Opinion and Authority

In a company based on hierarchical authority, it is much easier to have a strong opinion when you’re on a high level of the food chain. If you’re on a lower level, the problem is that you might be wrong or that your honest opinion might be something your boss does not want to hear. Thus, you act in an opportunist way and only say what’s mainstream in your company.

Knowledge companies cannot afford to have this kind of behaviour, they need everyone to have a clear opinion. Or put it like this: knowledge companies need to provide the freedom to their employees to have or form their own opinion and communicate it within the company.

An egalitarian organizational structure and predictable working conditions are thus a prerequisite for a successful knowledge company. They cannot afford to have the management rule by verdicts and fear. Instead, it needs to be trust and mutual respect, what drives the management to motivate the staff.
The more quality the opinions have, the better the decision-making within the company, and the more it can act realistically in the market.

Linux goes Management

The way how the Linux community is organised gets growing awareness in management, not only in that of software companies. Harvard Business Review published an article entitled Collaboration Rules, were the Linux community is being compared with the organisational structure of Toyota. The article is in general worth to read. I have read the
German version which is published in the current issue of Harvard Business Manager.

The authors’ basic statement is: “Corporate leaders seeking to boost growth, learning, and innovation may find the answer in a surprising place: the Linux open-source software community.” And they continue: “Specifically, Toyota and Linux operate by rules that blend the self-organizing advantages of markets with the low transaction costs of hierarchies.”

Management will indeed be able to learn a lot from Linux or the FOSS movement in general, as it can be regarded as the prototype organisational form of knowledge work. Today, most products are knowledge-based, even if it is simply the design of your coffee cup. Thus, the culture of open sources can be applied to various companies of any kind.

The article analyzes what I’d call a company culture of open sources, where information is freely shared between various stakeholders of a production process, be it software (Linux) or industrial goods (Toyota). Such a company culture is very much one that gives community members or employees the freedom to develop their skills and personality.

Unfortunately, the article deals with the aspects of knowledge companies for individuals only marginally. It could nicely be approached from the notion of humans as open sources as elaborated in the latest book of Gunter Dueck: Topothesie (German only). Then it becomes obvious, that doing it the Linux way also means a change of management styles and human interaction at work in general.