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Clark: Working Wikily

10/20/11 7:55AM By Susan Clark
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(Host) As thousands of protesters occupy Wall Street and public spaces across the country, Americans are discussing how to fix our economy. Commentator Susan Clark is fascinated not just by the issues, but also the process that "Occupy Wall Street" is bringing into the public eye.

(Clark) The "Occupy Wall Street" protesters have been roundly criticized for not being able to say what they want. But really? Come on. Everyone knows what they want. They're not occupying the shoe store. They're occupying Wall Street. Due to corporate greed, and flawed governmental regulation, 1% of Americans have most of the wealth. The protesters are calling themselves the other 99%.

It's obvious what they want. What's not obvious, at least not yet, is how they think they - or, statistically, we - should get it.

Traditional organizers worry that "Occupy Wall Street" is doing it upside down - first you define your demands, then you protest. But that might be because they aren't part of the wiki generation.

 The new tools - Wikis! Blogs! Tweets! - aren't just effective. They're also changing the way we think. Technology today transfers information at speeds, and in interconnected ways, unimaginable a few years ago.

For today's wiki-style organizers, every connection is an end in itself. The Millennial Generation, in particular, values simply fostering connections and watching where they go - confident that great new ideas will emerge.

"Emergence" is the term used by systems thinkers to describe the phenomenon when many local collaborations produce global patterns. The people occupying Wall Street - and more recently, dozens of cities and 80 college campuses on 4 continents - are all part of the same, emerging wave.

The same way that schools of fish or flocks of birds move in sync, these emerging meta-level patterns are naturally self-organized and not under any central control. There's a reason they're hard to define: When people work together, our efforts aren't simply the total of your work plus mine, but also the vibrant synergy created by the interaction. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Researchers at Stanford call it "working wikily": an emergent, bottom-up style of decision-making named after wiki web sites like Wikipedia where anyone can contribute or edit information.

It's not left-wing or right wing. Arguably, the Tea Party started out the same way. It's also not guaranteed to create the change they're calling for. Occupy Wall Street may not feel satisfied by the time winter forces them to disperse. And their energy now is no guarantee they won't get co-opted later.

But keep an eye on their creative, emergent process. It's a look into our future.

Notice the lack of one charismatic leader. Observe the consensus efforts. Increasingly, businesses, non-profits, and, slowly but surely, governments are switching to more decentralized, self-organized strategies that reward innovation and information sharing. This is where the new solutions will come from. Those who continue trying to hold all the power at the "command-and-control" center will be left behind.

In other words: get used to it. Maybe not the sign-waving and yelling, but the slow, inclusive, unabashedly public process of saying "we have something in common. Let's work together to find out how to move forward."

This is what a decentralized, network-based culture looks like. Or, in the words of the protesters: "This is what democracy looks like."
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