When I hear people in the technology industry talk about the benefits of open source software, one of things they mention often is their belief that open source software “gets better faster” than traditional software (David Wheeler has done a nice job collecting many of the proof points around the benefits of open source software here). While the speed of innovation in open source is in part due to the power of Linus’s Law (“Given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow”), I believe it also has a lot to do with the way open source projects are managed.
Many of the characteristics of this open source management style apply well beyond making software, and I’m always looking for examples showcasing this in action. A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about the story in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink about (now retired) US General Paul Van Riper.
Gladwell tells the story of how, in an enormous military war game called the Millennium Challenge in 2002, Van Riper took command of the Red Team, playing the role of a rogue commander who broke away from the government of his Persian Gulf country and threatened US forces (the Blue Team). Rather than following standard military management protocol, Van Riper managed his team according to a philosophy he called “in command and out of control.” From the book:
By that, I mean that the overall guidance and the intent were provided by me and the senior leadership, but the forces in the field wouldn’t depend on intricate orders coming from the top. They were to use their own initiative and be innovative as they went forward.
I’ve never been much for clubs. When I was young, I made a lousy cub scout. I wasn’t a real “joiner” in high school or college either (just enough to get by) and I still don’t get actively involved in many professional associations today.
But I’m a sucker for a noble mission. I find myself getting drawn into all sorts of things these days. Good causes, interesting projects, even big ideas like the reinvention of management all share my extra attention, brainpower, and resources.
I love to contribute to things I believe in.
So why don’t I care much for clubs or associations? They are typically groups of people who have come together to support a common purpose. Right?
I believe many of these groups have fallen into the trap of losing touch with the core purpose that brought the initial group of people together in the first place.
They have lost their raison d’etre.
In the beginning, most clubs start off as communities. In fact, the definition of a club is “an association of two or more people united by a common interest or goal.” Which is pretty similar to this definition of a community: a “self-organized network of people with common agenda, cause, or interest, who collaborate by sharing ideas, information, and other resources.”
So what goes wrong? How and why do clubs and associations lose their sense of purpose?
First, let’s take a quick look at how a community might grow in an ideal setting. Watch the short animation below before you read on:
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]