talks about trusting and learning from people as an operational model

You may not have heard of Jimmy Wales, but you’ve certainly heard of his most famous creation—Wikipedia, the free, digitally ubiquitous online encyclopedia site.

As chair of Wikia Inc. and a board member and chair emeritus of the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, Wales has used a no-nonsense attitude to making Wikipedia a household name and brand. Part digital pioneer and part philanthropic entrepreneur, he sees his company and foundation transforming the way people work and interact with the world. His leadership has helped make Wikipedia a globally dominant player in collaborative knowledge sharing.

As a keynote speaker this month at ICBA’s annual convention in Las Vegas, Wales will relate lessons, stories and business advice with community bankers. As a convention preview, ICBA Independent Banker interviewed Wales about his ideas on how technology is transforming communication, how positive change can foster growth in business and how community banks can earn even more respect from their communities.

To suggest a question for Wales during his ICBA convention address on Thursday, tweet @ICBA. View at recorded video of Wales’ ICBA convention presentation Thursday afternoon on ICBA’s YouTube at www.icba.org/socialmedia. To follow Wales’ moves online, visit his Twitter page @jimmy_wales.

Independent Banker: Wikipedia is about collaborative sharing of knowledge and information, what some people call crowdsourcing. How is that model changing the way the world—including the business world—collaborates shares knowledge?

Wales: One thing that I should say is that I don’t like the term crowdsourcing, because I think it misunderstands what is going on in a genuine community. The word crowdsourcing comes from the term outsourcing, which is about finding cheap labor. But if you think about Wikipedia through that lens, you are missing the point of what is going on.

[Wikipedia] is a passionate community that is creating a gift for the world. … We’re a community of geeky people who like to write about things that we know about. We like to do research together to find out more and to generate as great a quality article as we can. We work together using the Wiki software, which allows very broad, open participation. We have a lot of fun.

IB: What business lessons has the Wikipedia discovered that are useful to community banks and other small businesses?

Wales: The biggest thing to know is that most people are good. In a lot of cases where people are trying to work with their customers or members of the general public, people end up designing systems with a lot of unnecessary “trolls” when a lot of times those [people who deliberately provoke controversy or argument with public online messages] prevent people from participating in the first place, which is unfortunate.

IB: Some people question Wikipedia’s reliability as an accurate information source. Based on your experience, what has and hasn’t worked with this open information-sharing model?

Wales: What has worked is trusting people, being open and solving problems through dialogue and communication. What hasn’t worked is topped-down control.

IB: How important is making Wikipedia a trusted and reliable brand important to its success?

Wales: The fact that if someone has a complaint or concern or sees an error, there are a lot of people whom they can talk to who will be very responsive. The community is very open and transparent. That has made a big impact on how the public sees us.

IB: How can businesses make their services, products and people stand out on the Web?

Wales: I don’t think I know of any simple, one thing. I can’t think of a golden rule, per say. But remember that you can trust people and be very open to people and you’ll be rewarded for that.

IB: When do you believe internal change is necessary?

Wales: You constantly have to review what you are doing to see if it is optimized and if it is working well. You have to make changes when it’s necessary. It’s not always easy to know when those changes need to be made, but you can approach everything with a very active mind. endmark