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We-Think: Mass Innovation, Not Mass Production: The Power of Mass Creativity
Leadbeater, Charles (2008)
London: Profile Books
290 page
ISBN: 9781861978929
 
To quotes Charles Leadbeater’s own words, “This book is about how we can make the most of the web’s potential to spread democracy, promote freedom, alleviate inequality and allow us to be creative together, en masse. ….. The web allows for a massive expansion in individual participation in culture and the economy. More people than ever will be able to take part, adding their voice, their piece of information, their idea to the mix.” P.6
 
To get a feel for what Charles Leadbeater is on about, it might be a good idea to have a look at this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiP79vYsfbo or a number of the other presentations by Leadbeater on YouTube. The ideas that he presents in We-Think certainly deserve further reflection.
 
His main contention is that ideas grow by sharing and that shared intelligence leads to mass innovation and creativity. This concept certainly resonates with me as it is clearly the role of the teacher-librarian to make available and share ideas and wisdom while at the same time encouraging students to explore and create and share their new knowledge. Teacher-librarians for mass innovation and creativity – I like it!
 
How do some collaborations turn into ‘We-Think’ while others do not? Leadbeater provides some excellent examples to illustrate successful collaborations – Wikipedia is of course one – and the worm genome project is another. In the worm genome project, the more information that the original research laboratory put out to the scientific community, the more that others contributed. No-one thought that information was being hidden so they were happy to share. The community grew along with the common store of knowledge it created. (p. 63) “Innovation and creativity are not individualistic. It’s really about interaction, getting people to interact with one another in the right way. Leadership is about creating an atmosphere in which people get a kick from working with one another.” The successful formula therefore he argues is: core community (to get things started) + contributors + connecting + collaboration = creation. We can see applications for this formula in the wikis and blogs that teacher-librarians and teachers are using to engage and encourage students in their learning. Similarly, many SLAV members and their colleagues are establishing just this ‘We-Think’ model in the PLN, Personal Learning Program being conducted jointly with the State Library of Victoria.
 
The spread of the web means that more people than ever can have their say, post their comment, make a video, show a picture, write a song. As Leadbeater says, “the more ‘I think’ there is (the more content and information we create), the more we will need ‘We-Think’ to sort it out.” What a great opportunity for teacher-librarians.
 
Leadbeater also talks about the social nature of thinking in a web world. He argues that thinking requires three ingredients:- participation, recognition and collaboration. In another of his writings, What’s next: 21 ideas for 21st century learning, Leadbeater says: “Learning is most effective when it is personalised – it means something to the learner. That happens when people feel they are participants in their own learning, shaping what and how they learn, and are able to articulate its value to them. That, in turn, means that relationships that sustain learning are vital.” So many positive messages here for the teacher-librarian and their role in creating and enhancing learning experiences.
 
In We-Think, Leadbeater draws on an old tradition – that sharing and mutuality can be as effective a base for productivity as private ownership. (p.49) The concept of the commons in pre-industrial society he argues, is reflected in social networking today. He does acknowledge however that all this collaboration and interaction will inevitably be more raucous and that many people have grave reservations about the growth and use of the web – for all the reasons of which we are aware. “The biggest challenge we will face will be how to retain a semblance of control when powerful technologies are seeping out of the hands of responsible institutions and professionals into society at large, possibly to groups where there is little respect for intellectual property or good governance.” (p. 234) Top down control will no longer work – “we will have to encourage more self-control, so people use their growing technological power responsibly. That means, at the very least, children learning the skills and norms of media literacy and responsibility, learning to question and challenge information, as well as copy and paste it.” p. 237 Self-regulation is clearly required and to assist with this self-regulation, Leadbeater suggests , we need trusted parties such as libraries – libraries which can offer a means of filtering via collaborative rating or ranking material post publication rather than the current and previous means of filtering prior to publication.
 
There are so many fascinating and challenging ideas in this book (which Leadbeater insists was written by himself and 257 other people from who he drew ideas and inspiration) and I found on almost every page, a new example or them to explore. The extensive notes that relate to each chapter as well as the bibliography offer very detailed acknowledgement of these 257 people and offer us the opportunity to explore their ideas and writing further.
 
At a time when education and teacher-librarianship in particular are changing and responding to the potential that emerging technologies provide, this book is a great read! I will finish with just one more quote from We-Think which not only personifies school libraries and teacher-librarianship, but reminds us of the valuable role that we have undertaken, “We are compelled to share our ideas; that is how they come to life. And when we share ideas, they multiply and grow, forming a powerfully reinforcing circle. You are not defined simply by what you own. You are also what you share. That should be our credo for the century to come.” (p. 239)
 
Reviewed by Mary Manning
Executive Officer
School Library Association of Victoria