‘Tweaks’ and ‘Leaps’ in Collaborative Innovation: Ned Gulley and Karim Lakhani
June 24, 2008
The paper builds on Ned’s work at Mathworks developing collaborative programming competitions for the MATLAB community. Adopting “the perspective of the code” it analyzes what happens when you set a horde of geeks loose on a fun, challenging programming problem in a networked collaborative environment.
To sum up my reactions really briefly, I thought the paper was an exciting step in the process of looking under the hood of collaborative knowledge production. Gulley and Lakhani argue that as programmers improved the performance of code relative to a discreet problem, they did so through “tweaks” and “leaps.”
“Tweaks” represent small refinements that improve the performance of existing code; “Leaps” represent more sudden and large-scale advances in performance (usually driven by introducing a more substantive or extensive change in the code).
Tweakers and Leapers benefit from each other’s work, but the biggest beneficiary of their combined interactions was the code itself. Within one week of the competitions, thousands of eyeballs had produced startling solutions to complex algorithmic problems.
There’s a lot more to be learned from this kind of work – especially from the sort of experimental data created in the setting of these sort of large-scale collaborative games. In particular, I’m interested in thinking about how programmers (whether as individuals or communities) adapted to the challenges over time. It seems like it might be possible to design a game that could test whether efficient collaborative problem solving techniques “evolved” over the course of the game(s). In addition, it would be fascinating to test the results of this kind of collaboration against those produced by more hierarchical or individuated models of innovative work.
Look for links to the soon-to-be-published version of the paper on the “publications” section of Karim’s HBS faculty page.
In the meantime, I’m told that video and audio of today’s presentation should be available on the Berkman Center’s “interactive section” by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.