Competition, or rivalry over resources, encourages us to strive and excel. Meet open source strategy expert Dr. Mekki MacAulay, who encourages us to create value by adopting an inclusive, transparent, open source mindset. According to Mekki: “90% of the equation is collaboration, helping, and communicating effectively.”
- References & Links
- Andrea’s Introduction
- Interview Transcript
- Andrea’s Conclusion
Competition applies to our natural world, to ourselves as individuals, to businesses, to teams, to sports, and has been studied by psychologists, economists, anthropologists, biologists, sociologists, and educators.
- A synonym for competition is Rivalry. Rivalry over what? Resources. The resource could be status, ranking, customer revenue and profit, power, etc.
- Healthy competition is good. It encourages us to strive and excel.
- Unhealthy competition happens when people are deceitful, ruthless, and they hurt others to help themselves. If someone displays overly (unhealthy) competitive behaviors that hurt you in some way, there are two explanations:
- If it’s the culture you might want to move on.
- If it’s the person, it’s likely due to a lack of confidence, and/or a scarcity mentality. Try employing an open-source strategy: explicitly communicating and implicitly modeling your intentions to promote mutual benefit.
OPEN SOURCE STRATEGY
Open Source Strategy is a strategy that’s dependent on collaboration between individuals and organizations, including competitors, to develop a collective good that is useful to all of them – possibly in different ways – such that no single individual or organization can restrict the use of that good by others.
- The term “source” is a legacy derived from source code and open source software. Nowadays you can say “Open Source Strategy” or just “Open Strategy.”
- Open source applies well beyond source code and technology. Most of the Fortune 500 firms are now implementing open source strategy.
- Open source is the opposite of power. Nobody has exclusive power over the thing that we’re cooperating on.
- That’s why regulators love open source. Open source reduces fear of collusion.
- Open source is adds value. When firms collaborate through open source, they save money they would’ve spent creating and protecting things that don’t matter. Instead, they focus on the unique value that the firm offers.
- Pie analogy: When firms participate in Open Source strategy, they reduce their costs and focus their resources on their unique value-add, which grows the whole pie. If each firm’s value is truly unique, then the firms aren’t fighting over the same pieces of pie at all.
- Open Source means inclusivity. Inclusive as in technology and engineering and business strategy all working together. Inclusive as in open.
- Inclusive as in free. Importantly though, free doesn’t necessarily mean no cost. Free means liberty, freedom. It is accessible and you can see
- Mekki highlighted the frequent misunderstanding that open source is less secure, because you can see it. But in fact, the exact opposite is true. Since it’s open and we can see it, we can also verify that there are no problems.
Mekki also highlighted that technology is 10% of the equation, and 90% of the equation is collaboration, helping, and communicating effectively.
REFERENCES & LINKS
Mekki MacAulay & IBM
- Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/mekkim/
- IBM –
- IBM closes landmark acquisition of Red Hat for $34 billion
- Jim Whitehead – past CEO of RedHat, now CEO of IBM:
- Workplace diversity, neurodiversity:
Competition References & Articles
- Bob Young & Red Hat:
- Apache Foundation
- Competition at work: How to Keep Your Cool with Competitive People
- Free Software Foundation
- BSD in context of MacOS (or https://www.howtogeek.com/441599/is-macos-unix-and-what-does-that-mean/)
- ISO Standards
- Linus Torvalds
- Linux foundation
- Modeling High-Quality Knowledge Sharing in cross-functional development teams
- Open Source Initiative
Books & Podcasts
- ”THE OPEN ORGANIZATION” by Jim Whitehurst (CEO of Red Hat, then IBM)
Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki
- Email – Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com
- Free Communication Coaching via the weekly Email Blog – https://talkabouttalk.com/#newsletter-signup
- Website – https://talkabouttalk.com
- Podcasts – https://talkabouttalk.com/podcasts/
- Shownotes & Transcripts – https://talkabouttalk.com/podcasts/#shownotes
- Facebook Group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/2512948625658629/
Competition: Dr. Andrea’s Introduction
Well, hello there. I’m your communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki. Please call me Andrea. Thanks for listening. Talk About Talk is where you can learn to communicate more effectively, so you can advance your career and improve your relationships – with everyone around you. Even your competitors!
There’s a lot jam-packed into this episode, so fasten your seatbelt! If you’re an executive seeking to improve the competitiveness of your firm, if you’re personally feeling a bit competitive with a colleague, if you’re an economist, a marketer, a tech wizard, a coder, I promise this episode will appeal to you and leave you thinking about competition in a new way.
I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Mekki MacAulay, whose PhD in business focused on open source strategy. I learned a lot from Mekki, and you will too. As usual, I’ll summarize our conversation briefly at the end of the podcast. And you can easily access the summary and the transcript in the shownotes on the Talk About Talk website. Towards the end of the interview, you’ll hear Mekki thank me for the shownotes. He prefers reading shownotes versus listening to podcasts, since he processes information so quickly. Yes, Mekki is a super-smart guy, as you’ll see in a few minutes.
Before we get to the interview, I’m going to share with you a very brief primer on competition.
The concept of competition has been defined and examined by psychologists, economists, anthropologists, biologists, sociologists, and educators. The phenomenon of Competition applies to our natural world, to ourselves as individuals, to businesses, to teams, to sports, I could go on. A synonym for competition is Rivalry. But rivalry over what? Well, resources. The resource could be status, it could be ranking, it could be customer revenue and profit, it could be power, and so on.
We’ve all heard that “healthy competition” is good. It encourages us to strive and excel. But it’s not healthy when people are deceitful or ruthless. How do we know when competition is healthy or not? The line is drawn where people resort to hurting others to help themselves.
Have you ever been in that situation? I know I have. I can think of a few specific examples from work – once when I was a brand manager and then when I was in academia. It’s mind-boggling to me that a colleague would strive to make me look bad, to hurt me, so that they would benefit. But unfortunately it happens.
Here’s the thing. If someone at your work is displaying highly competitive behaviors that hurt you in some way, there are two possible reasons for this – the culture or the person.
- If it’s the culture or the environment – You probably need to get out – unless you want to expend your energy trying to change the culture.
- If it’s the person, consider one of three diagnoses: narcissism, lack of confidence, or a scarcity mentality.
- If you’re dealing with a narcissist or a sociopath, then you need to get into protection mode. Narcissists seek power and control. They can put on an act to achieve their objectives, but they can be ruthless. It’s not personal. It’s all about them.
- But you should keep in mind that chances are it’s not narcissism. Narcissists comprise just 1% of our population. There are two other more likely explanations – both which you can deal with! – lack of confidence and/or a focus on scarcity.
- So your colleague may suffer from a lack of self-esteem or a fragile ego. Or they may be desperately focused on getting the biggest piece of the limited pie.
- You can work with this! You can explicitly communicate and implicitly model your intentions to promote mutual benefit. You can adopt an open strategy or an open source strategy.
- If you’re dealing with a narcissist or a sociopath, then you need to get into protection mode. Narcissists seek power and control. They can put on an act to achieve their objectives, but they can be ruthless. It’s not personal. It’s all about them.
Are you familiar with open source strategy? As you’ll hear from our guest expert Dr. Mekki MacAulay, open source strategy originated with source code – as in computer programming.
Open source strategy is dependent upon collaboration between individuals and organizations, including competitors to develop a collective good that is useful to all of them, possibly in different ways, such that no single individual organization can restrict the use of that good by others.
Got it? Well, let me introduce Mekki now so you can learn directly from him.
Mekki MacAulay is an open source strategy expert with over 10 years experience implementing open source strategies in government, enterprise, and not-for-profit environments. He started out with degrees in computer engineering (he’s a professional engineer) and psychology – a diverse and unique combination, right? As you’ll hear, Mekki advocates diversity and inclusiveness. A few years ago, Mekki earned his PhD in strategic management from the Schulich school of Business at York University. In his dissertation he applied strategy theories to open source to create and test the first empirical model of how organisations can save money and grow revenue through participation in open source. You’ll hear a common theme throughout the interview that open source strategy can – ironically – become a competitive advantage (those are MY words, by the way, not his!)
In his free time, Mekki also fosters cats. And he is a true renaissance man, with diverse interests and we’re fortunate to have him here.
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you so much for joining us here today Mekki, to talk competition and open source strategy.
Dr. Mekki MacAulay: My pleasure.
AW: Can you tell us first a little bit about your dissertation research and what you studied there?
MM: Sure. The traditional perspective is that one can’t make money by giving anything away. You have to control it tightly. That’s kind of the foundation of strategy all the way back to Ricardian rents who said it’s about controlling a specific location and that exclusivity is how you make money. My dissertation was aiming to prove empirically, for the first time, as far as I’m aware, that that’s not true. We’ve theorized that that’s not true for decades. So my dissertation looked specifically at how companies participated in the Mozilla ecosystem. Mozilla is best known for the Firefox web browser, right? And what they potentially got out of giving away all of these contributions even to their competitors.
AW: Hmm, that reminds me I know someone who works at an online publishing company, and they give away a remarkable amount of the content that they’re publishing. And yet that is their revenue stream. So I am fascinated to learn more about how this works. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about what you do and your job day to day at IBM?
MM: Companies have been doing open source as a business for more than 20 years, and one of the top contributing companies has been IBM. IBM is more than 100 years old and has reinvented itself many, many times. Recently, they took that to the next level, and acquired the first open-by-default company called Red Hat. Red Hat’s business model was all of our software is open source. You can download it at no cost, you can use it but that’s not where the value is. The value is maybe you want support for that. Maybe you want to develop specific features. Maybe you want us to integrate it with your business with customizations. And they demonstrated over a 20 year period that they could be a $2 billion annual revenue company. …. It was around for more than 20 years. It was founded around 1995-96 by a gentleman named Bob Young who’s now the owner of Lulu.com, an open source publishing business. … He also owns the Hamilton Tiger Cats because he’s a football fan.
AW: Oh, so obviously there’s some money in this open source strategy if he’s owning.
MM: Yes, so he sold Red Hat for an undisclosed amount of money around 2000. Stayed involved for another year or two and then IPO’d at about $16 us a share. When IBM bought it, it was at $190 us a share. So from 2001 to 2018. That’s a considered a very, very good growth from IPO. So investors started believing in it, but they thought it was an anomaly. And then IBM acquired them last year for $34 billion, one of the largest acquisitions in history of any industry that turned heads. Fortune 500 companies suddenly said, Okay, if IBM is buying into this open source thing, that’s okay. It’s real. It’s not just, you know, a fad. What they don’t know is that their engineers in their companies have been using open source strategically for a very, very long time. It’s just the people in the boardrooms had no idea. They didn’t care about how that technical stuff was being done. It was irrelevant to them. So what we’re seeing now is a merging between technology and engineering concerns and business strategy… And that’s where I come in. So IBM is global, and each country does some of their own machinations around how they implement strategy. In the US of course, there’s sort of the main focus. Red Hat is an American company. But up here in Canada, we have a different currency, which affects our ability to bring in consultants from the US. And so what IBM Canada smartly decided, humbly speaking, was to bring me in to assist in building a Canada open source strategy for IBM, Canada, all of whom are IBM clients who are starting to ask about open source and how we can build that up. And they realized that they didn’t have that strategy competency in Canada. So they brought me on to help build that. So that’s my role. I sit between engineering technology and executive management, and I translate between the two. Because I’m a professional computer engineer, I can put on jeans and I can put on nerdy t shirts and I can talk to the engineers or because I have a PhD in business, I can put on a suit and tie and talk with the executives and translate between those two is a fairly new skill set because they are closer than they ever were before, historically, business came up with a need, tossed it over a wall to engineering technology and said make it happen. Now the two are closely integrated in terms of determining priorities, in part because the cycles of development of technology are faster than they ever were, we’re no longer talking about 10 year strategies, we’re talking about three year agile strategies.
AW: And that’s where you come in as a huge value add because you’re helping them translate the language of the strategy or the corporate department versus the technology in the engineering and you’re enabling them to communicate with each other communicate effectively and certainly more quickly.
MM: Yes, and collaborate. Because historically, they did not see that their separate roles were related to one another at all. We had big silos in companies where they were, you know, these vertical functions that were divorced, they received a high level mandate and then they didn’t talk. And in fact, maybe they even deliberately excluded each other. And so it’s part communication. But they’re competitive, right?
AW: Which is kind of the point.
MM: Exactly. Part internal integration. The old fighting for funding in the silos of enterprise is just not a thing anymore. Or at least if it’s still a thing that company is going down, not up.
AW: Can you share with the listeners some other organizations who are dedicated to and employing open source strategy?
MM: Most of the Fortune 500 companies are implementing open source strategy only. Maybe only 70% of them know it, though.
MM: There is an organization called the Linux Foundation, which is a not for profit that coordinates a lot of open source activity in the world. And it does an annual survey of the largest companies to assess their open source strategies. I think it found that 77% (something in that range) are using it and are extracting value from it. The biggest ones are famous names. There’s Google. Google’s the number one open source contributor on the planet. Number two is now IBM since it acquired Red Hat, IBM and Red Hat together. Number three is Microsoft which surprises a lot of people because Microsoft 20 years ago was a very different company. It was the quote “big evil” of closed source software business models. And it’s completely turned that around. Microsoft has several thousand open source projects that it curates. And it pays its employees to develop through open source. Last year or two years ago, there was the Visual Studio development environment to develop windows programs. This was famously incredibly expensive that people had to do this huge expenditure in order to start developing programs for Windows. Now you start from an open source perspective. So this is where we see a lot of small software companies popping up. You can literally sit in a Starbucks, use their Wi Fi, use all open source tools, and develop software that you then put up on a store to be sold without huge capital investment. That wasn’t true 20 years ago, and..
AW: it’s really interesting. I actually didn’t know that about Microsoft. What about Apple?
MM: They raised a lot of questions about where the line is. So people don’t know this. But Apple’s operating system on its Mac books is on its phone is based on an open source core called BSD and people like it in open source communities, because if they don’t want to use the visual interface, they can open a terminal window and use the text-based terminal interface exactly as if they were using a Linux server on all Macs. So they’ve appealed to that techie engineer community while also providing a beautiful front end ( nicely designed in brushed metal), but also the visuals of the device but in the interface as well… No one’s really ever done that before, it was usually one or the other. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot of questions about standards, and are they playing games, pushing standards towards their own benefit? and Apple is, of course, not the only one doing that. So open source relies on open standards, in the same way that we talk about ISO standards International Standard Organization for a whole range of industries, we have standards for technology, they have to be very open, and they have to be very transparent, or companies will stay away from them because they’re afraid of one company gaining control, right. And Apple historically has manipulated that to their benefit and to the detriment of others.
AW: So I probably should have asked this at the very beginning. But can you define open source?
AW: I’m sure you can!
MM: There is no single definition. Open Source means at least five different things depending on the industry, you’re talking to. Now I created one that I cobbled together from a bunch of different academic sources. It’s actually open source strategy or open strategy if you want to drop the source. And why that matters is because the historical roots of open sources software. And so we think about the source code. That’s where the word comes from. But in the past 15 years, it’s evolved well beyond software.
MM: So when we talk about open source strategy, the word source is a bit of a legacy word. And so some people have used it as an open strategy, but open strategy bridges into other areas. So I’ll give you a long answer. The short definition of open source strategy is a strategy that is dependent upon collaboration between individuals and organizations, including competitors to develop a collective good that is useful to all of them in possibly different ways such that no single individual organization can restrict the use of that good by others. So when we think about business strategies, we can use all of the traditional business strategies we think of, except making money based on the ability to restrict is really a key word there. And so the open source definition, which is curated by an organization called the Open Source Initiative, they have a list of what qualifies to use the term open source, they have a trademark on it, and they sort of accredit…
AW: It’s a trademarked term?
MM: Yes. And they accredit organizations who say they want to be open source or they have an open source software based on a set of criteria. And I’m not going to list off top my head because they’re long and they’re a little bit quasi illegal. But you can look that up on opensource.org I believe, and read the criteria of what that means. And you’ll see it aligns very well with business principles. And there’s a history there with Another organization called the Free Software Foundation that predates the Open Source Initiative, who was focused a lot more on the social benefits of not restricting software use, and they excluded businesses from participating in that in a bit of anti-establishment type social movement, where they felt that businesses that were large corporate entities were evil by default, and therefore could not possibly engage in open source or free software in an ethical manner. The Open Source Initiative was formed out of what used to be known as Netscape, which no longer exists. That was an early competitor for web browsers back when it was just Netscape and Internet Explorer in the 90s, who realized that participation by large organizations was absolutely essential for legitimacy and growth. And if we didn’t find a way to encourage businesses to be ethical and give them guidelines on how to do that, then they would just be lost and do whatever they wanted. So there’s been a long time division between the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative. And the Open Source Initiative has largely won in terms of mindshare, in that they have a lot more active participation around them. But back to the definition, the Free Software Foundation has much more restrictive definitions of what they view qualifies as free software. And notably, they use the term free to mean free as in liberty and not free as in no cost. And that is an ongoing source of confusion for the past 25 years. So in French, they say Libra, which is less confusing, right?
AW: Interesting. Yeah, there’s a language difference.
MM: There’s a language difference there and everybody understands open to some degree, but they assume that means no cost, which is not true. In fact, neither definition insists that it’d be at no cost. Both the Free Software Foundation definition and the Open Source Initiative definition. So you may absolutely sell it. But that’s frequently missed even to the collaborators that input to it – that produced it. The issue is not how you obtain the compiled software. So this gets back to the source code versus the compiled software. And compiling is the process of taking human readable instructions and turning them into machine readable language. And so when we run a program on our computer, it’s machine readable. But if you open it, it’s just a bunch of ones and zeros. It’s not readable to a human. That’s the process of compiling. Historically, Microsoft and other closed source companies were distributed program only in compiled form. You could not see the source code behind it, which also meant you couldn’t audit it. You couldn’t verify it. And if it was doing something secretly that you didn’t know was going on. There was no way for you to find out right. You couldn’t verify you couldn’t verify. That’s why open source is used by the Department of Defense in the US by doing by the US military by all top security organizations because of its auditability. And there’s the frequent misunderstanding that open source is less secure, because you can see it. But in fact, the exact opposite is true. Because the ability to see it allows you to verify that there are no problems.
AW: So that is a real mind shift right? from traditional strategy, correct?
AW: So it’s part of what you do to convince all of the stakeholders that you’re working with just to play nicely?
MM: Absolutely. And historically, they didn’t think they could get along with one another. So one of my good friends who works at Google, who I won’t name, calls me a quote “market droid,” unquote. He is a hardcore engineer who develops engineering products for Google and we did engineering together in the same program, but I went more towards a business angle Afterwards, he went into deep coding and he viewed for a long time, everything I did as highly irrelevant, that it does not matter. But over the years, I’ve convinced him that good technology gets overridden by bad business decisions. And if we don’t understand the other world, the most beautiful things never get released. And that’s very sad for engineers. So when I talk to engineers, that’s what I talk about. They say, oh, that marketing stuff is relevant? Well, it’s irrelevant to you. But do you want your product to ever go out there for people to use it? Oh, yeah, of course I do. Okay, well, yeah. And unless you convince these executives these marketers that your product has value for the company, it doesn’t matter how good it is, technically, it won’t see the light of day. And then they go oh, yeah, that’s really interesting. Okay, and then they’re more receptive to these theories and ways of thinking (MBA speak as we say), then they are typically before that.
AW: Before we move on. I want to ask you about Coopetition, but before we do that, I was wondering, Are there examples that are outside of software and maybe even outside of technology of open source? Or as I should be saying open strategy?
MM: Open source strategy, we use them interchangeably. The list is so large now, we’re actually at the point then we could do the reverse. What areas are not doing it?
AW: Can you give the listeners an example of one that is a well-known brand where I wouldn’t have thought of them being an open source strategy?
MM: Sure, sure. Every university in the world. So open source strategy actually aligns very well to the traditional academic research model. We don’t even think about not publishing our research and only selling the outputs and academics are rewarded for giving their research away for as many people in the world to see for they don’t sell their paper publications. They get paid based on reputation effects, based on continuous new discoveries. Their reward model is very well aligned with open source. Universities who have tried to commercialize the inventions of their professors failed 98% of the time, and so much so that most universities now don’t claim an intellectual property stake in the inventions of their professors because they realize it’s not worth it. So what we call Open Educational Resources. This is a huge industry and MIT famously pioneered it almost 10 years ago, where they were not only providing the material, they were delivering the courses as a whole online for anybody to participate, right? You get the degree for free. Exactly. And this is exactly what we’re getting at. People thought the business model of universities was people paying to sit in classrooms and receive material that they couldn’t access otherwise. Turns out, that’s not at all true. Nobody stopped enrolling into MIT just because they could take the courses for free with the same material in the same professors online. Nothing changed. So the value wasn’t where they thought it was. Turns out the value is in the piece of paper that says you have a degree from MIT that you don’t get if you participate online unless you’re a registered student through the normal fashion. And so understanding where in your business model is the actual value is an exercise that not enough organizations do. And frequently I sit down with companies, clients of IBM, and as soon as I say open source, they say, I’m going to give away my competitive advantage. If I do that, and I say, okay, what’s your competitive advantage? 98% of the time, they don’t have an answer. And if they do have an answer, it is not an answer that they have actually analyzed. It’s just made up off the top of their head. So my first exercise in open source strategy is conventional business competitive advantage analysis. It’s not specific to open source…
AW: Michael Porter five forces?
MM: I have a lot to say about Michael Porter and the five forces but that’s a very different topic. The five forces model was coined in the 1980s, so let’s say it’s pre internet. I’m not a big fan of models. To be honest, I apply the component of the model that fits to the specific customer. It’s more customized, there is no single model that applies to all use cases.
AW: So before we move on, is there another non-technology focused industry that uses open strategy?
MM: sure – open architecture is a big area. So things like sustainable design, modular design, we are seeing it in materials analysis. So creating new materials with specific properties, companies that are winning the contracts, to build specific things don’t make money off of the proprietary-ness of the materials they use. So they’re highly engaged in open material design. We are seeing it in…
AW: there a common thread here, I feel like there must be a way of describing it?
MM: Sure. Make money without restricting. That’s the common thread of open strategy and it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, that’s going to start with a cost savings in that you’re not spending money, curating and maintaining things that don’t matter. And most companies are holding on to a huge amount of stuff that’s costing them money that is not adding value to their organization. So it’s a focusing exercise by letting go.
AW: So this is an innate human tendency, though, right? It’s protectionism.
MM: It’s corporate hoarding, if you will.
AW: hoarding! Can you now share with us the definition of Coopetition?
MM: Coopetition was the idea that in traditional strategic analysis, your competitors can also be your allies. We used to classify them separately. And we now understand, especially with large companies, that that’s just not discrete. So the idea that you can ally with someone who you’re actively competing against in another area, or even in the same area as competition. Okay, it’s really that simple. When you get to the nuances of it, it’s the idea that we’re never fighting about the same piece of pie. There’s in pretty much every industry enough to go around if we think smartly about it. And the goal with Coopetition is, instead of handing out different pieces of pie between us to increase the size of the pie, and then everybody gets more, and we’re nowhere near the limits of where that’s not practical in any human industry right now.
AW: Right. Okay. So I want I want to talk a little bit more about the factors associated with competition, coopetition, and communication. And I keep thinking of collusion and I also keep thinking of OPEC.
MM: Collusion is funny because there’s a lot of history in the tech industry with antitrust. And it’s not exactly the same thing. But it’s the idea of monopolies, exerting control to the detriment of end users, consumers
MM: And if we back that up to early business theory, early economic theory, people don’t realize that the foundation of economics in the modern world is the notion that corporations as they are structured, enable value creation to the benefit of consumers. Economics are always structured to ensure that the average citizen, the average consumer, gets the lion’s share of the benefit. The fact that we have failed that that to some degree in modern capitalism is not so much a failing of the fundamentals of economics as it is the implementation of those principles. Anti-trust was the idea that companies that grow so big in a single industry that they control the appropriation of value between consumer and corporate interests must be reined-in by the government. Microsoft was famously charged for antitrust violations. In the late 90s, around the same time, Netscape turned into Mozilla and open source started.
MM: The idea was Microsoft started packaging Internet Explorer, an early web browser with its Microsoft Windows operating system. And the US government said, Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you have the dominant market position for Windows as the desktop personal computer operating system by adding on this other product in it in quotes, other industry because back then the internet was this new thing that wasn’t integrated in our lives like it is today. We don’t want you to be able to get control of that. And this is very important because at that point in time, Microsoft almost did have control of the actual whole internet. What people don’t know about that is behind the scenes. Most of the servers running internet websites, we’re on a platform called is which was run by Microsoft. And there was no alternative. So Microsoft very nearly cornered the internet as a whole running all of the backend servers and the front end access Internet Explorer. This antitrust movement by the US government rein that in and two big things happened. Netscape turned into Mozilla, which became an open source web browser, which very rapidly grew in market share for the front end. And the Apache organization created the Apache web server, which is the open source web server equivalent of is that now today runs 93% of the internet, back end. And so if you look at websites today, Microsoft does not run most websites on the back end, Apache does. And it’s managed by a not for profit organization called the Apache foundation. All of that happened exactly at the time that Microsoft got charged with anti-trust. Many years later, Apple would do the exact same thing even more brazenly than Microsoft did – and did not suffer antitrust charges, because technology had evolved to a point that the internet was so integrated in our lives, that adding a web browser into an operating system was not considered gaining a lot of control. And so Apple actually tested those limits quite a lot with the US government to see just how much it can integrate – with its iTunes platform in particular. And that’s where I was saying earlier, Apple was sort of a questionable open source citizen in that it would test the limits of what it could close down and put inside its walled garden that no one else could touch, while also using open source products. So there’s a way
AW: it’s like they’re they’re integrating open source and closed source. Can I say a closed source?
MM: You could say closed source, yes. They were integrating them and some open source licenses, which are permissions to use the software allow that integration, others explicitly don’t where once you put something Open Source with something closed source, the closer his product becomes open source by default. And so companies are very careful with that to make sure that they’re not accidentally releasing stuff they don’t want to under the agreements. So how does this relate to collusion? Well, the idea of collusion is that even if a single company doesn’t control the distribution of power for a given industry, if companies are not forced to compete to drive down each other’s benefits, then consumers won’t benefit. Open Source actually is one of the favorite things of collusion regulators, because it’s the opposite of control. Collusion still implies that the companies that are colluding control what’s going on to the detriment of the consumer. But open source flips that paradigm. If you are in quotes, “colluding in open source,” you’re colluding in a way that’s open to everybody, including people, not active explicitly part of a collusion agreement.
AW: So is it like an oxymoron? “Open Source collusion”?
MM: It’s almost more laughable. It’s more absurd. It’s not quite an oxymoron. It’s that the paradigms of collusion don’t even fit in here. Who are you excluding in the collusion if everything is open, right? So the idea was then the companies that colluded would have an advantage over the new companies that want to join the industry who could never compete with that collusion? Well, if you’re developing something that anybody can use, anybody can enter that industry. And so it’s more of a shift of what is valuable, then it is a shift of power. Open source is the opposite of power. It’s saying we are all equal to some degree (and we can get into governance debates about who wields power behind the scenes,) but the thing that we’re cooperating on nobody has exclusivity power over it. So regulators love it. They want companies to be involved in this – to reduce fears of collusion.
AW: Yeah. And the regulators are the government typically. And the government’s know that open source leads to government’s value.
MM: And that’s what they’re trying to drive in the economy anyway. Exactly. And they see a value beyond just corporate revenues. They see social value. They see economic value. Governments are some of the biggest adopters in open source. In Canada, but also in Europe and South America and us we see it everywhere.
AW: So I can imagine Dr. Mekki MacAulay coming into an organization like IBM and its competitors and giving this lecture and saying we can all benefit we can drive value within our organizations and outside of our organizations using open source strategy. I’d really like to dig in now to how do we communicate that and how do we represent that in our words and our actions. One of the models that I read about when I was preparing for this interview highlighted the various factors or constructs that are necessary for competition and I noticed Two of those factors were interpersonal relationships and communication.
MM: So importantly, a famous personality in open source is Linus Torvalds, who’s best known for the inventor of the Linux operating system, which now runs just about every fortune 500 company in the world. He is a stereotypical engineer who is very focused on the technology and not focused on relationship building. He’s known to be very impatient with quote, stupidity, unquote. And this was sustainable in the early days of open source when it was largely a community of engineers. They didn’t see the relevance of social graces of communication. (But now as we have more and more participants worldwide, who are diverse, in particular, a better gender balance, we have more women participating in open source). It was creating a toxic atmosphere that needs to be addressed. And it is impacting companies now, because companies have a stake in the success of these open source communities and If they do not engage in the communications aspect in the community development, growth, social aspect, the technologies do not develop because of the same blockages that we have when teams don’t get along and workplaces.
AW: So he said, “if they don’t engage in the communications aspect…” What would the gold star of engaging in communications aspect look like?
MM: That’s a really good question. Recognizing that technology is 10% of the equation, and 90% of the equation is collaboration, helping, so stating that and demonstrating stating that demonstrating and you need to integrate, you know, the soft skill practitioners in your open source strategy. If you don’t, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant by virtue of focusing exclusively on the technology, right?
AW: So this is not where I thought this conversation was gonna go – towards inclusivity – but it actually makes sense and what I’m hearing between the lines here, I guess, is that making open source part of your corporate culture is absolutely necessary for open source to actually succeed.
MM: Absolutely. And you have a cheat sheet. Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat that IBM recently bought, the former largest commercial open source company in the world, wrote a book called The Open Organization, around 2015. And at IBM, it’s been handed out to managers and directors as an instruction manual. So if you want to learn how to do this, it describes at the organization level, all the things you need to do to align with the open source movement, in terms of communication in terms of hiring in terms of marketing, and one of my colleagues was reading it and said, Hmm, so the summary of this book in short form is don’t be a dick to your employees. And I’m like,
MM: Yes. So your quote unquote competition strategy is to be a good manager. A good director. To be ethical, and that will improve your business. The old standard of cutthroat business of 1950s management where you have to squeeze a stone to get blood out of it. That doesn’t work and we know it doesn’t work.
AW: Okay, let’s move on to the five rapid fire questions. The first question is, what are your pet peeves?
MM: Animal cruelty, I can’t stand of course. But an unexpected one amongst people who love animals. There’s this obsession to share animal cruelty pictures to get people upset about this on Facebook
AW: It’s emotional manipulation.
MM: I can’t stand it. We’re all already upset about animal cruelty. Putting gore on my Facebook feed doesn’t make me want to do more. It makes me want to unfollow you. Don’t do it. It’s just it’s it does not help. Huge pet peeve.
AW: I thought you were gonna say people that don’t cooperate.
MM: Oh, well I could have. That just came to mind.
AW: Okay, second question what type of learner are you – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or some other kind of learner?
MM: I’m very kinesthetic. More recently, as I become more verbal, I’ve moved to a bit more reading, learning. I hate learning by videos and being taught. That really drives me crazy. Everything now is videos, even online training courses for all this kind of stuff. Yeah, sit and watch a video… I would rather a text environment where I can move at my own pace.
AW: What about listening to a podcast?
MM: Same thing, I would actually prefer to read a transcript of a podcast on the podcast itself. But that’s a personal thing because of the speed at which I absorb information and the speed at which it’s communicated is typically too slow for me.
AW: Okay, well, I’m going to do a plug now. Every single one of my podcast episodes has shownotes with the highlights and then the full transcript of the interview.
MM: I love it. That’s perfect for people like me, and for people with disabilities. I have colleagues who love that.
AW: so I thought when I was trying to decide whether or not to do that, that was one of the things.
MM: So valuable. Yeah.
AW: Question number three, introvert or extrovert?
MM: I am a natural introvert fake extrovert. So part of my translating from engineering to business was overriding some of my natural slightly autistic tendencies and faking extraversion because it makes people more comfortable, but it’s really draining. And so I eventually have to go and hide by myself to recharge because I’m naturally an introvert.
AW: I think you’re also very self aware. Question number four, communication preference for personal conversations?
MM: I prefer text, I find that it gives me time to communicate. So particularly asynchronous, where I can respond when I’m in the right state of mind. But that doesn’t align very well with most people. So I naturally adapt to what’s best for most people just because communication is a two way street.
AW: That is a really interesting answer. I have to tell you, the most common answer that I get to that question is the exact opposite. Most people say I prefer face to face but I understand we’re moving quickly. We are communicating asynchronously, as you said, and we have all these rules about body language …
MM: for those further along on the Autism spectrum, face to face is a lot harder. So I learn rules about body language and such by script, by memorization. By practice, they don’t come to me naturally. And so what you and I are interacting with is two decades of practice. Had we met 20 years ago, I looked a lot like the stereotypical engineer who did not convey body language very well, and so was frequently misunderstood. There’s so much communication through body language that we don’t understand.
AW: Well, that’s kind of what Talk About Talk is all about – communication skills across whatever dimension it is…
MM: I want every single open source engineer to take a course on that
AW: question number five podcasts or blog or email newsletter that you find yourself recommending the most?
MM: None of them. I believe that the best information source is curated aggregation. What does that mean? You will never be fully satisfied by a single source based on the bias of that source. Instead decide what you’re interested in and use some form of tool that will curate around that topic for you, then you get a diversity of opinions for that topic, you have a broader view, it avoids the echo chamber effect. And it keeps you a lot more current, you’re not waiting for an update from other people. So examples that I use for technical stuff, Slashdot, which is one of the oldest technical news sources about 20 years old, which an internet time is forever. And one that I use for more social is Reddit. Reddit is the number three most visited website on the internet. And its brand is the front page of the internet. But what people don’t know is you can very tightly curate what shows up on your front page from a range of interests.
AW: So I am a big proponent of media hygiene, which is part of what you’re describing there. But I had never thought of it explicitly in the context of inclusivity. And what you’re talking about is inclusive media habits.
MM: Absolutely. And you can do it across any demographic as well. So I explicitly follow on Twitter, some black queer journalists, because they tend to engage in topics that just would not occur to me. I explicitly follow some Native Americans and indigenous community tweeters in Canada on Reddit. I explicitly join certain communities for diversity of tech representation. That’s another thing is because that’s the only way you’re going to be exposed to those voices. And the only thing worse than not having a diverse view is listening to one source and assuming that’s the whole of the diversity representation. And so you need to get multiple voices even around what we think of as a single out of out group single out group.
AW: Exactly. Well said, we could keep talking for hours .
MM: Hours and hours.
AW: Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise with us.
MM: I love what you’re doing here and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. Thank you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Dr. ANDREA’s CONCLUSION
Mekki’s answers to the five rapid fire Qs blew me away. What a fascinating guy. Smart too. I learned so much from this interview. If you want to connect with Mekki, I included his links in the shownotes on the talkabouttalk.com website, under the podcast tab. There’s also a link to the book he mentioned “The Open Organization” by Jim Whitehurst, the CO of Red Hat.
As promised, I’m now going to summarize everything we covered in this episode. And again, this summary and the transcript are also in the shownotes.
OK – Are you ready?
The term OPEN SOURCE is derived from source code and open source software. Open Source Strategy is a strategy that’s dependent on collaboration between individuals and organizations, including competitors, to develop a collective good that is useful to all of them – possibly in different ways – such that no single individual or organization can restrict the use of that good by others.
- Restrict or restriction is the key word here.
- Decades ago, engineers were using Open Source as a strategy, collaborating to write code that was unrestricted in terms of who used it.
Open source is the opposite of power. Nobody has exclusive power over the thing that we’re cooperating on. That’s why regulators love open source. Open source reduces fear of collusion. And it adds value.
- How does it add value? Well, when firms collaborate through open source, they save money they would’ve spent creating and protecting things that don’t matter. Instead, the firms can spend the money on the unique value that the firm offers.
- The analogy that helps here is the splitting of the pie.
- When firms collaborate through Open Source strategy, they reduce their costs and focus their resources on their unique value-add, which grows the whole pie, right?
- And if you think about it, if each firm’s value is truly unique, then the firms aren’t fighting over the same pieces of pie at all, are they?
Nowadays you can say Open Source Strategy or just Open Strategy, since the it applies well beyond source code and technology. The “source” part of Open Source is a legacy. Mekki said that almost all of the Fortune 500 firms are now implementing open source strategy.
- Think academics giving their research papers away,
- Think universities posting their courses for free online
- Think communication coaches like me, posting their podcasts for free
- think architects collaborating on materials,
- think about organizations where functional silos have been replaced by true multidisciplinary teamwork,
- think about your work colleagues, where competing for promotions has been replaced by team collaboration and team recognition.
Open Source Strategy means inclusivity. Inclusive as in technology and engineering and business strategy all working together. Inclusive as in open. Inclusive as in free.
- Importantly though, free doesn’t necessarily mean no cost. Free means liberty, freedom. It is accessible and you can see it.
- Mekki highlighted the frequent misunderstanding that open source is less secure, because you can see it. But in fact, the exact opposite is true. Since it’s open and we can see it, we can also verify that there are no problems.
Mekki also highlighted at the end that technology is 10% of the equation, and 90% of the equation is collaboration, helping, and communicating effectively. Did you catch that? Communication.
So now then, back to the very beginning. Remember I summarized how to deal with someone at work who’s displaying overly competitive behaviors that hurt you in some way? First you need to decide whether it’s the culture or the person. If it’s the culture you might want to move on. If it’s the person, chances are their overt competitiveness is due to a lack of confidence, and/or a scarcity mentality – trying to take some of your share of the pie ! I hope after learning about Open Source Strategy that you feel better equipped to deal with this person. You can explicitly communicate and implicitly model your intentions to promote mutual benefit.
Alright. Thanks again to Mekki!
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