Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chaos Theory and Careers

I made some comments previously on this concept. (Where Will You Be in 30 Years)

Here is a copy of an article.

I think the authors are right in asserting that humans are complex systems and that they operate in complex systems. However his treatment of chaos and its applications to people fall short of the mark. Some of his examples and stories are amusing but I don't think that they actually capture the essence of complexity. I think he misunderstands chaos and makes a leap that's not credible to apply chaos to careers.

However, an approach of thinking of the person as a complex system operating in multiple complex systems may be an important clue in understanding complexipacity. We can be adaptive intelligent agents with the property of emergence. We can also be a complex system in a critical state subject to periods of stasis followed by unpredictable changes of unpredictable magnitude. And, we can be a chaotic complex system sometimes changing unexpectedly between states of being or disintegrating into periods of incoherence.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Eight Years of Blogging

I posted my first blog on August 22, 2002. So, I’ve been blogging away for eight years now. My first blog was The Innovation Roadmap Travelogue. This was done in junction with a business effort called The Innovation Roadmap. The travelogue theme was the result of the thought that innovation is a journey and that I would report on my observations along that journey. In 2004 I started the Innovation Commons Network. It was an open collaborative effort to develop the principles of an innovation commons. Thirty five people joined in this collaborative blog. I realized that I read a lot and usually wrote book summaries and analyses for my own use, and in 2005 I decided to share these with the public in The Illuminated Innovant. In 2005 Anne Durrum Robinson died and I set up a blog to commemorate her life. Five people contributed to Anne Durrum Robinson . I used Blogger for all of these blogs.

I starting blogging as a part of my business effort but quickly switched to trying to add to the commons. When I became aware of Ning, I decided to switch to a social networking model that would include a blog. In September of 2008 I started Insights-Intelligence–Innovation using the Ning platform. One hundred forty six people joined this collaboration.

The switch to the Ning turned out to be a very bad decision for me. I thought that Ning was a member of open web movement. That turned out to be false. Less than two years into my dark age with Ning, Ning stopped making the platform available for free seriously impacting me, but also damaging the noosphere. I called it the dark age because there is nothing left. No history. Ning even prevented (apparently) the Internet Archive from archiving the content of the networks. (Wayback Machine). It’s as though two years of collaborative effort never existed.

I decided to return to the Blogger platform that I was familiar with, and created Insights-Foresight. This is now a personal blog where I will follow my own interests. I have eschewed a collaboration for the time being. Blogger is still free and is now owned by Google. I am wary of Google as it expands its reach and scope, so I don’t know if I can trust it or not. (By the way, Google is an it, not a person.) I was able to capture all the blog content manually from Ning this summer before Ning offered belatedly tools to export content from their platform. I also exported all the pertinent content from my other blogs on Blogger and added that content to the new blog with publication dates the same as the original material. In the meantime, I am exploring other platforms for collaborative efforts.

Over the eight years of blogging I have posted 553 entries. Activity has varied with time as I tried to find the best way to use blogging for myself, my business and the noosphere many are trying to create.

I tend to write about a lot of topics, but as you can see below, the subjects have been highly focused on innovation, commons, future and complexity.

I am disappointed with readership of this blog (only 128 visits over the last month) because I think I have a lot to share. However, I will continue to post to the noosphere, and hopefully increasing the value of the commons.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Seattle video game teaches complexity of protein structures

Millions of people participate in online science projects. Foldit takes things to a new level, using an online game to leverage the forces of human creativity, intuition and spatial reasoning against a scientific task that flummoxes silicon brains.

By Sandi Doughton, Seattle Times science reporter

Susanne Halicki's last science class was in high school — and that was a long time ago.

She's got grown children now and works as an office administrator.

But every evening, Halicki slips on a cyber lab coat and immerses herself in molecular biology via a video game developed in Seattle.

The British woman is among 150,000 people worldwide who have tried their hand at the game called Foldit. She's also part of an elite subset of players who have become so skillful at sussing out the structures of biologically important proteins that they frequently outperform supercomputers.

"I like solving puzzles," Halicki said. "It was hard at first, but I persevered."

Insights from the citizen scientists are already helping in the quest for new drugs and green-energy technologies, and could become an even more powerful tool in the future, said University of Washington biochemist David Baker.

"This shows that people who don't have a scientific background can solve very challenging scientific problems," said Baker, co-creator of Foldit. He's now enlisting the players to design potential drugs from scratch.

Read article.

Related Information

Foldit: http://fold.it/portal

GalaxyZoo: http://www.galaxyzoo.org

Other projects: http://boinc.berkeley.edu

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beloit College Mindset List for Class of 2014

"Born when Ross Perot was warning about a giant sucking sound and Bill Clinton was apologizing for pain in his marriage, members of this fall’s entering college class of 2014 have emerged as a post-email generation for whom the digital world is routine and technology is just too slow.

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. The creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references, and quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation. The Mindset List website at www.beloit.edu/mindset, the Mediasite webcast and its Facebook page receive more than 400,000 hits annually.

The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since "digital" has always been in the cultural DNA, they've never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. Dirty Harry (who’s that?) is to them a great Hollywood director. The America they have inherited is one of soaring American trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat.

Nonetheless, they plan to enjoy college. The males among them are likely to be a minority. They will be armed with iPhones and BlackBerries, on which making a phone call will be only one of many, many functions they will perform. They will now be awash with a computerized technology that will not distinguish information and knowledge. So it will be up to their professors to help them. A generation accustomed to instant access will need to acquire the patience of scholarship. They will discover how to research information in books and journals and not just on-line. Their professors, who might be tempted to think that they are hip enough and therefore ready and relevant to teach the new generation, might remember that Kurt Cobain is now on the classic oldies station. The college class of 2014 reminds us, once again, that a generation comes and goes in the blink of our eyes, which are, like the rest of us, getting older and older."

Read the List

Where will you be in 30 years time?

Where will you be in 2, 5, 10 or 30 years? Is it a reasonable question, can we plan our careers to that extent or should we focus more on learning to be flexible and creative? Is it a better idea to focus more on spotting opportunities? Introducing the Chaos Theory of Careers by Pryor and Bright, and the Bright's Beyond Personal Mastery Model of Creativity. A short intro to ideas about change reinvention, creativity and the Chaos theory of Careers by Jim Bright, Bright and Associates.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers...Not!

Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers: To really win their loyalty, forget the bells and whistles and just solve their problems
Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman, Harvard Business Review, July - August 2010

The subtitle to this article summarizes the problem I have with it. They have equated delight with bells and whistles. This may be the way delight is interpreted in today's business world, but it's a far cry from the way we defined delight in 1994.

"Would you rather be satisfied or delighted? Which do you think your customers would prefer? Chances are that you answered "Delighted" in both cases. The reason for this lies deep in the meanings of the two words. To be satisfied means to have desires and expectations filled. It literally means to have an end put to a desire, want, or need. Who really wants an end put to their desires? The word satisfy comes from the same root as sad and sated, which is what you become if you have all your desires satisfied.

To be delighted is to take joy or pleasure in something. The word has an element of surprise in it. To be delighted is to be provided with something that you may want or need, but not consciously perceive or expect. Delighted comes from the same root as delicious and delectable, words we associate with food. Wouldn't most of us rather have a delicious meal than one that merely satisfies our body's needs?" Paul Schumann and Donna Prestwood, Innovate!, McGraw-Hill, 1994

We have really muddled up our language with respect to satisfaction, desire, expectation, requirement and delight - important concepts with respect to customers, stakeholders and employees.

In the second part of the subtitle, the authors call for solving customer's problems. This is good, but it doesn't go far enough.

The power of the concept of delight is that it is continuous. You never reach that goal.

"What delighted customers yesterday becomes today's floor, or basis for mere satisfaction. This is the real continuous improvement process which must be rigorously followed, for it results in improved effectiveness, whereas what today passes as "continuous improvement" only addresses improved efficiencies and never questions effectiveness." Innovate!

Not only is it a process, it encompasses business development.

"Not only is delight a process, it is also a continuum; what delights one set of customers may not even be accepted by others, and may be actively rejected by still others. Which customer type you focus on to delight depends on your business strategy. Whether you are trying to hold on to market share, increase market share, or create new markets determines the focus of the organization's innovation activities, and consequently which customers get delighted." Innovate!

If you'd like to read the chapter on delight from Innovate!, click here. Please remember that this was written in 1994 so the references and examples are out of date.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Yochai Benkler has written a masterful book on social production and networks. As I read this section last night I was struck with the thought that autonomy is the unspoken word at the center of a lot of controversy in our society. The conversation should be focused on autonomy overtly:
  • How much autonomy is required for individual freedom?
  • When does my autonomy begin to impinge on yours?
  • How does my autonomy empower yours?
  • What’s the boundary between my autonomy and limits placed by government, corporate and religious interests?
  • How do government, corporate and religious entities empower my autonomy?
  • How do we protect the personal autonomy that is emerging through the Internet, social production and web 2.0 software?
“The autonomy deficit of private communications and information systems is a result of the formal structure of property as an institutional device and the role of communications and information systems as basic requirements in the ability of individuals to formulate purposes and plan actions to fit their lives. The gains flow directly from the institutional characteristics of commons. The emergence of the networked information economy makes one other important contribution to autonomy. It qualitatively diversifies the information available to individuals. Information, knowledge, and culture are now produced by sources that respond to a myriad of motivations, rather than primarily the motivation to sell into mass markets. Production is organized in anyone of a myriad of productive organizational forms, rather than solely the for-profit business firm. The supplementation of the profit motive and the business organization by other motivations and organizational forms-ranging from individual play to large-scale peer-production projects-provides not only a discontinuously dramatic increase in the number of available information sources but, more significantly, an increase in available information sources that are qualitatively different from others.

Imagine three storytelling societies: the Reds, the Blues, and the Greens.

Each society follows a set of customs as to how they live and how they tell stories. Among the Reds and the Blues, everyone is busy all day, and no one tells stories except in the evening. In the evening, in both of these societies, everyone gathers in a big tent, and there is one designated storyteller who sits in front of the audience and tells stories. It is not that no one is allowed to tell stories elsewhere. However, in these societies, given the time constraints people face, if anyone were to sit down in the shade in the middle of the day and start to tell a story, no one else would stop to listen. Among the Reds, the storyteller is a hereditary position, and he or she alone decides which stories to tell. Among the Blues, the storyteller is elected every night by simple majority vote. Every member of the community is eligible to offer him- or herself as that night's storyteller, and every member is eligible to vote. Among the Greens, people tell stories all day, and everywhere. Everyone tells stories. People stop and listen if they wish, sometimes in small groups of two or three, sometimes in very large groups. Stories in each of these societies play a very important role in understanding and evaluating the world. They are the way people describe the world as they know it. They serve as testing grounds to imagine how the world might be, and as a way to work out what is good and desirable and what is bad and undesirable. The societies are isolated from each other and from any other source of information.

Now consider Ron, Bob, and Gertrude, individual members of the Reds, Blues, and Greens, respectively. Ron's perception of the options open to him and his evaluation of these options are largely controlled by the hereditary storyteller. He can try to contact the storyteller to persuade him to tell different stories, but the storyteller is the figure who determines what stories are told. To the extent that these stories describe the universe of options Ron knows about, the storyteller defines the options Ron has. The storyteller's perception of the range of options largely will determine the size and diversity of the range of options open to Ron. This not only limits the range of known options significantly, but it also prevents Ron from choosing to become a storyteller himself. Ron is subjected to the storyteller's control to the extent that, by selecting which stories to tell and how to tell them, the storyteller can shape Ron's aspirations and actions. In other words, both the freedom to be an active producer and the freedom from the control of another are constrained. Bob's autonomy is constrained not by the storyteller, but by the majority of voters among the Blues. These voters select the storyteller, and the way they choose will affect Bob's access to stories profoundly. If the majority selects only a small group of entertaining, popular, pleasing, or powerful (in some other dimension, like wealth or political power) storytellers, then Bob's perception of the range of options will be only slightly wider than Ron's, if at all. The locus of power to control Bob's sense of what he can and cannot do has shifted. It is not the hereditary storyteller, but rather the majority. Bob can participate in deciding which stories can be told. He can offer himself as a storyteller every night. He cannot, however, decide to become a storyteller independently of the choices of a majority of Blues, nor can he decide for himself what stories he will hear. He is significantly constrained by the preferences of a simple majority. Gertrude is in a very different position. First, she can decide to tell a story whenever she wants to, subject only to whether there is any other Green who wants to listen. She is free to become an active producer except as constrained by the autonomy of other individual Greens. Second, she can select from the stories that any other Green wishes to tell, because she and all those surrounding her can sit in the shade and tell a story. No one person, and no majority, determines for her whether she can or cannot tell a story. No one can unilaterally control whose stories Gertrude can listen to. And no one can determine for her the range and diversity of stories that will be available to her from any other member of the Greens who wishes to tell a story.

The difference between the Reds, on the one hand, and the Blues or Greens, on the other hand, is formal. Among the Reds, only the storyteller !hay tell the story as a matter of formal right, and listeners only have a choice of whether to listen to this story or to no story at all. Among the Blues and the Greens anyone may tell a story as a matter of formal right, and listeners, as a matter of formal right, may choose from whom they will hear. The difference between the Reds and the Blues, on the one hand, and the Greens, on the other hand, is economic. In the former, opportunities for storytelling are scarce. The social cost is higher, in terms of stories unavailable for hearing, or of choosing one storyteller over another. The difference between the Blues and the Greens, then, is not formal, but practical. The high cost of communication created by the Blues' custom of listening to stories only in the evening, in a big tent, together with everyone else, makes it practically necessary to select "a storyteller" who occupies an evening. Since the stories play a substantive role in individuals' perceptions of how they might live their lives, that practical difference alters the capacity of individual Blues and Greens to perceive a wide and diverse set of options, as well as to exercise control over their perceptions and evaluations of options open for living their lives and to exercise the freedom themselves to be storytellers. The range of stories Bob is likely to listen to, and the degree to which he can choose unilaterally whether he will tell or listen, and to which story, are closer, as a practical matter, to those of Ron than to those of Gertrude. Gertrude has many more stories and storytelling settings to choose from, and many more instances where she can offer her own stories to others in her society. She, and everyone else in her society, can be exposed to a wider variety of conceptions of how life can and ought to be lived. This wider diversity of perceptions gives her greater choice and increases her ability to compose her own life story out of the more varied materials at her disposal. She can be more self-authored than either Ron or Bob. This diversity replicates, in large measure, the range of perceptions of how one might live a life that can be found among all Greens, precisely because the storytelling customs make every Green a potential storyteller, a potential source of information and inspiration about how one might live one's life.

All this could sound like a morality tale about how wonderfully the market maximizes autonomy. The Greens easily could sound like Greenbacks, rather than like environmentalists staking out public parks as information commons. However, this is not the case in the industrial information economy, where media markets have high entry barriers and large economies of scale. It is costly to start up a television station, not to speak of a network, a newspaper, a cable company, or a movie distribution system. It is costly to produce the kind of content delivered over these systems. Once production costs or the costs of laying a network are incurred, the additional marginal cost of making information available to many users, or of adding users to the network, is much smaller than the initial cost. This is what gives information and cultural products and communications facilities supply-side economies of scale and underlies the industrial model of producing them. The result is that the industrial information economy is better stylized by the Reds and Blues rather than by the Greens. While there is no formal limitation on anyone producing and disseminating information products, the economic realities limit the opportunities for storytelling in the mass mediated environment and make storytelling opportunities a scarce good. It is very costly to tell stories in the mass-mediated environment. Therefore, most storytellers are commercial entities that seek to sell their stories to the audience. Given the discussion earlier in this chapter, it is fairly straightforward to see how the Greens represent greater freedom to choose to become an active producer of one's own information environment. It is similarly dear that they make it exceedingly difficult for any single actor to control the information flow to any other actor. We can now focus on how the story provides a way of understanding the justification and contours of the third focus of autonomy-respecting policy: the requirement that government not limit the quantity and diversity of information available.

The fact that our mass-mediated environment is mostly commercial makes it more like the Blues than the Reds. These outlets serve the tastes of the majority-expressed in some combination of cash payment and attention to advertising. I do not offer here a full analysis-covered so well by Baker in Media, Markets, and Democracy-as to why mass-media markets do not reflect the preferences of their audiences very well. Presented here is a tweak of an older set of analyses of whether monopoly or competition is better in mass-media markets to illustrate the relationship between markets, channels, and diversity of Content. In chapter 6, I describe in greater detail the Steiner¬Beebe model of diversity and number of channels. For our purposes here, it is enough to note that this model shows how advertiser-supported media tend to program lowest-common-denominator programs, intended to "capture the eyeballs" of the largest possible number of viewers. These media do not seek to identify what viewers intensely want to watch, but tend to clear programs that are tolerable enough to viewers so that they do not switch off their television. The presence or absence of smaller-segment oriented television depends on the shape of demand in an audience, the number of channels available to serve that audience, and the ownership structure. The relationship between diversity of content and diversity of structure or ownership is not smooth. It occurs in leaps. Small increases in the number of outlets continue to serve large clusters of low-intensity preferences-that is, what people find acceptable. A new channel that is added will more often try to take a bite out of a large pie represented by some lowest-common denominator audience segment than to try to serve a new niche market. Only after a relatively high threshold number of outlets are reached do advertiser-supported media have sufficient reason to try to capture much smaller and higher-intensity preference clusters-what people are really interested in. The upshot is that if all storytellers in society are profit maximizing and operate in a market, the number of storytellers and venues matters tremendously for the diversity of stories told in a society. It is quite possible to have very active market competition in how well the same narrow set of stories are told, as opposed to what stories are told, even though there are many people who would rather hear different stories altogether, but who are in clusters too small, too poor, or too uncoordinated to persuade the storytellers to change their stories rather than their props.

The networked information economy is departing from the industrial information economy along two dimensions that suggest a radical increase in the number of storytellers and the qualitative diversity of stories told. At the simplest level, the cost of a channel is so low that some publication capacity is becoming available to practically every person in society. Ranging from an e-mail account, to a few megabytes of hosting capacity to host a subscriber's Web site, to space on a peer-to-peer distribution network available for any kind of file (like FreeNet or eDonkey), individuals are now increasingly in possession of the basic means necessary to have an outlet for their stories. The number of channels is therefore in the process of jumping from some infinitesimally small fraction of the population-whether this fraction is three networks or five hundred channels almost does not matter by comparison-to a number of channels roughly equal to the number of users. This dramatic increase in the number of channels is matched by the fact that the low costs of communications and production enable anyone who wishes to tell a story to do so, whether or not the story they tell will predictably capture enough of a paying (or advertising-susceptible) audience to recoup production costs. Self-expression, religious fervor, hobby, community seeking, political mobilization, anyone of the many and diverse reasons that might drive us to want to speak to others is now a sufficient reason to enable us to do so in mediated form to people both distant and close. The basic filter of marketability has been removed, allowing anything that emerges out of the great diversity of human experience, interest, taste, and expressive motivation to flow to and from everyone connected to everyone else. Given that all diversity within the industrial information economy needed to flow through the marketability filter, the removal of that filter marks a qualitative increase in the range and diversity of life options, opinions, tastes, and possible life plans available to users of the networked information economy.”

The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yochai Benkler, Yale University Press, 2006

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary

This book was published in 1999 by Eric Raymond as a collection of essays. It was revised in 2001 after suggestions from readers and changes due to recent development. And here I am in 2010 reading the book and writing about it. Of course I knew about the book earlier but as I’m not a software developer, much less a hacker, I never thought I would find much of value to me in the book.

By the way, hacker is a term used by the author that is not negative, but positive. Wikipedia describes this type of hacker as, “…a member of the computer programmer subculture originated in the 1960s in the United States academia, in particular around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) and MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Nowadays, this subculture is mainly associated with the free software movement. Hackers follow a spirit of creative playfulness and anti-authoritarianism, and sometimes use this term to refer to people applying the same attitude to other fields.” Understanding the hacker culture is critical to understanding the success of the “open source” model.

However, I found the book thoroughly enjoyable, in spite of some repetition and structural issues caused by the way it was written, insightful and helpful to me in my thinking about an innovation commons and complexity.

It is amazing to me that someone so close to the open source revolution was able to step back and observe what was going on, and then draw out some principles and rules. Several people told me that I needed to read the book. I’m glad I finally listened.

Bob Young, CEO, Red Hat, writes in the foreword, “Freedom is not an abstract concept in business. The success of any industry is almost directly related to the degree of freedom the suppliers and the customers of that industry enjoy.” I couldn’t agree more.

Raymond comments on hackers in the preface, “I just referred to the "open-source movement". That hints at other and perhaps more ultimately interesting reasons for the reader to care. The idea of open source has been pursued, realized, and cherished over those thirty years by a vigorous tribe of partisans native to the Internet. These are the people who proudly call themselves "hackers" -not as the term is now abused by journalists to mean a computer criminal, but in its true and original sense of an enthusiast, an artist, a tinkerer, a problem solver, an expert.”

The title, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, contrasts two different styles of operating. A cathedral is designed and craftsmen work on realizing their parts of the cathedral. A bazaar, according to Wikipedia, “is a permanent merchandising area, marketplace, or street of shops where goods and services are exchanged or sold. The word derives from the Persian word bāzār, the etymology of which goes back to the Middle Persian word baha-char ,meaning "the place of prices". Although the current meaning of the word is believed to have originated in Persia, its use has spread and now has been accepted into the vernacular in countries around the world.”

“Linux is subversive,” the author writes in an essay in 1996. “Who would have thought even five years ago (1991) that a world-class operating system could coalesce as if by magic out of part time hacking by several thousand developers scattered all over the planet, connected only by the tenuous threads of the Internet.” Linus Torvald’s style of development,” he continues, “release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity – came as a surprise. No quite, reverent cathedral building here – rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of different agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, which would take submissions from anyone) out of which came a coherent and stable system could seemly emerge only by a succession of miracles.”

The lessons Raymond extracts from this open source experience are:

  1. Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch
  2. Good programmers know what to write. Great programmers know what to rewrite (and reuse)
  3. Plan to throw one away; you will anyhow.
  4. If you have the right attitude, interesting problems will find you.
  5. When you lose interest in a program, your last duty is to hand it over off to a competent successor.
  6. Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid improvement and effective debugging.
  7. Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.
  8. Given a large enough beta – tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone. (Or less formally, given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.)
  9. Smart data structures and dumb code works a lot better than the other way around.
  10. If you treat your beta-testers as if they’re your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.
  11. The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users. Sometimes the latter is better.
  12. Often the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.
  13. Perfection in design is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.
  14. Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.
  15. When writing gateway software of any kind, take pains to disturb the data stream as little as possible – and never throw away information unless the recipient forces you to.
  16. When your language is nowhere near Turing-complete, syntactical sugar can be your friend.
  17. A security system is only as secure as its secret. Beware of pseudo-secrets.
  18. To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you.
  19. Provided the development coordinator has a communication medium at least as good as the Internet, and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are inevitably better than one.
“Brook’s Law predicts that the complexity and communication costs of a project rise with the square of the number of developers, while work done rises only linearly,” the author summarizes. “The Brook’s law analysis and the resulting fear of large numbers in development groups rests on a hidden assumption: that the communications structure of the project is necessarily a complete graph, that everybody talks to everybody else. But on open source projects, the halo-developers work on what in effect separable parallel subtasks and interact with each other very little; code changes and bug reports stream through the core group, and only within that small core group do we pay full Brooksian overhead.”

There are two other major areas that Raymond discusses – the culture of open source efforts (The chapter titled Homesteading the Noosphere and why open source software was a good candidate for this new way of collaborating (The chapter titled The Magic Cauldron). Finally, I will close with my observation about the “bazaar” and complexity.

This book, but particularly the chapter Homesteading the Noosphere, has been difficult for me to summarize. I think that this is because as the author states in the subtitle, they are musings. In order to pull out of this chapter some thoughts useful to pass on, I’m going to impose my structure on the chapter. I look at culture as shown in the graphic below taken from Organizational Development.

The core of any culture is its philosophy (although sometimes difficult to describe). Built on that philosophy are a set of beliefs (things that are taken as fact). Values are built from the beliefs (in this values are priorities). Behavior follows values (in some cases people subdivide this into norms). And, the output results from the behaviors. Using this as a model, I will extract what the author has to say about each of these topics.

Raymond doesn’t really identify a philosophy. However, his discussion of why hackers get involved is close:

“All members agree that open source (that is, software that is freely redistributable and can readily evolve and be modified to fit changing needs) is a good thing and worthy of significant and collective effort.”

Beliefs vary depending upon two parameters – zealotry and hostility to commercial software:
“One degree of variation is zealotry; whether open source development is regarded merely as a convenient means to an end (good tools and fun toys and an interesting game to play) or as an end in itself.

A person of great zeal might say, "Free software is my life! I exist to create useful, beautiful programs and information resources, and then give them away." A person of moderate zeal might say, "Open source is a good thing, which I am willing to spend significant time helping happen." A person of little zeal might say, "Yes, open source is okay sometimes. I play with it and respect people who build it."

Another degree of variation is in hostility to commercial software and/or the companies perceived to dominate the commercial software market.

A very anticommercial person might say, "Commercial software is theft and hoarding. I write free software to end this evil." A moderately anticommercial person might say, "Commercial software in general is okay because programmers deserve to get paid, but companies that coast on shoddy products and throw their weight around are evil." An un-anticommercial person might say, "Commercial software is okay; I just use and/or write open-source software because I like it better." (Nowadays, given the growth of the open-source part of the industry since the first public version of this essay, one might also hear, "Commercial software is fine, as long as I get the source or it does what I want it to do.")”

The author views these two categories as orthogonal so that there are nine different beliefs all under the umbrella of open source:

The author writes that there are three basic ways that humans organize to deal with scarcity and want:
  1. Command hierarchy – scarce goods are allocated by one central authority
  2. Exchange economy – scarce goods are allocated through trade and voluntary cooperation
  3. Gift culture – adaptations to abundance
“For examined in this way, it is quite clear that the society of open-source hackers is in fact a gift culture. Within it, there is no serious shortage of the 'survival necessities' -disk space, network bandwidth, computing power. Software is freely shared. This abundance creates a situation in which the only available measure of competitive success is reputation among one's peers.”

Within the gift culture, certain types of gifts are valued more than others and therefore the giver given higher esteem:
  • Accurate and truthful representation of the gift
  • Work that extends the noosphere
  • Work that makes it into a major distribution
  • Work that is utilized by others
  • Continued devotion to hard, boring work
  • Non trivial extensions of function
“In fact (and in contradiction to the anyone-can-hack-anything consensus theory) the open-source culture has an elaborate but largely unadmitted set of ownership customs.
These customs regulate who can modify software, the circumstances under which it can be modified, and (especially) who has the right to redistribute modified versions back to the community.

The taboos of a culture throw its norms into sharp relief. Therefore, it will be useful later on if we summarize some important ones here:

  • There is strong social pressure against forking projects. It does not happen except under plea of dire necessity, with much public self-justification, and requires renaming.
  • Distributing changes to a project without the cooperation of the moderators is frowned upon, except in special cases like essentially trivial porting fixes.
  • Removing a person's name from a project history, credits, or maintainer list is absolutely not done without the person's explicit consent.”
Nothing in the licenses used for open source projects prevents “forking”:

“Nothing prevents half a dozen different people from taking any given open-source product (such as, say the Free Software Foundations's gcc C compiler), duplicating the sources, running off with them in different evolutionary directions, but all claiming to be the product.
This kind of divergence is called a fork. The most important characteristic of a fork is that it spawns competing projects that can¬not later exchange code, splitting the potential developer community. (There are phenomena that look superficially like forking but are not, such as the proliferation of different Linux distributions. In these pseudo-forking cases there may be separate projects, but they use mostly common code and can benefit from each other's development efforts completely enough that they are neither technically nor sociologically a waste, and are not perceived as forks.) “

Ownership is an important issue in this culture:
“What does 'ownership' mean when property is infinitely reduplicable, highly malleable, and the surrounding culture has neither coercive power relationships nor material scarcity economics?
Actually, in the case of the open-source culture this is an easy question to answer. The owner of a software project is the person who has the exclusive right, recognized by the community at large, to distribute modified versions.”

A person can achieve ownership in three ways:
  1. Found the project
  2. Inherit ownership from the previous owner
  3. Take over an abandoned project (with appropriate notifications and permission of the previous owner if he or she can be found, and no objections from members of the project)
I think that the conditions of the output from this culture are best described in the open source definition on the open source web site:

“Open source doesn't just mean access to the source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:
  1. Free Redistribution: The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.
  2. Source Code: The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining the source code for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.
  3. Derived Works: The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.
  4. Integrity of The Author's Source Code: The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of "patch files" with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.
  5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups: The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.
  6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor: The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.
  7. Distribution of License: The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.
  8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product: The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program's being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program's license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.
  9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software: The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software.
  10. License Must Be Technology-Neutral: No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology”
The last thing I want to write about from Raymond’s book is why the open-source project worked for software. Hopefully this will shed some light on the characteristics of other potential projects that might be successful.

One of the key reasons why open-source software was successful has to do with the value structure of the software. Computer programs, like all other kinds of capital goods, have two kinds of economic value – use value and sale value.

According to the author, the software industry has deluded itself into believing that it is like a “manufacturing model”, i.e. one based on sale value. However, he writes, “…approximately 95% of code is still written in-house”. This code has little or no sale value but a lot of use value. He believes, “…that only 5% of the industry is sale-value-driven.” This implies that there would be a large acceptance of collaborative models of software development that would improve the 95% that is not sale value driven.

Raymond writes that we can expect a high payoff from an open source project when:
  • Reliability, stability, and scalability are critical
  • Correctness of design and implementation are not readily verifiable by means other than independent peer review
  • The software is a business-critical capital good
  • It establishes or enables a common computing and telecommunications infrastructure
  • Key methods are part of common engineering knowledge
And, he writes that open source seems to make the least sense when:
  • You have unique possession of value generating software
  • It is relatively insensitive to failure
  • It can be verified by means other than peer review
  • It is not business critical
  • It would not have its value increased by network effects or ubiquity
This is a very valuable book to read and study, especially if you’re interested in learning when and how to apply open-source approaches to projects. Even thought I’ve written eight pages on the book, I have not addressed all of the topics he covers.

The most important insight I gained from studying The Cathedral and the Bazaar was not in the book, but drawn from complexity science. Using the terminology of complexity science, what the open source approach is doing is using a complex system to solve a complicated problem. See 1,2, a Few, Many for more information). The type of complex system being created is one composed of many independent intelligent agents with emergent properties.

Raymond likened the open source model to the magic cauldron. “In Welsh myth, the goddess Ceridwen owned a great cauldron that would magically produce nourishing food – when commanded by a spell known only to the goddess.”

We may be getting close to understanding how to create complex systems that produce abundance.

The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary
Eric Raymond, O’Reilly, 2001, 241 p

Download a copy of this article.

A Non-Tragedy of a Commons

“Hardin famously asks us to imagine a green held in common by a village of peasants, who graze their cattle there. But grazing degrades the commons, tearing up grass and leaving muddy patches, which re-grow their cover only slowly. If there is no agreed-upon (and enforced!) policy to allocate grazing rights that prevents overgrazing, all parties' incentives push them to run as many cattle as quickly as possible, trying to extract maximum value before the commons degrades into a sea of mud.

Most people have an intuitive model of cooperative behavior that goes much like this. The tragedy of the commons actually stems from two linked problems, one of overuse and another of under-provision. On the demand side, the commons situation encourages a race to the bottom by overuse-what economists call a congested-public-good problem. On the supply side, the commons rewards free-rider behavior-removing or diminishing incentives for individual actors to invest in developing more pasturage.

The tragedy of the commons predicts only three possible out-comes. One is the sea of mud. Another is for some actor with coercive power to enforce an allocation policy on behalf of the village (the communist solution). The third is for the commons to break up as village members fence off bits they can defend and manage sustainably (the property-rights solution).

When people reflexively apply this model to open-source cooperation, they expect it to be unstable with a short half-life. Since there's no obvious way to enforce an allocation policy for programmer time over the Internet, this model leads straight to a prediction that the commons will break up, with various bits of software being taken closed-source and a rapidly decreasing amount of work being fed back into the communal pool.

In fact, it is empirically clear that the trend is opposite to this. The trend in breadth and volume of open-source development can be measured by submissions per day at Metalab and SourceForge (the leading Linux source sites) or announcements per day at freshmeat.net (a site dedicated to advertising new software releases). Volume on both is steadily and rapidly increasing. Clearly there is some critical way in which the "Tragedy of the Commons" model fails to capture what is actually going on.

Part of the answer certainly lies in the fact that using software does not decrease its value. Indeed, widespread use of open-source software tends to increase its value, as users fold in their own fixes and features (code patches). In this inverse commons, the grass grows taller when it's grazed upon.

That this public good cannot be degraded by overuse takes care of half of Hardin's tragedy, the congested-public-goods problem. It doesn't explain why open source doesn't suffer from underprovision. Why don't people who know the open-source community exists universally exhibit free-rider behavior, waiting for others to do the work they need, or (if they do the work themselves) not bothering to contribute the work back into the commons?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that people don't merely need solutions, they need solutions on time. It's seldom possible to predict when someone else will finish a given piece of needed work. If the payoff from fixing a bug or adding a feature is sufficient to any potential contributor, that person will dive in and do it (at which point the fact that everyone else is a free rider becomes irrelevant).

Another part of the answer lies in the fact that the putative market value of small patches to a common source base is hard to capture. Suppose I write a fix for an irritating bug, and suppose many people realize the fix has money value; how do I collect from all people? Conventional payment systems have high enough overheads to make this a real problem for the sorts of micropayments that would usually be appropriate.

It may be more to the point that this value is not merely hard to capture, in the general case it's hard to even assign. As a thought experiment, let us suppose that the Internet came equipped with the theoretically ideal micropayment system-secure, universally accessible, zero-overhead. Now let's say you have written a patch labeled "Miscellaneous Fixes to the Linux Kernel". How do you know what price to ask? How would a potential buyer, not having seen the patch yet, know what is reasonable to pay for it?

What we have here is almost like a funhouse-mirror image of F. A. Hayek's 'calculation problem' -it would take a super being, both able to evaluate the functional worth of patches and trusted to set prices accordingly, to lubricate trade.

Unfortunately, there's a serious superbeing shortage, so patch author J. Random Hacker is left with two choices: sit on the patch, or throw it into the pool for free.

Sitting on the patch gains nothing. Indeed, It Incurs a future cost-the effort involved in re-merging the patch into the source base in each new release. So the payoff from this choice is actually negative (and multiplied by the rapid release tempo characteristic of open-source projects).

To put it more positively, the contributor gains by passing maintenance overhead of the patch to the source-code owners and the rest of the project group. He also gains because others will improve on his work in the future. Finally, because he won't have to maintain the patch himself, he will be able to afford more time on other and larger customizations to suit his needs. The same arguments that favor opening source for entire packages apply to patches as well.

Throwing the patch in the pool may gain nothing, or it may encourage reciprocal effort from others that will address some of J. Random's problems in the future. This choice, apparently altruistic, is actually optimally selfish in a game-theoretic sense.”

The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric Raymond, O’Reilly, 2001, p126-127

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Inventions and Patents: Past and Future

In the 1980's while working for IBM, I did a study of patents and inventions as part of a technical professional development effort. An article that summarized what I learned is stored in the Internet Archive here.

The technical professional development effort is described in the chapter on Developing an Organization in my book Innovate! (McGraw Hill, 1994) I was able to increase the number of patents per technical professional at the IBM Austin site by 70%.

The patent concept is probably about 2100 years old. In antiquity, the patent concept was very broad. It was granted by monarchy to establish rank, precedence, land conveyance, monopoly, and invention. The earliest known monopolies were granted to cooks in about 500 BC in Sybaris, Greece for unique dishes.

The patent concept, as we know it, evolved from this through Greece, Rome, Germany, France,
and England. There was much abuse of patents as they were handed out to friends of the ruling
monarch even if they did not do the work on the invention. Patent law precedents for the current system were most influenced by Queen Elizabeth in England.

The economic equation in the US became something like this: If you teach us (society) about your invention (transfer of knowledge), we will grant you exclusive commercial use of your invention for a period of time. Beyond that time, your invention becomes part of the commons. As a result of the teaching part of the equation, some inventions were kept as trade secrets.

A lot has changed since over the last 25 years since I did the study of patents. We now have many alternative ways of creating and disseminating knowledge and invention open to almost everyone. The economic equation is changing.

As an example, consider the first use of a patent concept - to protect recipes. I remember as a kid that recipes were family secrets handed down from your grandmother. Books of recipes were expensive. Now the Internet is full of recipes and a video channel is devoted to giving recipes and know-how away. Money is being made off of the services provided by the chefs, not just from protecting their secrets.

It's a similar model for open source programs.

I'm reading The Wealth of Networks, and have just finished The Cathedral and the Bazaar (I'm working on a summary now). And, I've been pursuing the idea of an innovation commons based on some of the ideas from other sources as well. Those can be found by clicking on commons in the keyword list in the left column of this blog.

Much more to come later.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Monkeynomics: A Monkey Economy as Irrational as Ours

Some lessons applicable to complexity and markets.

Laurie Santos looks for the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. A clever series of experiments in "monkeynomics" shows that some of the silly choices we make, monkeys make too.

Laurie Santos runs the Comparative Cognition Laboratory (CapLab) at Yale, where she and collaborators across departments (from psychology to primatology to neurobiology) explore the evolutionary origins of the human mind by studying lemurs, capuchin monkeys and other primates. The twist: Santos looks not only for positive humanlike traits, like tool-using and altruism, but irrational ones, like biased decisionmaking.

In elegant, carefully constructed experiments, Santos and CapLab have studied how primates understand and categorize objects in the physical world -- for instance, that monkeys understand an object is still whole even when part of it is obscured. Going deeper, their experiments also search for clues that primates possess a theory of mind -- an ability to think about what other people think.

Most recently, the lab has been looking at behaviors that were once the province mainly of novelists: jealousy, frustration, judgment of others' intentions, poor economic choices. In one experiment, Santos and her team taught monkeys to use a form of money, tradeable for food. When certain foods became cheaper, monkeys would, like humans, overbuy. As we humans search for clues to our own irrational behaviors, Santos' research suggests that the source of our genius for bad decisions might be our monkey brains.