The value of being scared

July 23, 2005 § Leave a comment

San Francisco, USA

Marnie Webb looked me right in the eye and said: “If we aren’t a little bit scared, we aren’t sharing enough. We aren’t doing our job.”

Compumentor, the San Francisco organization where Marnie works, provides technology consulting and discount software to non-profits. Everyday, they produce all kinds of useful info – software comparisons, implementation guidelines, project management spreadsheets, funding proposals. This information is the lifeblood of their consulting practice, and represents almost 20 years of accrued knowledge.


Most organizations keep this kind of information under lock and key, on intranets and in filing cabinets far from the prying eyes of outsiders. Compumentor used to be one of these lock and key types, until Marnie decided to take away the password … and turn everything inside out.

The result is the Consultant Commons web site, which is essentially Compumentor’s internal consulting intranet transformed into an open online community. “We figured that very little of what we were producing was actually proprietary, so why not let everyone else in. Our materials can certainly help others and, if we can get people to contribute back with their own stuff, we’ll have an amazing pool of useful tech tools.”

Only a few hours later, I heard a similar story from the Omidyar Network (formerly the Omidyar Foundation). They’d been using wikis and other tools to coordinate their internal work since the beginning, and had built up their own unique platform to support this. As the organization got to the point that it wanted to enter into a conversation (well, many conversations) with its community, it simply opened up a new branch of this intranet for public use. Much vetting and evolving of ideas that Omidyar may eventually invest in goes on in this new space, a space to that encourages sharing and synergy amongst the kind of folks Omidyar supports.

I don’t know what it is about the San Francisco air that encourages this kind of inside-out-sharing mentality, but it sure is inspiring. Definitely something to emulate.

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