Those who know me, certainly those on my team, know there is nothing I enjoy more than opinion piece delivered using the lost art of the written word. Some of these people like to call me verbose, but I think we all know that “we mock, what we don’t understand.” – Dan Ackroyd – Spies Like Us
Today I thought I would publish my first in a series of quarantorials, sharing some of my thoughts on community, evolving market dynamics, the human spirit, and human ingenuity, as well as some reading, and film suggestions along the way. This was prompted by a co-worker who delivered some great content to the community and also took the time time to provide idea attribution.
First, let me start by saying that all of my ideas are in the public domain, licensed using the Creative Commons license, and I intended for them to be borrowed, improved, and reshared. Recently a co-worker referred to themself as a “thief” (in jest of course), but this got me thinking, this person is not a thief but rather a good community actor, providing attribution and not violating the Creative Commons license. 🙂 The most important thing about leveraging that which is governed by Open Source licenses like the Creative Commons or the GNU Public License (GPL) is not only that we provide attribution, but that we improve the idea and contribute our improvements back to the community. To this individual, I say, thank you for leveraging the idea, thank you for the attribution, and thank you for contributing something back to the community in the form of quality content and a well-articulated message. Most importantly, the backdrop landscape in their video, what can I say other than I may use it as the backdrop for a future video on socialism and the benefits of the aristocracy. 🙂
It’s easy to get caught up in our rhetoric, to think that value creation is rooted in the proprietary, something only “I” or “we” can do, aka the secret sauce. The reality is there is no secret sauce; there are “no more secrets”. – Robert Redford, Sneakers
Free and frictionless access to information is an incredible change that has been brewing over the last three decades and reshaping our industry in recent years. While novel ideas remain, the life span of these ideas is so short that it’s almost immeasurable. These changes are hard to accept because they mean that we need to work harder (smarter) tomorrow than we did yesterday. As human beings, this may not be our desire, it may seem counterintuitive, it may seem hard to comprehend, but look around, it’s not perception, it’s reality. The shadow chasing me is the shadow of a future which is growing and moving faster than me; the shadow is my visual reminder to work harder, work smarter, and run faster. Some of you will have the context to understand the shadow reference fully, and some will not, that’s OK. 🙂 Community contribution, community reputation, and achieved authority are replacing proprietary protections and ascribed authority; this has been happening in tech for a very long time. COVID-19, while not pleasant, is demonstrating that human ingenuity and the community offer far more than the proprietary protections of a closed-source world. Commercial corporations like Medtronic have open-sourced plans for their PB560 ventilator, research institutions like MIT are developing a low-cost open-source ventilator, and DIYers like Johnny Lee have converted their CPAP into a ventilator and open-sourced the plans. There is no doubt that COVID-19 will be a catalyst for change. The ventilator industry will look different, who knows what the travel and hospitality industry will look like, this list goes on and on. One day Zoom is the leader of the pack, the next day, I am on a Zoom call and the customer says “we’ve been told to not use Zoom”, things can change that fast. Business models will cease to exist, and new business models will emerge.
For some perspective on remote knowledge workers, consider that 96.3 percent of the top 1 million web servers run Linux, and Linux is free. One guy in his basement in Finland leads over 15,000 worldwide Linux kernel developers working from just about anywhere (probably not a traditional office), to build a free operating system that is moving towards 100% market share. What motivates these people? Stay tuned, I plan to explore this question in an upcoming quarantorial entitled “21st-century knowledge workers, motivational theory and working from wherever.” The level at which Linux dominates was unfathomable in the 1990s, seemingly unrealistic in the 2000s, and not fully realized in the 2010s. 2020 begins a new decade, where systems choosing to favor stability over progress continue to run code written sixty years ago, these systems are unable to process unemployment claims and during a global pandemic, the public sector is calling on volunteer COBOL programmers to remedy the issues. Stanley Kubrick couldn’t make this stuff up. I believe we will experience an unprecedented level of agility and velocity in terms of innovation and disruption. We live in a time where the U.S. Postal Service creed of “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” could very well be modified to read “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their Amazon same-day deliveries.” See “What If Jeff Bezos Tries to Acquire the Struggling U.S. Postal Service?“
Many of us who grew up hooked on Star Trek did so because Star Trek was a theatrical depiction of a futurist view of tomorrow; after all, this is what science fiction is, fiction based in science. It’s interesting that today Gen Xers are getting some love during the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’ think that my generation’s love of Sci-Fi and our mental state during a pandemic is happenstance, Sci-Fi is a context that made our conditioning possible. As a Gen Xer, for myself and my friends, Sci-Fi provided a vision and an escape into a world beyond the solitary confines of Pong and The Pet Rock. This was a time where parenting focused heavily on instilling skills like “how to occupy yourself”, “how to be seen and not heard from”, “how to speak only when spoken to”, “how work would never kill you”, “how to independently get yourself to and from activities”, “how there is no such thing as a mistake”, “how to eat when food is served because the kitchen has posted operating hours”, “how minimalism creates focus by removing choice”, “how to decide to be in or out of the house, because in and out is not allowed”. This was a time when we played popular games with our parents like “who can be quiet the longest” and “Dee’s Diner”, my mom’s name is Dolores (aka Dee) and for those unfamiliar with the game of “Dee’s Diner”, it’s where we sat down for breakfast, mom served some oatmeal (aka fed us breakfast) while we pretended to be on the set of Alice.
Today we live in a world where Sci-Fi has seemingly been replaced with reality television, where we have to designate programming as “reality” or “scripted’ because apparently we can no longer tell the difference. The lines between reality and science fiction certainly aren’t as clear as they used to be, maybe this is because we are living in the future, maybe it’s because our infatuation with other peoples reality has stunted our imaginations. Personally, I am waiting for Peter Wayland to appear at a Coronavirus briefing to talk about building a better post-COVID world.
As I sit here decades after developing my imagination and learning how to occupy myself, I and many of my fellow Gen Xers owe our parents a big thank you, because our imaginations are intact amidst a reality attack and our mental health is at peak fitness.
New business models are emerging and many of these models are rooted in Open Source models documented by Eric S. Raymond in an essay in 1997 and a book that followed in 1999 entitled “The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary.” The paper highlighted early entrants into space, companies like VA Research and Cygnus Solutions. The musings on where Open Source was heading were 20 years early, but today we are there.
I awake every day, motivated to disrupt myself, thinking about how I can better prepare for disruption. During the normal course of life, I am labeled as someone who is planning for something that will likely not happen, but the best way to delay and weather inevitable disruption is to accept that it can and will happen; not knowing when is what keeps us alert and sharp. Like Jeff Bezos has said, “One day, Amazon will fail but our job is to delay it as long as possible.”
I hope this quarantorial was an enjoyable read. Be on the lookout for two other quarantorials currently in the editorial review phase. I hope to publish them soon:
- Quarantorial Volume 2: 21st-century knowledge workers, motivational theory and working from wherever.
- Quarantorial Volume 3: Homeschooling observations and education reform.
Stay vigilant, stay safe and stay healthy!