Open-Source: Beyond Just Software
I just finished reading a fascinating article on how the open-source model is providing inspiration for problem solving and information sharing in business, politics and the military. The article begins with explaining the Pentagon’s open call for help to address key strategic problems, from China’s military to al-Qaida, with a promise to share the results publicly.
These open, collaborative models are taking shape across sectors: scientific, commercial, academic, athletic, aerospace and more. This is rooted in the open-source software model and illustrates something I firmly believe. Open source is not just a software model, it is a way of operating through collaboration and transparency that can have transformative effects on any organization or endeavor.
Over the years, I have seen two things time and again at the organizations I have worked with:
- Too often nonprofits work independently – investing significant resources and energy – to solve problems and address challenges common to many organizations. However, the sharing of learnings and solutions with one another is sporadic and inefficient. This leads to significant duplication of effort and regularly ‘reinventing the wheel’.
- Every organization has at least a few unique needs that require some degree – even if minor – of customization. A static, one-size-fits-all approach would not be effective (although for years both the nonprofit and commercial sectors have accepted this approach and its restrictions from software vendors). However, these unique needs often inspire creative innovations that can be applied across and benefit many organizations.
What drew me to the open source model is that it presents a simple, elegant way to overcome these challenges. Community collaboration allows you to leverage the effort and expertise of others, while openness and control give you the ability to tweak things to fit your particular needs. While open source software is the tool and a beginning, this is more that just a type of software. It is a disruptive way of thinking about and approaching both business and life that will have an impact on just about everything we do. From technology to tennis courts, the open source model is changing the world for the better.