Friday, January 9, 2009

Open Source as a Work/Life Strategy?

Ok, I know I don't blog much about work related issues, but this one has been sitting in my juices fermenting and I think I just need to write a bit about it to gain some clarity for myself, and I know I have some tech-heads out there that read my blog who may have interesting input.

Input. I guess that's at the crux of it. Collaboration. Sharing. Growth. Mission. Open Source.

Open source, for my non-techie friends, is I guess a little like recipe sharing. If I develop a recipe for a fabulous chocolate cake with a secret ingredient of tomato sauce, I could do one of two things. I could share it with you, or keep it "secret" and proprietary only for my kitchen and those upon whom I chose to bestow the pleasure of eating it (or am paid for it). People would enjoy my cake when they had the opportunity, but they'd never understand the amazing truth that tomato sauce makes for an amazingly rich chocolate experience.

If, however, I decided to share that recipe with you, you may fiddle with it in your own kitchen and develop an absolutely dreamy orange flavored butter frosting made with blood oranges. The combination of your creation and mine is better together than they are individually. A new product has emerged and we all benefit from the best, most amazing chocolate cake around.

Open source software took some time for people to understand. We have been so ingrained in our proprietary ways and worrying about who gets credit, that we overlooked the truly awesome power of collaboration. Products built with open source are frequently quicker to market, cheaper, and contain brilliance that one person or entity alone could not conceive.

Parlay this concept into non-software areas of life and work and I think you will see why I've been fermenting. I work at a very conservative, risk-averse, institution that is ultra concerned with it's brand and image, and with good reason; we are one of the top medical centers in the world. So, yes, it's something that we should protect. But there's a lesson here that could be learned from the philosophy that underlies open source technologies. Providing something for free, and thereby taking a little more risk, can be incredibly fruitful. But how to do that while still protecting the brand - or better enhancing the brand - that is the challenge.

Our mission is all about the patient. The needs of the patient come first. If we truly believe that (which I believe we do), then taking a more open approach to our way of working to meet that mission should be inherent. It shouldn't take 10 committees and months and months to establish a new concept or idea. We're protective, yes, but to a fault. We're over-protective.

Now, go one step further. How can you employ this same strategy in life? I guess I need to think deeper on this one - maybe another blog posting will result. I have some pretty set philosophies on life - perhaps it's time to upset the apple cart and challenge myself to look at how I can change my life, and that of others, by exploring this concept. After-all, that's why we're here on this ball of learn, to grow, to share, and to love.

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