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The next challenge for open source

In the software development industry the results are in and open source is the winner. As Matt Asay predicts in a recent blog, future dialogues about open source will be less about evangelism and there will be more focus on putting open source into practice. Which forces us to look, fundamentally, at exactly what we’re putting into practice? Open source software? Or open source itself? What do we mean when we say open source?

At New Kind, we believe that open source is—simply stated—a beautiful and effective way to scale creative thinking and culture. What is amazing is the rapid acceptance of “open source” beyond software development. Today businesses are looking at open source as a way to create new business models, new management strategies, new marketing, innovation and community-building paradigms.

As we’ve noted before (and will, no doubt continue to note) evangelists in this broader understanding of open source include many of the world’s most influential business thinkers including Gary Hamel, Roger Martin and Tom Peters. Two weeks ago I watched Coke’s VP of Global Branding— David Butler— introduce open source as a powerful branding/design concept to AIGA‘s national conference for professional designers. These speakers are not referring to open source software.

But, through the proven success of the open source software development model, in part, they have discovered the competitive power of such creative collaborative, design thinking cultures. And they are advising today’s business leaders to rapidly adopt these new kinds of models across their organizations; internally and externally.

Acceptance will be slow among executives who are just now being introduced to open source creative models. Hamel says they are locked into “archaic beliefs” that must be changed if they are to remain competitive. It took nearly 15 years for the technology acceptance; how long will this take?

The time is now. For organizations where innovation is now a strategic necessity, open source creative cultures are a powerful if frightening alternative to the habitual thinking of analytical-driven, MBA-type cultures. As Martin’s book The Responsibility Virus makes clear, fear is a powerful force that shuts down innovation. Most executives and senior managers have little clue how strongly fear influences their thinking and actions, and the effect that has on the competitive positioning of the organizations they lead.

Open source and design thinking are anecdotes. But there are countless traditional players— individuals and corporations; large and powerful— who have no interest in seeing new competitive threats to their status quo arise. Open source is revolutionary change; landowners seldom start revolutions. These players will not welcome the change open source promises. And they will not play nicely.

Such opposition will look for evidence that open source doesn’t work. To borrow Roger Martin’s language, “reliable” actions will trump more “viable” solutions. When they find ‘reliable’ evidence, they can and will be ruthless adversaries. Open source practitioners must not be naive; evangelism can become a detriment in this environment. Even the Christian Bible (a fair prophet on evangelism) warns, “Faith without works is dead.”

In that context, Matt Asay is correct. Evangelist must begin to play a secondary role to the practitioner. And if Malcolm Gladwell is right, then it takes 10,000 hours for an individual to grasp the nuance and expertise necessary to play that role. That’s a small community of practitioners.

That’s the next challenge for open source.


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