What makes a good leader of a participatory community

Photo: heather
Yochai Benkler breaks down the incentives for participation in peer production models in a very sensible and fascinating paper called Coases’ Penguin and discusses the economics of collaboration in his PopTech talk now available on ITConversations. But there’s a missing thread in his analysis that I think is crucially important. #

  • Total dedication, focus and passion for the service the community is providing to itself
  • A laissez faire attitude toward conflict but quick to identify resolutions
  • Motivated by a desire to do something important, not by money. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
  • A very creative mind that thrives on solving problems though not necessarily skilled in traditional artistic disciplines
  • Collaborative leadership styles, the extreme opposite of authoritarian, mandate-driven leadership
I don’t think they are attention seekers. I don’t think they are self righteous. They probably were mischief makers as kids and grew up to be anti-authoritarian. I’m guessing they were heavy video game users at one point if not still and love to compete. #

  1. I’ve been enjoying your blog over the past few days. I just wanted to offer my perspective as a college student who uses Facebook… too much.

    I think leaders have to be really responsive to feedback from the community. When Facebook eliminated listing friends by schools, people were really upset… and that feature was back in a day or two. A couple months ago, at my school anyways, students concerned lately about who can see their profiles (employers, police), and Facebook added a whole suite of privacy functions. In general, they’re always trying to add more features, while keeping it really easy to use (and spend hours on).

    Whether for altruistic reasons or not, they’ve shown that they listen to concerns and try to solve them, usually within a day or two. And that builds a lot of trust.

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  3. I sit fairly close to the Flickr folks. On one occassion, (while looking for pointers on how to get my property to grow) I talked with Stewart breifly about how he got started.

    Your dead on the mark.

    There’s also a few other stars that get aligned before things really take off, and a few unexpected hurdles that larger companies have to cross before they can make it as big, but yes, fostering that seed community takes a lot of hard, dedicated, devotion that is very rare.