culture

Want people to embrace the open source way? Don’t talk, do.


The June issue of Harvard Business Review features an interesting article by Roger Martin (one of the leading management minds of our time and author of the just published book Fixing The Game). The article tells the story of how Scott Cook, founder and current Chairman of Intuit, kicked off an effort to reinvent Intuit as a design-driven company.

I’ll leave it to Roger and HBR to share the story of how this initiative played out (hint: a very good case study of how to embed design thinking in the corporate world), but one particular lesson stood out for me that I’d like to highlight here.

When Cook kicked off the initiative, he did so by hosting two-day offsite event for the company’s top 300 managers. As part of this event, Cook gave a five-hour (wow!) PowerPoint presentation, during which he “laid out the wonders of design and how it could entice Intuit’s customers.”

As you might expect, the PowerPoint marathon didn’t go so well. From the article:

“But although the main event fell flat, the one that followed did not. Cook had met a young consulting associate professor at Stanford named Alex Kazaks, whom he’d invited to present for an hour at the offsite. Like Cook, Kazaks began with a PowerPoint presentation, but he ended his after 10 minutes and used the rest of the time for a participatory exercise: The managers worked through a design challenge, creating prototypes, getting feedback, iterating, and refining.

The group was mesmerized…”

This story illustrates something I saw over and over during my time at Red Hat and in many of the projects I’ve worked on since:

No matter how eager you are to get people to embrace the open source way fully—running projects in an open, collaborative, meritocratic way—you’ll have more success convincing people to try doing things the open source way when you stop showing slides and instead get them to experience the benefits in action.

The best way to learn about collaboration is to collaborate.

The best way to learn how to operate openly is to participate in a project run openly.

And the best way to see the power of meritocracy is to participate in a project where the ideas actually do come from everywhere.

So before you spend two weeks preparing a detailed PowerPoint (or OpenOffice) presentation to convince your management team to embrace the open source way, stop and think.

Is there a way you could show the benefits of the open source way in action? Could you run a hands on-project the open source way and invite those you are attempting to sway to participate?

In my experience, people will nod their heads at a presentation espousing philosophy. But you won’t really have their minds until they’ve experienced the open source way in action, and you won’t have their hearts until they’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey as well.

[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is President & Partner of New Kind, where he builds sustainable brands, cultures, and communities in and around organizations. He is the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World and is the Community Guide on the Management Innovation Exchange (hackmanagement.com).

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