The Wisdom of Crowds: Crowdsourcing Minimalism in an Open Organization


The Wisdom of Crowds:Crowdsourcing Minimalism in an Open Organization by Ingrid Towey, Brice Fallon-Freeman, and Aneta Petrová

What does choosing flavors of LaCroix sparkling water for the Red Hat breakroom have to do with improving technical documentation? At Red Hat, everything.

You see, when we wanted to make a culture shift in our approach to documentation, we couldn't legislate the change from the top down. Managers and experts just don't have that kind of authority at Red Hat. Changing the way we write has had to be a grassroots, bottom-up effort. Just like we all get to vote on which flavors of sparkling water and other beverages are stocked in our fridge, writers, editors, content strategists, and managers ALL have a say in our latest writing trends. At Red Hat, we have an open culture where people expect to have a voice in decisions and aren't afraid to speak their minds. This open culture affects every aspect of our working lives.

What Did We Want to Change? We wanted to introduce our teams to minimalist writing. But first we had to convince people that minimalism isn't just about shorter sentences and less fluffy documentation. Minimalist writing means that you focus like a laser on just what your customers need at the moment. It's harder than it sounds.

How Did We Do It?First, we formed an international team that could influence writers across all our geographical regions (geos). Brice Fallon-Freeman (from Australia), Aneta Petrová (from the Czech Republic), and I (from the US) became this team and brainstormed ways to introduce these concepts to our departments.

Aneta and Brice came up with the idea of crowdsourcing minimalist writing critiques, and all three of us tried the concept in our different geos. We got volunteers to join our groups, and then we got more volunteers who were willing to have their content critiqued. This “crowd” of writers and editors then worked together to give meaningful feedback to the people who had been brave enough to volunteer their content.

The beauty of this model is that it gives experienced writers a way to teach more junior writers without the process being apparent. No one has to admit to being ignorant. Inexperienced writers get to learn about minimalism by watching other people apply it to real content and not in some kind of fake training situation.

This talk will discuss our strategies and methods in more detail and show examples of content before and after crowdsourced minimalism.

  • Conference: Write the Docs NA
  • Year: 2017

About the speaker

Ingrid Towey