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12:02AM

Wikistrat's first internal training simulation: China as Africa's de facto World Bank

Wikistrat is a number of things at once.

Wikistrat is a global community of strategic thinkers, and that community needs activities around which to organize itself and mobilize its strengths. Wikistrat is taking on the challenge of sharpening the blades of the world's next generation of grand strategists.

Wikistrat is also a wiki-based model of globalization, in which hundreds and hundreds (soon enough "thousands and thousands") of scenario pages compete to describe its many flows, races, competitions, developments, etc. That monster, called the GLOMOD, must likewise be fed.

These two "base" assets allow us to construct the superstructure that is the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy (captured in our shorthand equation of Facebook + Wikipedia = MMOC).

So as we continue to lock in foundational clients, we simultaneously conduct our first internal training simulation for interns and researchers only. Like everything we do, we make it a competition with prizes, but the primary purpose is to train up our youngest community members so that, over time, we can include them in simulations for clients, alongside more experienced analysts and our growing bevy of truly world-class strategists.

In NFL terms, this internal simulation is training camp: hard work, but if you're into developing skills and you love the game, this is also a lot of fun.

But it's not just about getting everybody ready for "regular season games." The material produced here gets integrated into the GLOMOD, meaning it enriches the general intellectual backdrop for all the simulations to follow.

This last week has seen a cohort of interns and researchers filling out a variety of pages that explore how a host of national, regional and supranational actors are impacted by China's rising economic role across Africa. Naturally, these are contentious issues, so we discouraged attempts to capture consensus and we've encouraged all such tension to be presented on the page, meaning pros and cons are competitively explored.

This is a tricky skill to impart - collaborative competition, because everybody comes with genuine talent, as well as passion for the material and analytic process. The natural tendency is to fight it out in the comments, when what we want is for them to compete it out on the page.  So we nudge, and we encourage, and we get people to start confidently and compassionately editing each other's work. 

I chose the later adverb with great purpose: writing is one skill, editing is a far trickier one. I have great self-respect as a writer, but I have deeper respect for those who edit me. This did not come easily, but it did come early for me. When I got to the University of Wisconsin in 1980, I simply did not know how to write analytically, but I was lucky to have an older journalism-major sister, Cathie, on campus and willing to work with me on everything I wrote - explaining everything she did as she did it. Cathie was my first great editor, and I've made it my professional creed ever since to consider all editors my most important ally in sharpening my messaging skills.

Now, we have supervising Contributing Analysts wrangling the larger "crowd" in this competition. They do a certain amount of cleaning up, editing, formatting, etc., while coaching participants. But in truth, the players here mostly edit each other in a very direct sense: a position is proposed, and then it "suffers" improvement through direct manipulation or through indirect manipulation - i.e., a countering position is added in competition. So it's not just one voice speaking and the rest carping in the comments, otherwise known as too much of the blogosphere to mention. Rather, it's many hands carving the same statue, save for those Michaelangelos who don't feel their "David" will be found in that particular piece of stone and thus take up chisels elsewhere on the same page or on another page in the wiki.

What this produces is something better than the norm: Don't tell me what's "wrong" with my argument. Tell it better or tell me something better.

This is not how we normally hash things out in the professional community. Oh, we may pass our drafts to trusted friends for comments, or vet it up the chain of command for review, but we don't subject them to anything close to this competitive collaboration, because, quite frankly, that's an intimidating dynamic to many - at least of a certain age and/or disposition.

But Wikistrat is looking for both that dynamic and the accelerated processing made possible by so many brains operating in collaboration - especially across a new generation so given to peer-to-peer dialogue. So it's not just the reach and the breadth that we're selling here, but the speed - with all delivered at prices traditional consultancies will never match.

But to accomplish that, we need to build up that mental Leviathan - that colossus of distributed brainpower, and so we conduct internal training simulations like the one I will continue to monitor in the days and weeks ahead.

And no, it's not a chore whatsoever.  Every time anybody does anything page in this particular wiki (actually, anywhere across the GLOMOD), I get an instant email saying who and what, down to the keystroke. And I gotta tell you, it's a fascinating stream of conscious brain-powering to witness: idea upon idea, layer upon layer, analysts one-upping one another and then being one-upped in return. It's like the GLOMOD is tweeting nonstop, and it has quite an intellectually ferocious personality.

We are building an army. 

 

Reader Comments (2)

I'd love to read the results of the exercise.

Please remember to put people who have experienced China's interaction with South-East Asia first hand on your team.

Secondly, how do people like me participate in similar events in future? I live in Africa and have worked as a business consultant in Africa (Accenture, KPMG). (All my degrees are in Engineering, though, so that may disqualify me).

November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

Maduka,

Go the site and sign up as an analyst. No guarantees on being accepted, because I don't know your credentials, but maybe you're a good fit.

November 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterThomas P.M. Barnett

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