Managing the Passionate*
How consensus and consent, coops and sociocracies, user groups and open source development, come to bear on the mismatch between autocracy and open source.
The question is often asked of open source: why do programmers
voluntarily spend their time performing an otherwise highly paid
activity? Community cred, “cool” projects, the ability to choose work
to align with one’s interest, and the potential to later count
volunteer work as experience with which to get a better job have all
been pointed to as factors for this un-economic behavior.
Oft-overlooked is the difference between the way that open source
projects and many companies make decisions, a difference that speaks
to the heart of what it means to choose to bring knowledge and skills
to a project. Open Source projects often joke that they have a
benevolent dictator, but in actuality, the successful ones have
leaders who are forced to listen to, and take into account, the
opinions of a volunteer community. Those volunteers bring with them
not just their skills, but their active consent to the work being
done, and in this way, these projects more strongly resemble
consensus-based organizations or consent-based sociocracies than the
traditional corporate autocratic model. Perhaps this can explain some
of the difficulties open source companies have had interacting with
their communities, and point toward ways in which more engagement and
commitment can be nurtured in your work environment.
Martin Chase and Jeff Schwaber will bring their experience with
consensus and consent, coops and sociocracies, user groups and open
source development, to bear on the mismatch between autocracy and open
source, and will give you just enough knowledge of your alternatives
to be dangerous to tradition.
After 4 years spent herding volunteers as Free Geek’s head programmer, builder and sysadmin (from PHP to RoR, Woody to Ubuntu, shelves of Pentium2 servers to racks of virtualization), Martin was replaced by a 15 year old who could do all the same work better and cheaper. Accepting the change as inevitable, Martin then took a year off paid work to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be (and it was right there, just like I had hoped). Now he seeks to apply advanced rationality practices to human behavior, government, curry sauce, table tennis – whatever doesn’t run away screaming, really.
Jeff Schwaber has been bringing outside ideas into surprised organizations since he moved to Portland in 2003. He was involved in a project by Freegeek to bring open source to nonprofits, and has been continuing that work since, often trying to sneak consensus, listening, and good facilitation in at the same time. He lives in Portland with housemates, a dog, two cats, and about a zillion fermenting bacteria.