Esko Kilpi

Learning from open-source developers

I have belatedly come across a fascinating 15-month old post by Esko Kilpi on ‘Emergence and self-organization‘:

What takes place in open source projects is typically not the result of choices made by a few (powerful) people that others blindly implement. Instead, what emerges is the consequence of the choices of all involved in the whole interconnected network, “the connective“, as Stowe Boyd puts it. What happens does not follow exactly a plan or a design, what happens emerges. It is about the hard to understand process of self-organization.

After an insightful description of why the open-source development model is so powerful, Esko looks over the wall into organisational structure (emphasis mine):

Emergence is often understood as things which just happen and there is nothing we can do about it. But emergence means the exact opposite. The patterns that emerge do so precisely because of what everybody is doing, and not doing. It is what many, many local interactions produce. This is what self-organization means. Each of us is forming plans and making decisions about our next steps all the time. “What each of us does affects others and what they do affects each of us.”

No one can step outside this interaction to design interaction for others.

An organization is not a whole consisting of parts, but an emergent pattern in time that is formed in those local interactions. It is a movement that cannot be understood just by looking at the parts. The time of reductionism as a sense-making mechanism is over.

What we can learn from the open source ecosystems is that organizational sustainability requires the same kind of learning that these software developers already practice: “All work and learning is open and public, leaving tracks that others can follow. Doing and learning mean the same thing.

The biggest change in thinking that is now needed is that the unit of work and learning is not the independent individual, but interdependent people in interaction.

This switch from thinking of independence to interdependence (and thus from hierarchy to wirearchy) is one of the fundamental cornerstones of  ‘the Future of Work’. Esko does a great job of describing the complexity of working together in 21st century organisations, and why self-organisation and the capacity for life-long and every-day learning are such important personal attributes to identify in new employees and community members.

I also really appreciate the concept of an organisation as an ’emergent pattern in time’ (and thus always in flux), and finally the line ‘Doing and learning mean the same thing’. Great post!

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!