Radical Open Source – Economics

A long time ago I wrote my first post on Radical Openness.

I promised to post something more about the Economics lying behind the Radical Openness approach, even though it is  quite a challenge for me. As both an industrial IT manager and a representative of open source communities, when dealing with open source projects I’m on the borderline between looking for their prompt success – based also on  monetary returns to grant their sustainability – and maintaining a radical open approach.

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch Jim Zemlin’s talk at TEDx ConcordiaUPortland 2013

[I recommend you have a look at his speech summary and watch the video].

Jim affirms that Linux success is related to four primary principles. Here are my personal comments on each of them.

Don’t dream big

Many times I adopt the “agile way of thinking”: start small but think big. [It’s included in the SpagoWorld vision too]. Jim overturns this principle, rephrasing a David Frost’s quote: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.”

In fact, these two thoughts are not in contrast with one another. Briefly: start with an idea, have a vision, love it, work on it, stay humble.

Give it all away

Nothing to add here. They are well-known lessons for people keen on free software or open source.

Don’t have a plan

It’s my favorite topic. Some time ago I wrote [see last lines of the paper] that you cannot have a plan, but you must follow a pre-adaption  approach: “In a context that is changing so rapidly, we should not wait for events to happen and adapt our approach. according to the progressive evolution of the  situation. On the other hand, we should actively pre- adapt ourselves to future events, building an  organizational context that can generate some  potential resources that can be used in the future, well knowing how using them. At the same time, we  have to be aware of the fact that a future situation may require a sudden “turnabout” and that our rough waiting for monetary returns will not produce any sustainability.”

Don’t be nice

This is very nice, indeed! We often want to be friendly and “politically correct”. I’m not saying that you must irritate others. Working with people requires managing relationships carefully. What Jim underlines is that defending one’s own ideas drives to better results.

These four simple rules have been the basis for Linux success. This is probably a singular story that is not replicable as is. However these are golden rules for people who love collaboration and believe it is the basis for the new information age.

Even if sometimes you are requested to accept compromises, always keep these principles in your mind.

Jim opened his speech saying “I’m Linus Torvald’s boss” and closed it saying ”you don’t need a boss”, looking at the future, that is “a world in which you can enrich yourself and at the same time enriching others.”

This is another interesting point that I underlined at fOSSA Conference 2012 speaking of “A strategy for openness: leadership with no leaders”.

[On that occasion I was inspired by Don Tapscott’s speech at TED Global 2012. I suggest you watch the video, including the flocks of starlings metaphor.  Here you can find a summary of the speech.]

If you have read this post looking for economic principles you’ll probably feel disappointed now. You may be right. Even though Jim gave some clear evidence of the economic success of the “give it all away” principle for same big firms, it’s not a rule.

If you can drive a sport car on Route 101 thanks to open source revenues, you cannot probably do the same in other places.

However, keeping in sight the basic principles of openness and collaboration can help you to make good stuff, while you take control over your own destiny, acting in the interconnected world of the new digital information era. And you can get sufficient revenues too.

Let me conclude with one last quote by Jim: “All of us are smarter than any one of us. Good people working together can create big things”.

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