How I began my evolution toward openness

Evolving toward openness: How to change the way you think and work

Every open source journey begins with a few important steps. These were mine.

Evolving toward openness
Image credits : 

Steve Jurvetson via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

I'm an avid hiker—at least, I play one in my mind. I love to hike and would enjoy nothing more than living closer to the mountains in East Tennessee. Hiking can be arduous. It can be tiring. It can be challenging.

And a journey toward greater openness is no different.

But to me, striving to become more open is less like a journey and more like a serious evolution. In my case, evolving to an open mindset has truly meant challenging my own mental models and norms. It has meant wrestling with tensions between how things have been done in the past with how they could be done differently in the future. It's an evolution that really begins (and continues to this day) with a decision to change and embrace what being open really means.

Classical conditioning

I like to say that I'm "classically trained" in business. I say this because some of my education and most of my work experience has involved command-and-control models of business. Despite this, for a long time, I've thought that how we teach and "do" business is broken. And over the years, I have remained frustrated with the mental models we use to imagine how business works.

"Hiking can be arduous. And a journey toward greater openness is no different."

In 2012, I began to piece together my thoughts on what would eventually become my version of The Open Organization, a book that was designed to start the conversation on how to develop an open organization.

Through years of research, I discovered that this thing called "open" has many colors and flavors. It comes in many shapes and sizes. One challenge to adapting open concepts to established business models is the struggle to change popular mental models of leadership and management: Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach to business, giving classically trained business leaders every single tool for "going open" is in fact rather difficult—because an exhaustive list of those skills just doesn't exist. Nevertheless, I'm very much an evangelist for openness in the workplace.

Evolving toward openness means accepting the tensions that arise when we try to live according to open values like collaboration, accountability, and transparency. Through a good deal of introspection, however, these became my watchwords. And yet achieving mental change also requires adopting new technological skills

A better way

Individuals considering how to evolve into open leaders or managers: You will need to change the way you view and interact with technology. For me, that has meant embracing Internet Relay Chat (IRC), video conferencing, Slack, and GoogleDocs as methods for communicating and collaborating with colleagues both near and far. It has also pushed me toward a decision that has been long coming: the decision to cut strings with the status quo and embrace open technology to the fullest.

That move began with adopting the Firefox web browser exclusively in 2004 (since then, I find myself moving between Firefox and Chrome). More recently, I found the open source LibreOffice Writer as a replacement for Microsoft Word. And this discovery came about through a discussion on switching entirely to a Linux-based operating system, which I am currently in the process of doing.

Am I scared? Yes, I have to admit I am (I've been using Microsoft Windows since version 3!). But I am also very excited—and hopeful—for this new step toward embracing open principles and open technology to their fullest—toward breaking away from "they way we always do it" and embracing a "better way of doing it."

"Am I scared? Yes, I have to admit I am."

I'm not naive. I know there will be challenges along the way. I know this won't always be easy. What I do know is that when you evolve toward open, everything starts working better. While open is so much more than one article can possibly explain, I can say I'm loving the journey I'm on.

I look forward to sharing it with you.

This is the first installment of "An Open Evolution," Dr. Philip Foster's new column for Opensource.com.

9 Comments

Greg P

I would compare what you're going through to the challenges of learning a language, but mainly the personal psychological part. Children learn new languages with less stress because they have less fear of failure, in fact, they expect failure. You might even say they embrace failure, since failure is the gateway to learning something you didn't know.
Failure isn't productive in a vacuum. Unless you can get the correction or new information, you're stuck. Especially with open source, one of the first tasks you have, one of the first skills you need to acquire, is filling that vacuum with sources of information to solve issues, and fortunately there's a lot out there. There are also a lot of sympathetic ears, who've been down the same road and even when they may not know the answers, have accumulated knowledge of useful resources that they're more than happy to share.

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maximumchange

Thank you for your input!

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perlwonk

You are my brother! Good luck on your journey. I've made the same switch years ago and I can tell you it's only getting easier. A new employee told me about Slack, I researched it and yesterday I set up an alternative open source chat server on our own VPS (rocket.chat). It has ready built linux and android clients. Only a few years ago this would have never happened. Tomorrow it will be easier than today.

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maximumchange

Thank you Chuck... perhaps we should keep in touch? :-)

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lightweight

Totally agree - Rocket.Chat is way better than Slack for the simple reason that you can have your own, under your control. Also, it can integrate the Matrix.org messaging open standard. Here're a couple howtos (pick the one that better suits your situation) to set up your own: https://www.maketecheasier.com/install-set-up-rocket-chat/ (disclosure: I wrote this one) https://oer.nz/rocketchathowto

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maximumchange

I will have to check this out. Thank you

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lightweight

Welcome to the community - and great to see you thinking about the implications of these *open values*... I've been working on that evolution for a couple decades now - the key thing is not ones state in the transition - it's ones intent, as demonstrated by taking the principled - not the expedient - route. I wrote this about it: https://davelane.nz/nethui-insight-open-about-intent

For the record, some of the tools you mention above, aren't as open as they'd have you believe: Slack and Google Docs (and others, like Github, who trade on "openness") are fully proprietary, despite building themselves on top of open source technologies. It's important not to succumb to "fauxpen", and to point it out when the moneyed corporations try to cash in on (and corrupt) open.

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maximumchange

As I state in my writings and for the most part in my book The Open Organization. A New Era of Leadership and Organizational Development, there are different levels and even "flavors" of openness.

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lightweight

Of course there are many flavours (as there are many "open" licenses). The trick is to avoid the heavily publicised "open" things which are, in fact, closed. It's our job, as people with the motivation to become as open as we can (with the principle "open is better") to point out closed when it masquerades as open. Thanks for your efforts in raising awareness.

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