The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirky | McKinsey & Company
Creating success from failure
It’s very often the case that what people set out to do as Plan A turns out to be effective and important, not because it works, but because it shows them what doesn’t work. I use the example of Wikipedia. Wikipedia started as the Hail Mary play out of something called Nupedia, which was a complete disaster. Nupedia was going out of business nine months in, and the Wiki was Plan B.
So this huge success turned out to be the thing that the group of people who’d failed at Nupedia were finally willing to try at the end of the process. And every now and again, you get a visionary set of founders who come up with Plan A, and Plan A works unbelievably well. You get a Google or an Amazon. And those are great when they happen.
But you also get things like Wikipedia or Twitter. Twitter was Plan B out of Odeo. Odeo was about to tank. They’re, like, “Well, we’re going to run out of money. There’s got to be something else we can do.” And the mission statement for Twitter was not, “We want to own the kind of public-facing set of headline-style observations.” The mission statement for Twitter was literally, “I want to keep track of people, using our cell phones.” That little sentence was how the whole thing got kicked off.
So I think one of the things to recognize, I use the analogy of a rocket ship: You can’t get a rocket to the moon just by aiming it. You also have to give yourself the ability to course correct. And when we look around at the landscape of really big successes, very often what we see is that the course correction turned out to be more important than the initial direction.