What Business Can Learn from Open Source

Thursday, August 4th, 2005 11:29 am by Neal

I’ve always enjoyed Paul Graham’s essays, and this essay, What Business Can Learn from Open Source, is no exception. Being both an entrepreneur (startup) and investor (venture capitalist), he is uniquely positioned to comment on how this plane of existence differs from the traditional, employee-employer relationship. Great stuff. Here’s what he has to say about “workplaces”:

Another thing blogs and open source software have in common is that they’re often made by people working at home. That may not seem surprising. But it should be. It’s the architectural equivalent of a home-made aircraft shooting down an F-18. Companies spend millions to build office buildings for a single purpose: to be a place to work. And yet people working in their own homes, which aren’t even designed to be workplaces, end up being more productive.

This proves something a lot of us have suspected. The average office is a miserable place to get work done. And a lot of what makes offices bad are the very qualities we associate with professionalism. The sterility of offices is supposed to suggest efficiency. But suggesting efficiency is a different thing from actually being efficient.

The atmosphere of the average workplace is to productivity what flames painted on the side of a car are to speed. And it’s not just the way offices look that’s bleak. The way people act is just as bad.

Things are different in a startup. Often as not a startup begins in an apartment. Instead of matching beige cubicles they have an assortment of furniture they bought used. They work odd hours, wearing the most casual of clothing. They look at whatever they want online without worrying whether it’s “work safe.” The cheery, bland language of the office is replaced by wicked humor. And you know what? The company at this stage is probably the most productive it’s ever going to be.

Definitely worth your time to read the entire essay.

One Response to “What Business Can Learn from Open Source”

  1. tom Says:

    Great essay! Shows the lunacy of the US, state , and European governments in suing Microsoft for their monopolistic practices. Open-source is successfully combatting Microsoft’s expansion–especially in the server market. Ultimately, open-source will win in other areas.

    In any capitalistic environment a successful business model, be it Microsoft, Walmart, GM, Exxon,…, will seem to dominate all its rivals–sometimes to near monopoly–until the next success develops and overtakes the previous behemoth. There will often be a wave of new ideas which overtake the previous dominant entity as long as the governments do not interfere by propping up the older industry. When the gov’t steps in and takes money from those who earn it and give it to Chrysler, United, Bob’s Buggy Whip Company, etc. the normal progression to extinction is delayed at the taxpayers’ expense.