Competition and the free market are great and I don’t mean as a passing fancy. That doesn’t mean that a free market capitalist system, or the businesses and individuals that drive it, are free of problems. Don’t jump to political conclusions though – I’m not hinting at a political agenda. I’m talking about financial systems and business and how we might be able to use a model like open source software to make business a lot better – regardless of where in the world your chair sits in this flat world, or what side of the political spectrum you favor. Participants convening today at The Talent Unconference have an opportunity to employ radical transparency and what I’d call open source business by dropping their guard.
At its core, the open source software movement has successfully demonstrated that an open model, relying on the power of individuals operating collaboratively and freely towards a similar goal, can be vastly superior to a more traditional, centrally managed approach to making software, where a singular goal is pursued in orchestrated, measured steps. Open source software development presents benefits across the board, from the obvious one around cost, to innovation and speed to market – the latter being ever more critical in today’s world. I believe we would all benefit by using more open source thinking in traditional business areas like recruiting, marketing, and sales. But what does that mean?
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from Paul Graham, who published a great article called “What business can learn from open source”
“Companies ensure quality through rules to prevent employees from screwing up. But you don’t need that when the audience can communicate with one another. People just produce whatever they want; the good stuff spreads, and the bad gets ignored. And in both cases, feedback from the audience improves the best work.”
One of my core goals in my own business is to start answering the question of how open source can be applied to business. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know exactly how to apply the model in all areas. I am feeling my way along and I expect that this will be journey that has no real end, just increasing iterations and maturity as I move forward. Some business practices are more simple to apply an open source model to. Take the traditional business conference. Back in 1998, the xml development community first used the term ‘unconference’ in an announcement for their upcoming get together. Later, technology maven and blog pioneer, Dave Winer used the term and brought it to its current prominence while organizing the first successful BloggerCon. From there, the concept quickly spread among geeks like Shannon and I until today, when we’re seeing unconferences for a multitude of businesses, hobbies and other pursuits, far from the Tech world where they started.
This week, the Talent Unconference organized by Jeff Hunter of Talentism is taking place (starting today actually) in the Bay Area. When participants look around the room they’ll be sure to see traditional competitors – the very people that you’d normally be last to share your best ideas with. I suspect some, if not all, of the participants will hold a little something back (even if it is subconciously) from the discussions for fear that that they’ll lose some competitive advantage. I would argue strongly that the open source software movement has proven that the best rewards go to the individuals that are most free with their talent, time and hard work. Think about how meaningful that is. Talent, time, hard work. To me, what would make this a true open source business event would be nothing less but full disclosure and participation. If you hold back, then what you’re ultimately saying is:
- you have a completely unique idea (lets stop kidding ourselves)
- you have an idea that cannot be improved upon by input from others (hah!)
Go on, I challenge you to convince me otherwise.
While I agree that it is possible to lose some competitive advantage in spewing forth your ideas at an event like the Talent Unconference, you would only lose if you failed to pursue your ‘idea’ and fail to learn something from ideas contributed by the other talented individuals present. If ideas were the only important element to successful business then there wouldn’t be a difference between FedEx and the U.S. Postal service. Put another way: You can take my idea, but it doesn’t mean you can implement it any better than I can watch Tiger Woods swing a golf club and then go win a golf tournament. Let’s not forget that execution is more often the missing ingredient in highly successful businesses. And I’ll close on those last two keywords: highly successful.
I think that ‘highly successful’ is the most likely outcome for open source business. Sure, we can all have a successful business using traditional practices, but there’s much more to be gained than lost by letting go. What may seem like giving in, is really the ultimate win, when you go open source.
p.s. Reading this post you may wonder why I’m not at the Talent Unconference. Well, both Shannon and I would have really loved to be there, as I explained in an e-mail to Jeff Hunter back in December, but our family and client commitments kept us on the sidelines for this round. Judging from the positive reaction to this event I’m very hopeful that it won’t be the only opportunity. One of the main reasons I wrote this post today was to support what Jeff, and everyone who IS at the event, are doing.
Congratulations for showing up, all of you – all glory comes from daring to begin.
[tags]Open Source Business, Open Source, Open Source Community, Talent Unconference, taluncon, Jeff Hunter, Paul Graham[/tags]