Life Lessons from the Computer World

March 9, 2009

Okay, the readings O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 and “The Bazaar and the Cathedral” were a tad bit over my head.  I did glean some of the key points even though a lot of it was lost on me. 

Open-source is based on sharing information.  The metaphor of a bazaar vs. a cathedral was pretty enlightening.   I like the idea of community creating things—somewhat messy, but colorful and productive.  There is something very satisfying about letting people engage on their own terms, with their own needs driving their participation, and yet producing something of value to the entire community.  And then the added bonus of it, for the most part, producing a product that is better than one developed under controlled management, strict timeframe, and a paid salary.  Very interesting and amazing!   I wondered how or if this concept is being applied to things other than computer/internet world.   Now I have a new frame to look at things that are going on. 

I opened my HKS emails this morning and ran across an announcement of a gathering to discuss creating Government 2.0.  It read:  Dear Colleagues, Interested in the role of technology and innovation in government?  Want to join the Goverati by starting a Gov2.0 movement at HKS?  Follow any politicians on twitter?  If so, join us at a planning meeting for a (potential) HKS Gov2.0 PIC!”  As is often the case, I’m late to the party and the “revolution” is already spreading.  I’ve seen the “2.0 this, and the 2.0 that” around but didn’t really get it.  Thanks to the two readings, I now do.


I couldn’t help but think that some of the points and concepts espoused in this approach are just basic principles for life and good human relations.  Here are a few that stood out with my “basic principles of life” interpretation:


·         “Release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity.”  BE WILLING TO SHARE TIME, INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATE REGULARLY.

·         “Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.”  THE OLD SAW: NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION.


·         “To often software developers spend their days grinding away for pay at programs they neither need nor love. But not in the Linux world—which may explain why the average quality of software originated in the Linux community is so high.”  LOVE WHAT YOU DO.

·         “If you treat your beta-testers as if they’re your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.”  SHOW GRATITUDE EARLY AND OFTEN.

·         “The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users.  Sometimes the latter is better.  Interestingly enough, you will quickly find that if you are completely and self-deprecatingly truthful about how much you owe other people, the world at large will treat you as though you did every bit of the invention yourself and are just being becoming modest about your innate genius.”  BE LIBERAL WITH YOUR PRAISE OF OTHERS.

·         “Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.”  ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.

·         “Perfection (in design) is achieved not where there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.  LESS IS MORE.


One last comment comes from this quote:


“The “utility function” Linux hackers are maximizing is not classically economic, but is the intangible of their own ego satisfaction and reputation among other hackers.  (One may call their motivation “altruistic,” but this ignores the fact that altruism is itself a form of ego satisfaction for the altruist).  Voluntary cultures that work this way are not actually uncommon… “egoboo” (ego-boosting, or the enhancement of one’s reputation among other fans) as the basic drive behind volunteer activity.”


There is a HUGE lesson in this quote for anyone who runs an organization with lots of volunteers.  Thanks for the reminder.


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