Lessons from a 30min conversation with Wikipedia Founder

Last night I arrived in Lagos to present a session on social media strategy. I was met at the airport by the a very professional and very friendly man who guided me into that parking lot outside. The parking lot reminded me a lot of the back alley of a night club, and there by an unmarked white van with tinted windows we stopped. I realized this van was my transport to the hotel and a kind gentleman opened the door.

To my dismay, sitting in the van, catching up on email, sat Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.

Who would have thought I would have the incredible opportunity to meet Jimmy sitting in a parking lot in Lagos.

Anyway, I seized the opportunity the chat to Jimmy about his experiences with Wikipedia and was able to draw out a few gems for those who read this blog.

Behind every success is a failure where alot of learning took place

I experienced this in my own life and it was nice to hear Jimmy talk about the same experience. Jimmy started a project similar to Wikipedia before starting the popular encyclopedia. It was there that he learnt how to succeed with the project by learning from the mistakes he made.

My advice to anyone looking to start something big would be to keep going no matter how much you learn (fail). It can only get better from here.

It’s all about community

Jimmy chatted about the idea that Wikipedia succeeded because of the investment into building community. The technology is only the vehicle to manage and encourage the community.

This is a an understanding that I have come to believe is fundamental to the success of any online campaign, software, project or business. Understand you consumer, the people working with you, the people supporting you and you can achieve incredible progress as you build your business.

Humility is by far the best character trait a man can possess

Jimmy spent most of his time telling me about the fantastic people who make up Wikipedia. He was not at all focused on his role in making Wikipedia successful. He only wanted to share this great idea by telling me what others had done to make this possible. His humility was refreshing and increased my respect of him ten fold.

His demeanor reminded me of a blog post I wrote last year some time about the leadership value of humility. It was great to see this wonderful trait in action again.

The vision never changes

I asked Jimmy about the vision for Wikipedia. I asked what had changed and what are his new dreams now that Wikipedia had grown to become such a well renowned project.

He quickly took me back to the core vision statement which he said has never changed – “to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.”

Over time Wikipedia has grown tremendously but it has never wavered off it’s primary vision. This is a great example of leadership, vision and resolve to see the vision through.

Well in my 30min conversation that was all I could get out of Jimmy. I hope you learnt something, I certainly did.