I got the once-in-a-lifetime chance to interview a tectonic thinker of the high-tech industry – as many would describe him – with decades of experience in Silicon Valley. You may now ask who it is. And I have to disappoint you by not telling. It may surprise you that he chose so. Many significant people like him want to share their wisdom but not be asked for interviews all the time. Let yourself be inspired to see things differently by the end of this article, even without knowing the source.
The day of the interview has come, and I am finally sitting in front of him. I want to know what is happening to our concept of work worldwide, whether we are on the right track and what companies need to change. His main observation is that “work is becoming very decentralized” but it has already been like this in Silicon Valley for a long time.
“Already in the 1970s and 1980s”, he says, “work was a case rather than an organizational structure or a company. What projects you work on was more important than anything else. As an employee you could volunteer to join someone else’s (another manager’s) project if you found their ideas compelling.
It was about what you love and how to make it happen with a radical combination of people.
This is very decentralized, and from the outside it looks very chaotic – especially for a hierarchical rigid organization but the advantage is that you can start completely new businesses. This is how many Silicon Valley companies were organized because we were optimizing for creativity, innovation and speed.”
“The recent rise in open source”, he continues, “is, in essence, networked collaboration or how you get 10,000 people work, share and create together. The way you partner with other companies and communities also becomes decentralized.
Partnership now looks much more like a mesh network than organizational block structures.
To my question what companies need to do differently to remain competitive, he says, “Companies need to look more like the world around them. The number and variety of connections among their people and with the outside world need to explode beyond geographies. Companies intuitively understand that, but not really.”
“The key question is, do you accelerate this movement for your organization? Are you deeply engaged with open source communities? If your customers are going to use AI, machine learning, computer vision, etc., you have to be part of these creative platforms and understand what’s going on. Because if you don’t, that is when you will be blindsided.”
“These are all practical things you can do tomorrow. Engage with open source projects and communities.
Encourage working with outside companies, with start-ups in particular, when it comes to advancements in technology.
You don’t have to do it for the entire company but there are lots of activities where it makes sense and you feel more comfortable.”
For the non-techies amongst us, here is a quick explanation of open source. It is software that can be modified and shared by any other programmer because its source code is publicly accessible. Examples are Nextcloud or OpenStack. With the permission to use the software in whatever way, open source promotes programmers’ participation in the enhancement of technology. The only condition is that they let others do the same with whatever they have developed.
When thousands of people contribute in such a collaborative environment, you can imagine that not only are projects implemented quickly through fast fixing and learning, but also a culture of participation is created that rarely exists in traditional forms of organizations.
“The same environment can be created for employees in different departments. Do you form small teams that look more like networks? Teams that are cross-departmental, can move fast, make their own decisions and work with the outside.” From my perception of the European corporate world this sounds radical to me, and I am asking myself what kind of leadership will agree to this.
But I can definitely see the parallel between open source in the tech field and the way of working he is suggesting for organizations. It is a mindset of freeing oneself from self-made boundaries for the sake of achieving the best results.
Open source is more than just software, it is an attitude. The open source community puts it as follows: Approaching all aspects “the open source way” means expressing a willingness to share…embracing failure as a means of improving, … The world is full of “source code” – blueprints, recipes, rules – that guide and shape the way we think and act in it. We believe this underlying code should be open, accessible, and shared – so many people can have a hand in altering it for the better.
I know, this sounds inspiring to some and scary to others. Open source is a movement towards participation that is enabled by technology. It will gain more influence in business and society.
Interview by ASLI TOKSAL.
Question to You:
Where do you want to see the open source “way” become alive? How could an initiative in this area look like?
Continue here with the second part of the interview: Wisdom #2 from Silicon Valley: Do Things You Really Care About.