"Open Innovation" Retro- and Prospect

Some days have past since the Open Innovation discussion panel which got me to reflect more upon the case. There have been some participants already writing about the panel: Josh, Chalu, Ugo, Bertrand. I received all kinds of feedbacks at the conference like “That was the best event at OSCOM conference” or “I left the discussion because I thought it’s about earning money with Open Source and it was not”.

First of all: Such an open discussion can never deal with all aspects of innovation in Open Source. Not if it’s 2 hours, not if it’s simply brainstorming. All I wanted to achieve was to sensitize the participants. Of course, there are those coders who don’t care for the whole issue, they just want to create good software. On the other side, there are those highly intellectual geeks who throw in everything they ever heard of from economics to philosophy and back again.

As the moderator of the event, I had to take care to hide myself in the background, to not interrupt the natural flow of the discussion if not necessary. This included that the invited experts (Danese Cooper, BÃ¥rd Farstad, Roy T. Fielding, David Heath, Chalu Kim, Eric Pugh) sometimes had to step back as well to invite the other participants to join the discussion. Many thanks to all of you who actively participated!

What I liked most about the event were those insights and formulations that only those with experience can tell. Still echoing in my head is the idea that innovation is closely related to the fact that you take care. Combined with the notion of a participant that innovations solve actual problems, this makes me think that Open Source’s reward model is very much about feeling responsible for your own code, for taking care of what you produce. Thus, Open Source is a futile ground for innovation, because problems can only be identified if the programmer takes care of the software he contributes to.

Unfortunately, as Ugo points out in his blog, we did not talk about whether Open Source really is innovative or not compared to proprietary software. This question has been on my list, but there was not enough time. Let me pick up this point: Open Source could be described as a market environment that only allows for the creation of commodity products. The success of MySQL could well supports this point of view. On the other side, the MySQL database is itself an example for incremental innovation, because it allows to integrate different table engines within one database. Hence, maybe the more concrete question would be: does Open Source lead to “big” or “small” innovation?

Then again, isn’t the Apache Webserver itself a “big” innovation? Or look at the Apache Software Foundation: isn’t that kind of organizational model a highly innovative form of collaborative work? Seen from that perspecitve, Open Source has at least to aspects of innovation: that of product-related and the organizational innovation.

There are so many questions that still need to be addressed in the Open Source community to make it more aware of its powers and deficiencies that I wish there were more open discussion panels at Open Source conferences. Especially if representatives from other social fields (economics, science, politics, …) join, then cross-pollination outside, not only within the Open Source community can take place. Some examples:

– Open Companies
– Open Universities
– Open …

Let me know if you would like to organize an “Open *” discussion and I will gladly help you.

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