On occasion I get the opportunity to speak publicly about some of the things I’ve learned over the years applying the open source way in organizations.
In almost every case, when the Q&A session arrives, I’m greeted with at least one question from a poor soul who loves the idea of applying the open source way to management and culture, but doesn’t think it would ever work in his/her specific organization. Usually the comment is accompanied by some horror story about an evil co-worker, hierarchical boss, crappy HR policy, or some other impediment that would cause the open source way to fail.
And the sad truth? These folks are probably right. Many of these concepts wouldn’t work in their organizations.
So why do I waste my time talking about things that may not work in many organizations? Two reasons:
2) the wind
Let me be honest. I’ve never run into a perfect model of the open source way in practice (if you have, please point it out to me!).
There are clearly some organizations that have figured out how to build open source principles into their DNA better than others. Wikipedia is a good example. The Fedora Project is another. Still, my guess is the people who are deeply involved in those projects on a daily basis would probably be able to show you some warts, places where old-skool practices are still evident.
So why not be more realistic? Why not give up and accept that some of these principles work better in theory than they do in practice?
Simple: I have hope.
What gives me hope? Two things. First, I have seen first-hand many examples of great things that happen when open source principles are applied within organizations. From the collaboratively-designed mission of Red Hat to the work of Fedora marketing team, I’ve personally witnessed the power of open source principles in action.
Second, I believe in the pursuit of perfection. Why not aspire to create better companies than we have today? What do we have to lose? I don’t know that we will ever see a perfect open source company. But by pursuing perfection, we are likely to get a heck of a lot closer than where we are today.
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Maybe some day we’ll look back on the role of the manager in our organizations and laugh.
Such a quaint trend. Kind of like having The Clapper in every room of your house, or wearing multiple Swatch watches, or working out to Richard Simmons videos. Each seemed really helpful at the time, but looking back, we kind of wonder what the heck we were thinking.
OK, I’m exaggerating. After all, the manager/employee trend has been going strong for 100 years or more. But are we seeing enormous changes in the role of managers on the horizon? Signs point to yes.
In some of the most forward-thinking businesses and in many projects being run the open source way, the traditional manager/employee relationship, which looks something like the image above, is being replaced with something much less formal and much more flexible.
I think the new model looks more like this:
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