Open source thinking and opening up opportunities

pile of books

As a creative, I like to identify interesting combinations of thoughts, and believe there is a connected-ness to all things. Thus, two seemingly unrelated topics, thoughts, or items can be combined based on the ways in which they are the same, and which they are different. Finding the common ground between two things, to my mind, is the definition of creativity. To this end, two experiences come to mind which I’d like to connect, under the banner of introducing an “open source” approach to things.

By definition, “open source” implies that the source code of a piece of software is visible to those who use the software. Thus, depending on the license the software is released through, the code can be tweaked and modified by the end user, to meet a new need. Open source software is often also developed in the open, which fosters a culture of transparency, collaboration, and trust between those using the software, who are often also the developers of the same. Two ideas in particular resonate for me, when considering open source; the considerations to be made during the development of the software, and the transparency and openness around sharing of ideas, concepts, and approaches.

Long-term and wide thinking

If a piece of software is used by millions (or hundreds of millions) of people worldwide, the needs and approach to development need to be carefully considered. How will a particular solution perform at scale? Can we craft a single solution which meets the needs of multiple user stories? Fundamentally, the approach is broader and also far more long-term, given the impact a particular approach can have when iterated upon several hundred times over the coming years following the feature’s development.

Ideas and openness

Vision, without execution, is hallucination

Thomas Edison

It is unfortunately all too common that we hold “our” ideas close to our chest. I’d venture that man hasn’t had a truly original thought in millennia. That said, as Edison noted, there is a definite relationship between an idea and it’s execution in the world. Thus, ideas are a dime a dozen, but the execution on that idea is where the real uniqueness arises.

About a year ago at the time of writing, a sat opposite someone I’d met only an hour earlier at a holiday lunch. They had had several different vocations in their time, one of which was being an internal company life coach. Once I heard this, I naturally placed all of my biases of “what is a life coach” onto this person. Someone who is cool, calm, and collected, and is aware of the role they play in the greater concept of the world. Boy, was I wrong.

Over lunch, we formed an acquaintance, and this person began telling me about this “great idea” they have. Naturally, my response was “tell me more”. At this stage, the conversation paused, and shifted to how I would need to sign an NDA before any discussion of an idea could happen.

Hang on a moment. Before you can share your (likely unoriginal) idea, I need to sign a document? No thanks, you can keep your idea.

To date, this idea has not been actioned by this individual.

Connecting these concepts

Connecting the dots between these two concepts is fascinating, in particular that the one feeds the other, in this case. I connect the dots, here, through the recent closing of my beloved primary school. The intersection of these concepts could play a pivotal role in the future of the school, if we get creative and find the common ground.

Thinking in broad terms (long-term, and wide), what is a school? A school is certainly more than 4 walls, and a teacher. A school is the students, the curriculum, the teachers, and the philosophies the school stands for. All of this can be conveyed without a specific set of 4 walls.

Naturally, schools hold dear their curriculum, syllabus, and approach to learning. What if they didn’t? What if all of this was opened up (either for free, or for a small fee) to the world?

Realistically, schools are charging for someone to teach the information to the children, and for providing dedicated feedback on that child’s learning and development. This has nothing to do with the building. If an education system was offered for free, it’s highly likely that parents wouldn’t teach it to their children, as many parents work and wouldn’t have the time. Thus, there is no harm in giving away the education system and it’s curriculum for free. The reason we don’t, is because today’s system is broken. This would be akin to opening up an idea, and sharing it with the world, while building a business on top of it for those who would prefer the syllabus be taught to their children by a teacher (still a sustainable business, although likely carrying far lower costs, now that the premises can be smaller).

Thinking long-term and broad, here, also opens up the school’s mandate to be fully realised. If the school’s syllabus and education system were freely available for download online, this could reach a wider audience, seeing home-schools and small local private schools pop up worldwide, all using the same syllabus and system crafted and taught by the original school. This openness could open new business opportunities for the school (accreditation, certification, etc) without the need to carry the costs of an international school system. Also, the system would be sustainable for years to come, ensuring the future of education for generations beyond today.

Conceptually, this is all likely a lot to take in at once. I’d encourage you to zoom out, consider the above as the start of a conversation, and to add your thoughts in a comment below, so we can workshop this idea together, and see what comes of it.

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