To give to others, you have to remember to give to yourself too: time, attention, help, love.
Twelve mighty volumes; 414,825 words defined; 1,827,306 illustrative quotations used… The total length of type – all handset, for the books were done by letterpress, still discernible in the delicately impressed feel of the inked-on paper – is 178 miles, the distance between London and the outskirts of Manchester. Discounting every punctuation mark and every space – which any printer knows occupies just as much time to set as does a single letter – there are no fewer than 227,779,589 letters and numbers.
Do you know this book?
Probably – the quote above is describing the first ever edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and it may well be one of the first documented examples of “crowdsourcing“.
What is crowdsourcing?
The Wikipedia definition of crowdsourcing is: “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.”
And it is exactly what made the making of the OED possible.
The scope of the task:
In his speech to academics, in the London Library on Guy Fawkes day 1857, Richard Chenevix Trench set out his Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It was to build an English dictionary that “should be a record of all words that enjoy any recognised life span in the standard language”.
He envisaged a dictionary that would:
- List every word in the English Language
- For each word, have the quotation that represents the first time that word was ever written down
- For each word, have sentences to show every meaning and every possible usage – obselete or modern.
Can you imagine for a moment the scale of this project?
The task would be gigantic, monumental and – according to the conventional thinking of the times – impossible.
That’s a hell of a BHAG.
So where does crowdsourcing come into it?
The undertaking of the scheme, he [Trench] said, was beyond the ability of any one man. To peruse all of English literature… It would be necessary to recruit a team – moreover a huge team, one probably comprising hundreds and hundreds of unpaid amateurs, all of them working as volunteers.
Sound familiar to you? Think no further than Wikipedia.
How about an open call to the public to submit every single word in the English language plus quotations plus definitions past and present? Not only that, but to do it entirely by mail?
The first editor, Herbert Coleridge, designed a stack of pigeon holes to accommodate 60-100,000 slips of paper that would come in from volunteers and estimated that the first volume of the Dictionary would be available in 2 years.
The reality? 6 million slips of paper came in from volunteers, it took 20 years to complete the first volume and 70 years to complete the entire Oxford English Dictionary.
At least now with the internet, we can streamline the crowdsourcing process. It’s humbling to think that this scale of project would be undertaken without it…
This is just a small part of the incredible story of the making of the OED as told by Simon Winchester (@simonwinchester) in “The Surgeon of Crowthorne – A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words“. I highly recommend reading it. Brilliantly written, it’s part tragedy, part history, part inspiration and has one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” story lines that will keep you wanting to find out more.
PS: A small irony: When I checked originally in the Crowdsourcing article in Wikipedia, there was no mention of the Oxford English Dictionary in the “Early Examples” section of the article. So I decided to make my first ever contribution to Wikipedia. Crowdsourcing in action!
Tribes, by Seth Godin
What’s it about?
In Seth’s words:
A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea.
This is a Small Book (about tribes) with a Big Idea:
You, Me, Everyone has the opportunity, no, the obligation to lead.
Why should you read it?
If you’re looking for free flowing, inspiring thinking then pick this up. Don’t expect a “How to lead a tribe checklist”. Seth believes the process will be different for everyone and to follow your heart and your passion. He writes his stories as he writes his blog posts, with a driving urgency. He demands that you question the status quo, that you “ship” (his term for taking action and getting something done), that you form a tribe and that you ultimately create change for the better.
If you read the book with a “how can I apply this to me/my business/my [insert passion here]” mindset, then I think you’ll really enjoy this one.
What did I get from it?
# Heretics are the new leaders
“Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.” (p11)
A heretic questions why things are done the way they are, looks for improvements and finds a better way. So get out there and be a Heretic!
Actually Seth gives a great example of a couple, Jerry and Monique Sternin (p134). Rather than enforcing an outsider’s perspective on a problem (eg sick kids in developing communities), the Sternins look for individuals within an organisation or a community that have already solved it (a mother whose children are healthy), then explore ways to amplify and pass on that solution (by handing the spotlight to that mother and encouraging others to adopt her practices).
What a refreshing way to solve the problem!
# You need followers but you don’t want blind sheep
If Heretics are the new leaders, then Seth is also quick to note that a tribe needs followers too. Not just any followers but people who are eager to follow, with enthusiasm and energy for their tribe. Why? Because it takes micro-leadership at all levels to achieve change ie: “Think globally – act locally”
Seth says: people “eagerly engage when they want something to improve”. This kind of engagement leads to your tribe connecting to others and recruiting to the cause. Energy is infectious and is the best way to spread the word.
# The market for something to believe in is infinite
This is the cartoon referenced in the book. A little bit of inspiration to wrap up this post: