| BERLIN, March 13
BERLIN, March 13 What do the fall of the Berlin
Wall, 90 million copies of the erotic novel "Fifty Shades of
Grey" and the accidental success of the online photo-sharing
service Flickr have in common?
A new e-book argues that they managed to harness pent-up
energy, luck, creativity and other phenomena to get "outsized
results", and that entrepreneurs or activists can emulate this
with a strategy called "Scaling" - the book's title.
In simple terms, it works the way an audience can be nudged
into giving a standing ovation simply by getting someone in the
front row to stand up first.
In the case of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy, E.L.
James's fan-fiction based on the "Twilight" vampire books grew
by word-of-mouth and peer pressure into an online phenomenon
that could not be ignored by the publishing world or Hollywood.
It is one of the case studies presented by the Berlin-based
entrepreneur Mark Turrell and co-author Menno van Dijk, who runs
the Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership, to show how "small,
smart moves" can preclude the need for vast investment.
The message is mainly aimed at business, but the inspiration
came from Turrell's experiences advising activists in Africa and
the Middle East on how to use new media and simple technology to
achieve political change.
Reuters spoke to Turrell, a 43-year-old Canadian who is one
of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) "Young Global Leaders",
after he launched the book in Davos.
Q: Where did you first come across "scaling"?
A: At the WEF in Davos in 2008 I met a young politician from
the Zimbabwean opposition and he asked for help in ensuring a
(more) fair count for the upcoming elections. I didn't know
anything about the country, nor elections, but I'd spent some
months putting together my theory on scaling. We spent 45
minutes coming up with a plan based in crowd power and
leveraging networks. The result? Photographic evidence that
(President Robert) Mugabe was losing heavily and could not win
the first round. It's one of the cases in the book that I'm most
proud of - it's personal.
Q: Aren't you just stating the obvious - that if you want a
start-up business or a protest movement to succeed, use social
media and technology to network and promote your idea? What
makes your theory different, or doable?
A: Scaling is definitely not just about technology and
social media. It's about putting a smart strategy in place, such
as fostering an ecosystem or leveraging networks, rather than
being super-quick to tweet.
Technology does accelerate scaling. Just think about the
power of a photo to galvanise opinion. Nowadays images can go
viral and have global impact within minutes, unbelievable two
decades ago. What makes scaling so doable is that it's about
small, smart moves that don't need masses of investment.
Q: If scaling is as straightforward as what the book calls
"catching a wave", why aren't you a billionaire?
A: Personal choice. I decided financial wealth was not my
goal when I was running a public company with a huge investment
stake in the business. I wanted to focus on my passion and gave
myself the mission of changing the entire world for better, all
of it at the same time. I just don't care about money enough to
be a billionaire. I'd rather help a billion people live happier
Q: The book says that chance and luck are major factors in
achieving "outsized results", from the fall of the Berlin Wall
to the success of Flickr (originally designed as a community
tool for online gamers, now owned by Yahoo). Is the secret of
success just waiting for a lucky break?
A: Our research found that it's hard to ignore the benefits
of luck in the scaling process. Originally, we had hoped it was
just 'small, smart moves' but we kept finding cases when a lucky
break turned a good thing into a great thing.
I wouldn't recommend just waiting for luck as you might wait
a very long time. You can make luck happen, or at least boost
the odds. There are some tricks that we cover in "scaling" so
you can afford to be impatient and move fortune along.
Q: You present case studies where "scaling" has been used to
make the world a better or more prosperous place - promoting
democratic ideas, combating human trafficking or building
successful businesses. Don't you worry it could be applied by
the "bad guys", to run financial scams, sell illegal drugs or
promote unjust political movements?
A: I'm hesitant about using terms like 'good' and 'bad' as
it's often a matter of perspective. If a non-governmental
organisation is trying to push through legislation on financial
transparency and reducing legal tax avoidance, is the NGO good
and the corporations bad? The morality of these topics is
That being said, I have two worries on "scaling". The first
is that not enough people use it to scale meaningful social
projects. The second is the use of scaling for evil and the
shades of grey below outright evil. I held back my research for
a year to help me figure out how to handle this very issue.
Several of the scaling methods we use are good versions of evil
deeds, separating the means from the ends.
Q: Is scaling-up always synonymous with success? Whatever
happened to 'small is beautiful'?
A: "Scaling" encompasses 'small is beautiful' in many forms.
A single work of art can move people for generations. A photo or
a news story can get people on the streets in thousands.
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Eric Walsh)