Strategic Management on Crack (or Wikipedia)

UPDATE:  Jimmy Wales, founder of wikipedia, links to this blog post in the discussion section of the strategy wiki entry (scroll to the bottom), “despite its inflammatory title.”  In retrospect, perhaps “crack” isn’t the right word.

I am a fan of wikipedia.  I like the idealism behind it.  And it’s just plain useful.  If you need quick info or trivia, it’s a great resource.  (Where’d, say, Malcolm Gladwell go to school?  Boom, there it is: University of Toronto.)

But some of the wikipedia entries are lousy.  The entry for strategic management is particularly horrid.  What’s scary is that a previous version of the strategy wiki entry was actually a “featured article” for wikipedia some time ago (here are the criteria), which raises some questions about the limits of crowdsourced information.

The first wiki entry for strategic management was made in 2003 (here’s the entry).  Since then, eight years later, it has been viewed millions of times (600,000+ so far this year).  Here’s the history of hundreds of edits over time.  Here are the issues that the editors of that entry are wrestling with right now.

What the edits and conversation behind the wikipedia strategy entry reveal is that the crowd that is editing is not the most knowledgeable (well, there’s vast heterogeneity) and you can clearly see that the citations are far from impartial.  For example, you can see how various consulting outfits or authors (of course, under aliases) are trying to get their angle into the mix, and successfully so – the article cites books and authors I have never heard of  (ok, ok – not that that is the hurdle).  I’m guessing if a strategy scholar went in to try to clean up the entry, the edits would probably be rejected.

I think the entry for strategic management is sort of an interesting case study on the limits of crowdsourcing information.  One, knowledgeable person could do a far better job, I think.   A good comparison might be to look at entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (each article written by an expert) and compare them with corresponding entries in wikipedia.  Of course, perhaps it is a question of audience – many of the SEP articles presume some background in philosophy.  But even for a lay audience, the article on strategic management doesn’t serve anyone well.  The entry for strategy is perhaps a bad example – sure, there are articles that are far better.  Perhaps in another eight years the wikipedia entry for strategy will also be better.

6 Comments on “Strategic Management on Crack (or Wikipedia)”

  1. But you do have to admit that it’s an incredibly difficult job to write the entry on strategic management considering the lack of theoretical cohesion within the field.

  2. teppo says:

    Anouar: Sure – it could be hard to come to an agreement on what the entry should entail, no question. But, I think a scholar in the area (perhaps an “impartial” one, hmm) would nonetheless write something far better – even for a lay audience – compared to what is presently up.

    I shouldn’t knock wikipedia though – I go there very very frequently, it seems to be a solid launching point to investigate things further. Though, the entries that I know something about (strategy, or look up organization studies) are pretty bad.

  3. stevepostrel says:

    Wikipedia is fairly safe (if not always crystal clear) for math and pop culture. For anything else, skepticism should apply. It’s always a danger sign when a source is wrong on all the topics you are knowledgable about, but you assume it’s OK on the areas where you are ignorant.

  4. teppo says:

    “It’s always a dangerous sign when a source is wrong on all the topics you are knowledgeable about, but you assume it’s OK on the areas where you are ignorant.”

    Yes – I use wikipedia a lot – so some time ago I thought I would check out entries I know something about – and the entries are pretty lousy, to say the least. But those two happen to be bad/good examples, other entries are better.

  5. Wikipedia engages a self-correcting process. Feel free to join and eventually become an editor. It takes work, time, and effort, but as a world class expert in the field of strategic management, it might take only a couple of years to establish yourself as the final authority there for that.

    As for the reliability of Wikipedia, compare and contrast the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Grolier’s Americana on the Battle of Lake Erie, or the Britannica and the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia on the Spanish Armada. The American Numismatic Association granted me a literary award for an article that I wrote after I told myself a joke after reading the Britannica on “Money.”

    Wikipedia is no better or worse than any other popular authority.

  6. SkepticProf says:

    Let’s not make the Wikipedia entry TOO good. I’ve caught several students plagiarizing from it (sometimes whole sections.)

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