Eclectic Curiosity

Posted on August 22nd, 2004, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Uncategorized. No Comments

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s 2002 commencement speech to the graduating class at Tufts University offers some practical wisdom relating to systems thinking, diversity and self-sustaining communities.

To a large degree, life – like a software program — is a linear thing. We all face the temptation to freeze-frame the past, and project it into the future. As Pam said, the future doesn’t always follow a straight line. So as a software engineer, you learn to strive for a certain flexibility in design: You learn to avoid being locked in to a single solution – to build a platform that can be used for a number of purposes.

As a result, to the outside observer, a well-written program might look a little bit wasteful… Cluttered when it should be clean… With dots that defy connection… …Kind of like an education in the liberal arts. You know what I mean: When you design your course of study, you build in some lines of code the purpose of which is not immediately evident – a course in poetry to go with a course in physics, Aristotle’s Ethics along with algorithms… …And then, later, life takes a non-linear turn, and you draw on a different part of the platform for the new perspective you need.

Which leads me to the last lesson I want to share today from my eBay experience. When you’re looking at the way a collection of isolated individuals coalesces into a community… When you’re trying to understand what makes a network work – what I’ve learned is that it comes down to this: Can the system embrace diversity? And not just accept diversity – but embrace diversity – as the value of difference.

To understand that what today seems odd, unnecessary, off-beat — maybe even outrageous – may prove integral to solving tomorrow’s problems. It’s a matter of finding the connections that make community – not just forging them, but finding them, because I think they already exist — and encouraging each individual to think from self to society to service.

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