We all have things happen in our lives which affect our outlook. We have interactions with family, with friends, with clients, with employees. All of these experiences make up our past. They make up what we know and understand about life. But without a few important things those experiences are worthless. We have an opportunity. We have the power to improve our lives and our businesses. And we have the option to make our experiences count for something or to be worthless.
The date is the 9th of September 2014. It’s a Tuesday. We’re about to experience in a few short hours the annual Apple event. As we get ready to once again revel in the anticipation, the excitement, and the thrill which has accompanied each of these occasions I think it’s a good time to discuss why or when you might change a good thing. When should you change a good thing?
The idea of pivoting in a business is one of those things not thought of when things are running smooth and business is growing. Often its not until things start “slipping” do you start to hear the rumblings of a “pivot” in the works. What is a pivot? Why should a business pivot? And when should a business pivot? Let’s see if we can answer those three questions.
I’m sitting at the airport. This quite a common place to find me. As an open source advocate I travel a lot. Most of the time my flights are on time and my connections are easy. This is not one of those times.
I found out my initial flight leg from RDU to IAD (Washington Dulles) was delayed and then 20 minutes later delayed again; and again. Eventually it was delayed 3 more times. And as expected with that many delays, I missed the connection from IAD to GRU (Sao Paulo, Brazil). Majorly frustrating. As I make the arrangements to rebook the flight for the following day it strikes me how applicable this situation is to life, and also to open source.
We all have plans for our lives. We have an agenda, things we want to see accomplished and goals we want to achieve. In an open source community we set our sights on accomplishing lofty things. Many of them having some form of “change the world” buried in them. We put down a mission and a vision statement we want to accomplish and then we start to organize ourselves to accomplish those goals.
Open Source Opportunities
Open source projects have several obstacles to overcome in this scenario though. Chiefly, we rely on the time, interests and energies of volunteers to accomplish these lofty goals and ultimately accomplish our mission and fulfill our vision. If our volunteers fail to have the time or interest then the project also fails. This is where the power of flexibility becomes so critically important.
It is foolish to believe a mission statement or a vision cannot change. It’s also foolish to believe every deadline will be met perfectly. When an open source community relies on volunteers and contributors one of the greatest battles is the battle to remain flexible, to be willing to make changes to deadlines, to goals, and even to a project’s mission.
Why must a community be flexible?
As I’ve already mentioned when a community relies on the goodwill and generous donations of time and talent from contributors there must be an inherent amount of understanding and ability to change as a result. Secondly, and possibly even more importantly, The world changes. Software changes, companies and organizations change. An open source community grows over time and as it grows it evolves. It establishes a culture and becomes more refined (dare I say focused) as it grows. At least this should be the case because the community listens to its members. Not only does it listen to its members to help it establish culture but it also listens to the world. A strong community pays attention to the changes happening around it and is flexible in adopting change (when it’s for the good of the community).
Are communities quick to be flexible?
No, and that’s why I say it’s a fight to be flexible. Sometimes individuals in the community are change-averse. They prefer the status quo over the ‘unknowns’ involved in changing. A well-rounded community is made up of a variety of individuals. These differences should be celebrated and embraced. These differences should also be kept in mind. Just as there are those ‘strong and steady’ types there are also the ‘non-comformist’ type, this is the person who loves change, any change, and even wants change just because it’s change. There’s dangers in both these types as well as the many other types (trust me, there are many many personalities which make up a good open source community). The point is to be flexible. Be talking and communicating with each other within your community. When communication happens (and listening happens) then the true power of open source communities can be found. Because I believe this is where open source stands head and shoulders over others.
Open Source Wins
Open source projects should stop looking at flexibility as something that must be fought but rather one of it’s greatest strengths. The ability to change direction based on the community is a powerful one. Most large corporations are unable to implement the types of flexibility and take advantage of a changing culture in the same way an open source community can. The passion found in volunteers cannot be bought, cannot be forced in a closed source corporation. It’s inherent in the genetic makeup of open source. Take advantage of the benefit of being open source. Take advantage of the flexibility and use it to be an incredible community.
Remember, we’re all in this together.