Eclectic Curiosity

What Business Can Learn from Open Source


Posted on August 28th, 2005, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Uncategorized. No Comments

Better late than never. I’ve finally gotten around to reading Paul Graham’s essay What Business Can Learn from Open Source which over the past few weeks has been widely posted and highly regarded. It’s a very good essay. In it, Graham points to the three big lessons open source and blogging have to teach business: (1) that people work harder on stuff they like, (2) that the standard office environment is very unproductive, and (3) that bottom-up often works better than top-down.

One of the most powerful of those was the existence of “channels.” Revealingly, the same term was used for both products and information: there were distribution channels, and TV and radio channels. It was the narrowness of such channels that made professionals seem so superior to amateurs. There were only a few jobs as professional journalists, for example, so competition ensured the average journalist was fairly good. Whereas anyone can express opinions about current events in a bar. And so the average person expressing his opinions in a bar sounds like an idiot compared to a journalist writing about the subject. …

To me the most demoralizing aspect of the traditional office is that you’re supposed to be there at certain times. There are usually a few people in a company who really have to, but the reason most employees work fixed hours is that the company can’t measure their productivity. The basic idea behind office hours is that if you can’t make people work, you can at least prevent them from having fun. If employees have to be in the building a certain number of hours a day, and are forbidden to do non-work things while there, then they must be working. In theory. In practice they spend a lot of their time in a no-man’s land, where they’re neither working nor having fun. …

The other problem with pretend work is that it often looks better than real work. When I’m writing or hacking I spend as much time just thinking as I do actually typing. Half the time I’m sitting drinking a cup of tea, or walking around the neighborhood. This is a critical phase– this is where ideas come from– and yet I’d feel guilty doing this in most offices, with everyone else looking busy. …

At the moment, even the smartest students leave school thinking they have to get a job. Actually what they need to do is make something valuable. A job is one way to do that, but the more ambitious ones will ordinarily be better off taking money from an investor than an employer.





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