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Open Source Leadership as an Organizational Management Style

Open source, like the blogosphere, is a grassroots (bottom up) movement. Try not to let the grassroots lull you into believing that it is about one or two people with an idea or cause. Today's grassroots ideas on the net become viral in days, scaling in volunteers (Seth, will you help us) to what would make any organization or marketeer cry for mercy or celebrate in the streets. But, that's not happening in most business organizations. Too bad. Business managers and team members could learn a great deal from consumer IT (social software applications).

I've gathered together ideas from OSCON (2005 Open Source Conference), Joi Ito, and others that might offer answers and possible starting points to my question (will you help us.)

Open source leadership from Joi Ito reports on the what he learned at OSCON.

Open source projects have their share of politics and petty problems and clearly leaders of other types of organization do and should exhibit these sorts of leadership traits. However, I definitely saw something special in these open source leaders which reminded me of the leaders that Dee Hock described. They had strong ethics, were humble, were extremely sensitive of the needs of their community and lead more through coordination and management of processes than through exercise of authority. This was in stark contract to some of the conversations I have had at various CEO forums where people talked about "human resources" as if they were cogs and seemed to feel that the CEO had some divine right to more money and more power. Again, I would add that there are a great number of exceptions in both groups, but generally speaking, the conversations with the open source leaders made me feel like I was seeing the future of organizations compared to my experience with CEOs of normal for-profit companies.

I think that the Mozilla Foundation [Ideascape is built on the same software architecture as the Mozilla net community] and the success of open source is a test and will be an example of a new kind of organizational management style which I believe will have lessons applicable to all kinds of organizations. (Note: DBA tag.) Enlightened leaders in other areas are also developing methods that involve treating their staff, customers and other stakeholders as a communities, but this still appears to be the exception, not the norm.


If you're interested in learning and applying open source community ideas in your organization, here are a few more links.

Coordination Theory in a Flat World covers Dr. Malone's work on coordination theory, Includes a podcast.

Why Can't Business Learn From Open Source And Blogging? Excellent essay by Paul Garham.

Building Vibrant Human Networks While Business Blogging from Harvard Business School

What are we doing besides banging the open source drum to business organizations?

We're taking the idea to the people, one person at a time or in groups: housewives, small biz owners, students, lawyers, doctors, teachers, accountants, seniors, truck drivers, cabbies, and your customers. Oh yeah, your smartest employess too. We're removing the barriers to entry.

"The Conversation Era"

We're teaching them how to get a voice in the blogosphere and how to use and navigate around the net using all the coolest open source tools. We have offices all over the city and in NJ. In fact, any place there's a wireless hotspot, Libraries, Starbucks, Central Park, etc. is an office where we can teach. Look for us on the streets in NYC or send an email and say hello!